Finding Light in Dark Times
In the thick of winter it’s easy to forget that the light is actually growing each day. A week from now we’ll have an hour more sunlight than last week— and in just over a month the days will officially be longer than the nights. Though the sun may be gaining strength, early February can still feel like a dark season. For our ancestors, this was the time when the stores would have been growing thin, the length of winter wearing at even the stoutest heart. With the pandemic still in full flush, and the snow shifted up in front of our doors, the fatigue of winter feels stark— but within us lives the resilience of countless generations. Our ancestors could move through any winter, because they knew how to befriend the darkness.
Lately, with nowhere else to go, I’ve been escaping into the grand cave art of the upper Paleolithic. Painted in strokes of ocher and manganese, deep inside the limestone caves of southern Europe, are some of the most magnificent artworks I’ve ever seen. Horses and mammoths, hand prints, and the curves of hips. For twenty thousand years, my paleolithic ancestors painted these figures upon the walls with the help of small, but steady juniper lamps. They climbed into the womb-like darkness and co-created new visions with the Earth.
We cannot know what these artisans thought as they dipped hands into ground pigment or used moss to sponge color over the textured walls, but we can know one thing— these people were not afraid of the dark. They were not intimidated to venture into deep places and they did not shy away from the unknown. Within the caves, researchers have found that special artwork was often reserved to mark deep cracks, shafts or impenetrable crevasses. It is almost as if these ancient artists saw these darker places and painted a living signal that said: here is where new things are born. To become such artists, our earth-bound ancestors must not have only understood the value of darkness— both within and without— but embraced it as a source point of creation.
Whenever I’m facing another challenging day this winter, I turn to the glow that emantes from these ancient paintings, resting unlit inside our collective memory. I remind myself that, no matter where our ancestors made their homes, we all come from people who knew that the darkness is where creation begins. I remember that the descent isn’t here to swallow, but to shelter me. And that, even when I feel lost in subterranean places, there is always a wick of light to be seen.
I can’t know for sure how these ancient people made their way into the caves— but I can venture a guess that when they went with their pigments and sparks into the depths, they did not do so wholly alone. Painted in the center of one famous frieze— a piece of artwork so magnificent as to be compared to the Renaissance masters— is a pregnant mare, surrounded on all sides by animals touching muzzles, meeting gently. No matter how deep or how far we have to descend in life, we never go alone.
If you’ve been going through a hard time recently and could use a bit of comfort and light on your journey— check out my new video: Finding Sunshine When Things Get Dark. When the cavern you are moving through seems too deep, this guide will help you strike a match in the darkness and know that you are strong enough to see yourself through.
Being willing to go into the darkness is a strength— one we don’t highlight nearly enough in our culture. Those who are brave enough to enter dark places— without and within— are the artisans of a new era. They are the cave explorers who are here to show us not only a way out, but a way home.
You are one of these innovators, and the pigments you carry in your hands—gathered from all the labyrinths you’ve walked through and the spirals you have graduated from— are coloring our world with hope.
So when the days are dim, remember the vibrancy that comes from paint-ground stone. Embrace the sun on your face and the extra minutes of light each day. Remember that everything moves in a cycle— and that no matter how far you go into the darkness, the light always returns.
If your heart is feeling like it could use a bit of support during this time, come join me for Herbs for the Heartgate— a comforting class that explores our hearts as organs of perception and magic.