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It is almost dark and soon my candles will shine a light in the front windows of my home, a beacon of comfort for all to see. Candles provide an implied sense of warmth, friendliness and safety, an important reminder as the days get shorter. As long as tallow has been rendered, people have been making candles to light their way in the dark. Today, candles are big business; sold by companies and in fundraisers. Scented and unscented, candles come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Candles are made from petroleum, soy, and beeswax. Why do candles remain popular? I believe it calls to that primitive, wild place within ourselves that is seeking light when we feel that place has been lost in the dark.

There are certain times of the year that can create a dark hole in one’s mind and emotions. Often it is winter that is the prime time for dark feelings, insecurities, angst, anger, and sadness. Decreased daylight (especially if you live in the north), holidays, and family dynamics increase the feeling of darkness within. Add in loss and significant changes and that dark hole can feel infinitely deep. How do we find our inner flame when the dark seems so complete?

Over-coming motivational paralysis is the first step and a really difficult one. It means reaching for external lifelines such as a friend, pet, therapist, or spiritual leader. Once you take that first step- and the second- and the third- you are ready to begin a journey that belongs solely and beautifully to you. Do you smile at cat and dog videos? Do you enjoy the smell of flowers, pine, cold air, or warm air? Do you like the taste of a hot cup of tea, coffee or cocoa? Do you get pleasure from reading a book that takes you to other places? These are the next stop on your journey. It is okay to stop and smell the coffee or to breathe in the plants. It is okay to want to curl up with a good story. Invite a friend over to do the same thing. You don’t have to talk, just read. That is a gift for them too. Perhaps a visit to a bookstore, café, or library is more your speed. Go for it! I feel we are losing our ability to be alone without being lonely. We are constantly inundated with what businesses and others feel we should be doing during these winter months. And if we aren’t “doing,” than we aren’t normal. I say “bull-pucky”. How can we be with others if we can’t be with ourselves?

I used to dread the winter months. The dark made me feel moody, grouchy, irritated and down. It was very difficult to enjoy holiday time and time with family while feeling that way. A couple of things changed. The first was unexpected. I started eating better. Some of this was a result of being diagnosed with celiac disease. Food can play a very large role in how we feel mentally and physically. Changing my food choices helped me to feel less foggy, more engaged, and more energetic. The second was also unexpected. I did some training where my spiritual leaders asked “why fear the dark?” This wasn’t deep blackness of the dark I experienced while caving; this was the internal dark that I didn’t want to explore but had to try. We humans hide a lot of things in the dark to the point where the dark becomes evil and menacing. It doesn’t have to be that way. I hid feelings of inadequacy, frustration, anger, sadness, embarrassment, and lost opportunities. As I started looking into that dark place within myself, I realized that it wasn’t really dark. There are many shades of dark and this one was shades lighter than the darkest cave. There had to be a light source in there somewhere. It wasn’t easy to find. This is another difficult part of that journey.

Initially, I was not good at finding that light; the core of who I am. It took time and practice. I went through many meditations (sometimes falling asleep-even in a group), had long talks with my spiritual leaders, and practiced. I am not sure when it became important to me to really see that inner candle, but it did. I had to ask myself many difficult questions and to be okay if there wasn’t a solution or good answer. Again, this took a lot of time and learning to be kind to myself. I sought help in handling people relationships. I kept trying until I found a practice that let me find, see, and feel that inner warmth emanating from my personal candle.

My favorite way to journey within is a moon meditation. This can be done at any time of year but I was taught to go from new moon to new moon in November. Why the new moon? Not only are you starting in the dark, but the new moon represents all that is possible, so it makes sense to start there. I would take 10 minutes each night to look at the moon and journal whatever popped into my thoughts. Now, when you have small children, this kind of time is very difficult to find. I had a special sign that I put on my bedroom door so that the family knew not to disturb me unless it was a real emergency. Sometimes a ride in the car was necessary for uninterrupted time. Still, I was able to observe this moon meditation almost every night. I have to say, I was often surprised by the thoughts and feelings that appeared in my mind. At times, no thoughts came to mind. Rather than seeing this as a failure, I looked on it as a special time for a quiet mind. A quiet mind is a gift that we humans rarely receive.

My other journey is a candle meditation. I sit in a darkened room with a lit candle. I try to quiet my body and mind. This can take me a few minutes because “to-do” lists run through my head while other thoughts and feeling make their appearance. My body squirms, itches, aches and generally doesn’t want to be still. Throughout all of this, my eyes are focused on the flame. Eventually, my body and mind settle. My mind travels inward, sometimes without me knowing it. It is a bit like daydreaming or resting with your eyes open. When the flame of the candle comes back into focus and I notice my body again, the meditation is over. I rarely look at the clock because time is irrelevant to this meditation, so don’t do this one when you have some place to be. Sometimes things come to me, like coming out of a dream. Sometimes I don’t remember anything but I feel much more settled.

I have learned to appreciate the dark as a way to value the light. My inner candle burns brightly. This candle will always need tending. Sometimes the flame will dim or flicker. This happens when life happens. The important part is to keep that inner flame glowing, and to be able to find it when you feel that the dark is too much. On those days when the journey within is more than you can handle, find a candle, light it, sit and just be. Let this outward candle be a reflection of the candle within you. May you find light within your darkness. I have a candle in my window to guide you home.

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