*Article written for the Estes Park Trail Gazette: https://www.eptrail.com/2022/02/01/live-well-estes-2022/
On December 21st, we celebrated the first day of winter with the Winter Solstice. Unlike the Fall Equinox, where we shed our layers and leave old parts of us behind as we step into the darkness, winter is about the rebirth of the sun, or our inner light. Yes, it’s still ghastly dark for long periods each day and we often feel lost, like we’re aimlessly wandering around in a dark forest at night without a headlamp or compass, but slowly, minute by minute, the light is growing. Even before the promise of sunrise, if we can find our North Star, we have a flame to guide us.
We’ll get to the light, we always do. For now I’ll ask for patience as we accept the invitation of winter and immerse ourselves in the dark.
Did you ever wonder what would happen if we all just skipped winter? Well sure, we could all just go migrate to Florida for a few months. (The beach does sound nice right about now, doesn’t it?) Still, even Florida experiences darker days. The weather changes, as do the plants and habits of the wildlife. In Estes Park, we’re blessed to experience the full depth of winter. The harsh winds, cold nights, and bare trees. To the naked eye, not much is happening outside in the plant world. Everything looks dead. Yet healing is happening in this restful state, deep at the roots, under the soft blanket of snow provided by Mother Nature. Sadly, I actually don’t have to tell any Estes Park resident what happens when winter is skipped or only partially experienced. We’ve already seen the fires burn through. We need winter, just as spring needs winter, and all the other seasons.
Honoring and giving ourselves the space for our own Inner Winter is equally important. It includes several components, with rest, space for deep thinking and creativity more obvious pieces. In therapy, this is the time to do the underground work, the trauma work and the shadow work, when we start working at the root of deep wounds and begin the healing process. I won’t lie here either, this process can feel scary. It’s courageous work. What is important to remember is that we are never alone. Just as spring needs winter and each season needs the others, we all need each other too. Asking for help from friends, family, or a psychotherapist, is not only okay, it’s part of the healing process. Again, remember that healing deep wounds often happens slowly, much of it under the surface, wrapped under a blanket, and invisible to the naked eye.
In short, we’re shining a light to the dark corners of ourselves and our lives so they too can become part of the light. Shadow work, in short, is about acknowledging and accepting the parts of us that have been rejected or deemed unacceptable in the past. Truly, those are important parts of us. I’ll give you a few examples. I’ve met a lot of people who grew up in homes where it was not okay to express emotions. They were sent to their rooms when they were angry, or told to “stop crying” (or worse, to “toughen up”) when tears escaped their eyes. The issue is that we are all emotional beings, some of us even more tuned in to emotions than others. Often, when we are taught our emotions are not okay, we lose a part of ourselves. The only choice we have is to shut them down, go numb, or become depressed. Another common example is when I see adults who, as kids, weren’t allowed to reveal the masculine or feminine parts of themselves in order to fit societal standards. While I am thinking about the LGBTQ+ community, I’m really talking about all of us. We all have masculine and feminine parts to us, regardless of our gender identity. A few issues that I see when these parts of us are rejected include toxic masculinity and eating disorders, as well as anxiety and depression. The only way to heal is to acknowledge these shadow parts and accept them as essential to our beings.
And finally, the light. The rebirth of our own inner suns, slowly rising in us a little more each day.
What is the light? I hate to box it by defining it, but I would give it a few names: hope, love, meaning, purpose. Paradoxically, the more willingly we step into the darkness, the brighter our lights shine, even sparking the lights of others. This winter, we can utilize the light by setting an intention. What do we want to explore during winter? What changes/growth might we want to start preparing for in the spring? In less metaphorical terms, intentions are about how we want to feel and who we want to be in the world (which I would argue is already our true, authentic selves). If you get stuck there, examine your values and narrow them down to about five or so. Values are at the core of who we are as humans and help us make choices to keep us on our path. With values in our pocket, intentions as our map, and our personal North Stars to guide the way, I think we all might just be okay in whatever adventures 2022 brings.
May your light, and the light of others, guide you through the dark. Know that the light is always there, even if you can’t see it at the moment.