Dreaming In The Dark: The Healing Potential of Late Autumn
You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
I have always loved the dark season. Ever since I was a child. I loved it not only because of the way the leaves crunched under my feet when I walked home from school and the sight of pumpkins on the porch meant Halloween was near (name one kid who didn’t love dressing up and running through the night begging for candy?) rather I loved it for the fact that it brought the mystery nearer. Even though I would not have been able to articulate this so clearly when I was young it is something I have always felt deeply and continue to feel to this day. I love the way the autumn mist hangs low in the trees, obscuring the path ahead and the way that mushrooms sprout up overnight in silent groves, hinting at a magic I can’t quite understand. I love the way that the abundant beauty of summer turns into the elegant decay of fall and everywhere I look I am shown the most graceful examples of what it means to let go.
Mostly though, I love this season for the insight it offers up. It is always at this time that my dreams become rich with memory and heavy with meaning. Now that the stories of my ancestors ask to be heard and now that all that lies hidden within asks to be seen. I also recognize that this is not something that everyone welcomes and perhaps this is why so many of us are afraid of the dark? Because it brings forth what has been concealed?
Many traditional societies often held harvest feasts near the end of October as a way of both celebrating the close of the agricultural year and honoring those that had passed beyond the veil. It still seems to me that the time between Samhain/Halloween and winter solstice is a time in which our ghosts can become more visible. Am I speaking about frights and haunts? No. I am speaking about our history, our past. I am talking about all this is unresolved, or unspoken, not yet released or fully grieved. I’m talking about our stories, and the stories of our mothers, and the stories of our grandmothers. The stories we carry in our bones. These are the stories that want to be told now, perhaps because it is only in the quietude and sheltering dark of this season that we can begin to make greater sense of them.
The darkness of this season seems to invite us to lean in close and hear the voices that whisper to us below the surface of our busy lives.
These may be deep ancestral memories or more recent experiences that we have not yet been able to consider in depth during the long and extroverted seasons of spring and summer. This is a powerful time in which to reflect on all that has passed, make peace with that which has occurred in the last turn of the wheel, or if needed, make peace with the deeper hurts that keep us from accessing peace within. Wisdom requires space and healing requires a deeper listening, I believe this season wants to offer us that.
I am a late autumn baby, born in the week before Halloween, and perhaps this is why I have always felt at home in this season of mystery, however, there were a number of years in which I found this time of year to be particularly challenging. I could sense that there was some inner work that needed to be done, work that was complex and required my attention, yet the fullness of my life seemed to be at odds with what my heart was asking for. Though work and family life still required me to show up fully, I knew I also had to dive deep and so even though it felt impossible at the time I carved some space out of a busy schedule and said no to what I could in order to attend to what was arising. I spent hours working with a Jungian analyst with an aim to make sense of my dreams and understand the language of symbol at a deeper level. I remembered things. I sat with my ghosts, I grieved my past and I went into the shadow to see what was hidden, to retrieve what gifts I could. I understood that if I didn’t heed the invitation of the season, or the invitation of my suffering, that the work would only get harder, the darkness more fearful.
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. ~ Gospel of Thomas
Doing this work helped me find a greater wisdom and compassion within myself. It helped me to connect to the power of my lineage and understand the ways in which I had inherited both the grief and the strength of my ancestors. It helped me to understand that it does take courage to walk into the darkness and that it is also the only way to access a light that is true.
I believe that the natural world is profoundly intelligent and offers us all that we need. Each year the spring season offers us a surge of creativity that we can tap into in order to empower our work in the world, while the sensual joy of summer can help us reconnect to the value of pleasure in our lives. The fallow season we have now entered seems to be a time that is offered to us so that our ability to gaze inwards and make sense of what we see is enhanced.
It seems to me that if we create space for this yearly, then perhaps our ability to move through all the seasons of our lives in greater wholeness will be empowered.
This inner work is incredibly valuable, necessary even. I believe it is worth the time and effort it takes, for it may take some effort and can even bring up some fear. That is to be expected. It is far easier to allow our attention to continually be drawn outwards than it is to look inwards, but look inwards we must, for one day we will enter the final autumn of our lives, and all our ghosts will be there, waiting to be heard.
Last year I went home to see my beloved Nana, and this truth hit me harder than ever. I saw that as we age our memories often become more real or substantial to us than the present day. And we don’t get to pick and choose which memories visit us in our final days. Rather all the stories we refused to hear, the tears we refused to shed, the feelings we weren’t able to digest, and the hurts we couldn’t let go come back to sit with us. I do not want to be haunted by the past in my final years. I accept that the veil between what was and what is will become thin. I accept that old grief has a way of circling back around, but I have also learned that by allowing myself a season in which to grieve and remember with each year does make the pain easier to bear.
We live in a society that places a high value on productivity, positivity, and a life that is lived out loud, but I believe that in order to be a fully integrated and truly healthy person we must also allow for times of deep pause, inner reflection, and silence. Certainly, the busyness and noise of modern life do not lend themselves to this quiet work, but I promise you that if you can simply align yourself with the inward flowing current of this season I think you will find all the space that you need. I have learned that by allowing myself a few extra minutes of silence each morning and evening, going for walks in the changing forest, paying attention to my dreams, and taking just a little bit of time to reflect in my journal I am able to tap into the wisdom of this sacred time of year without putting a hold on my entire life. We can create sacred space in our lives simply by upholding a boundary between what we think we owe to the outer world and what we feel is needed in order to maintain a true relationship with our inner reality.
If you open yourself to it this season will call you into a wondrous experience of subtlety. It will support you in trusting your own wisdom and making greater sense of the grand narrative that is your life. If you need to turn off your phone and television in order to access this I encourage you to do so. I encourage you to light candles as the sun goes down, wake up to greet the day in darkness and silence and bathe yourself in the beauty of this dying season with every chance you get. Watch the way the leaves fall, the branches go bare, and the thorny bush wraps its seeds in rosy hips in preparation for winters sleep. Your heart is not separate from the world around you; it too craves the letting go and healing quiet of this season. Will you heed the call?
You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Sending you deep dreams and a trust in your own cycles of renewal during the darkness of this season. ~ Natalie