Embracing the darkness...
Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that it is no longer the sunrise which is gently, naturally waking me in the mornings, but my alarm. It makes the start of the day feel like a jolt, a shock to the system.
At the start of this teaching block (in September), during the evening classes it was just getting dark by the time we finished Savasana. Now (in October, six weeks later), it is dark before the classes even start. Next weekend the clocks go back an hour, the point of the year where for those of us in the UK, there can be no denying that the months of winter are upon us.
It can be easy to feel down about this time of darkness and colder days, to bemoan the passing of summer. I have listened to yoga students over the past few weeks, talking about how they lack energy and how difficult it is to motivate themselves when it is so often dark outside. I feel it too; the need to quieten my practise to something a little more restorative and introspective; the need for more rest and hibernation time!
The way we have structured our society doesn’t help. We are expected, and expect ourselves, to carry on our routines the same way whatever the season. But as living beings, our drop in energy and our need to move inwards, purely and simply reflects what is going on all around us in nature. We watch the trees let go of their leaves, plants retreat back to the soil, animals gather food for the dormant winter months. All this they do each and every year, without resistance and without holding on to the season which has passed, knowing that this stage is integral to the natural cycle of life. In order to grow anew in spring, they (and we) need this time of rest and retreat. Perhaps therefore, our lesson is not to fight against what is - by doing so, we only cause ourselves unnecessary suffering.
Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras, written around 2500yrs ago, identifies the Five Kleshas - the things that cause suffering in our lives. These are listed below, with a short explanation about the meaning of each. It’s not difficult to see how they may apply to our negative feelings about this time of year. They are:
Avidya (ignorance). What Patanjali means by this, is not understanding that it is the nature of everything in the material world to change.
Asmita (ego-identification). When we forget the truth that we are a connected part of a whole system, we begin to overly identify with our own perspective - that of I, me and mine.
Raga (attachment). Clinging to how things are or how we wish them to be.
Dvesa (aversion). The other side of the coin to ‘attachment’ - that we resist things we do not ‘like’ or ‘want’.
Abhinidvesa. This specifically means attachment to life and aversion to death, which is obviously in many ways, instinctual. Patanjali lists it here as a cause of suffering throughout our lives, and suggests that, when the time comes, as it inevitably will, we can let go of our physical existence with peace and clarity.
Patanjali’s solution to overcoming the Kleshas is through Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (detachment). Practice (abhyasa) refers to the practice of yoga, according to the ‘eight limbs’, which include ethical behaviour to ourselves and others; pranayama (breath work); asanas (physical postures) and meditation. Detachment (vairagya) can be a strange concept for us Westerners to understand. It doesn’t mean a lack of compassion in any way, but it does mean a detachment from being governed by our thoughts, feelings or emotions.
With this in mind, perhaps we should apply those ancient principles to our modern lives: by greeting each alarm-wakened dark morning with a smile, some deep breaths and a few restorative stretches; by allowing ourselves more quiet space to shift the energy inwards. Perhaps we may even be able to embrace the darkness as an opportunity, a time to generate what it is we need to carry us forward into our next period of growth.
I mark the day that the clocks change each year by holding an evening candlelit yoga workshop. Cocooned in the gentle flicker of candlelight, we practice gentle, grounding, introspective pranayama, asanas and meditation that help us embrace the beauty and purpose of these quieter, colder, darker months x