I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure
the darkness for it shows me the stars.
We are in a dark time of the year. There is a reason why there has always been a light-in-the-darkness time, and not just for those needing light in recovering from depression. Historically, in an agricultural society, December was a time when the harvest was done and therefore it was a time to rest, turn inward and reflect. With the days being darker, and Winter Solstice being the shortest day of the year, bringing and celebrating light is a natural response to, well, not going mad in the darkness. We need light. Not only does the vitamin D literally stave off depression, but symbolically we need to know there is light in the dark.
One theory of the origins of December 25 as the date chosen for the birth of Jesus is that it was originally the pagan festival in Rome celebrating “the birth of the unconquered sun,” celebrating the sun-god and the solstice. Hanukkah is also known as “the Festival of Lights,” Kwanzaa ritual include lighting special candle holders called kinaras, and in the December Hindu festival Pancha Ganapati, a shrine with Ganesha (the Hindu elephant god who clears away obstacles) is lit. Shabe Yaldā or Shabe Chelle, held on the Winter solstice, isan Iranian festival celebrating the victory of light and goodness over darkness and evil, and Chahar Shanbeh Sure, the Iranian “festival of Fire” celebrates light over darkness on the last Tuesday night of the year.
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
-Elizabeth Kubler Ross
For recovering people, this can be particularly challenging to remember the light: the light of hope, the light of “this too, shall pass,” the light of love. It can be difficult to remember you have an inner light to which you can listen.
There is a lot to be concerned with in the world right now. So much suffering. Holding the light of hope can be hard. So many religions and cultures have this light in the darkness in their symbolism for this very reason. It is a human need; an archetypal commonality we share. Remember that you are only responsible for your light, your candle in the darkness. Light your candle. Revisit, hold onto, re-light this light. In the words of Anne Frank,
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
Light your candle. The world needs it. The world needs you.
Most Moms have a story about how their toddler killed their phone or dropped it in the toilet. Recently, I lost my phone. I was heading out to the car with my little one after church and I realized I couldn’t find it in my purse. I went back into church and several people tried to help me find it. My little one and I looked all over the (kid cracker covered) floor in the car. Nope. One lady from church offered to “pray to St Anthony- the saint of lost and stolen things” for me. Bless her. However, my phone was still missing, so I kept looking. Another woman offered to call my phone to see if we could locate it- to no avail. Before long, a whole group of people were helping my (very patient) little one and I look. Another woman offered this reframe:
“When I lost my phone, I just had this feeling it was a blessing in disguise. I went to the apple store and I met a very attractive woman…who is now my life partner!”
I have to admit, though grateful to hear her story, I was still mostly just pissed off to not have a phone. However, at this point, little one was melting down so it was time to move on and let it go.That evening our family went to a dinner hosted by another family with two kids. During the course of the evening, the mother told me that their house was screen-free. I clarified:
“So you mean no tv, no (educational? PBS?) videos, no (learning letters and words? interactive?) apps, no screen-time in any way at any time for the kids…ever? No checking your Texts/Facebook/Instagram or whatever-you-do-to-avoid-feeling-uncomfortable-feelings?”
She replied: “Nope. We’re the screens.”
She shared about how she had noticed that her older child became aggressive toward the younger one whenever they watched a video, even if the content was PBS kids, so they stopped all screens.
“Wow,” I thought.
I had the sinking feeling in my stomach that I get when I know it is time to change and the last strand of resistance is being ripped away.
Rachel Macy Stafford, author of Hands Free Mama: A Guide To Putting Down The Phone, Burning the To Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters, writes:
If technology is the new addiction, then multi-tasking is the new marching order. We check our email while cooking dinner, send a text while bathing the kids, and spend more time looking into electronic screens than into the eyes of our loved ones. With our never-ending to-do lists and jam-packed schedules, it’s no wonder we’re distracted.
We all know what out “drug of choice” is in terms of daily distractions, whether it be texting, social media, readers, or other devices. However, she also includes the following as “sabotaging factors:”
- to-do lists
- excessive feelings of worry, guilt, inadequacy, perfection, or self-doubt
- and pressure to act or look a certain way.
So basically you could just substitute “from Thanksgiving until December 31st every year” for the above list and they would be interchangeable for many people.
And now I’d like to say I have let go of my to-do lists, phone, apps, videos, no longer have any feelings of worry, guilt, or anxiety, have hand made all of my holiday gifts (in a non-overcommitted fashion), started my own organic garden, and live off the land happily ever after with our (gun free) neighbors, who are doing work to correct the ozone layer so no children will have to deal with the devastation of global warming.
However, I live in reality. What really happened was that I spent 3 days without a phone noticing what that experience was like while I waited for a new one to arrive in the mail. Also, I noticed how many people rose to the task of helping when they knew my phone was lost. People want to help and be of service. I noticed my gratitude for this. I noticed my desire and actions to pass this service forward. My phone-free time was enlightening. I was a little bit more present, in lots of areas: in being with my little one, in the quality of my attention throughout my day as a mom, clinician, and partner. My mind was less “multitasking” and more in the moment. The present became more available and the tasks I chose to do were more thoughtful and less frenzied. There was more space.
Though I am not Catholic nor do I work from a particular denomination as a parent or Psychologist, I did find inspiration from this quote about St Anthony, who symbolically represents the space for what being hands-free opened up for me to drop into:
St. Anthony life is what every… life is meant to be; a steady courage to face the ups and downs of life, the call to love and forgive, to be concerned for the needs of others, to deal with crisis great and small, and to have our feet solidly on the ground of total trusting love.
This holiday season, may you find steady courage in your recovery, in your parenting, and your relationship with God as you understand God. What I mean when I say God is the-part-of-you-that-knows: that still, quiet place of knowing that we each have within us. May your hands be free-er to be of service and less attached to checking Facebook. (You would be surprised how often comparing-and-despairing through Facebook shows up in therapy.) May your feet be grounded in Love, compassion for yourself, and compassion for others. May your heart grow larger than fear. May you live in the reality of life, as it is, rather than as it appears on Facebook. It IS possible. What are YOU willing to do to connect with this place during the holiday season? I send you Blessings on the journey and I am right beside you on the path.
Thank you to the following for inspiration in this blog:
St Anthony information: stanthony.org
Hands Free Mama: A Guide To Putting Down The Phone, Burning the To Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters By Rachel Macy Stafford handsfreemama.com