Over the past few weeks, I’ve been struck by the number of holidays that take place during what in the Northern Hemisphere is the darkest time of the year and all the things they have in common. To me, it starts with Diwali, which is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs around the world. For five days, Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, celebrates the triumph of light over darkness. Many people are familiar with the Jewish tradition of Hanukkah, which is also known as the Festival of Lights. Some Christians celebrate Advent, in which candles are lit, adding one each consecutive Sunday for the four Sundays before Christmas. During the Winter Solstice, some folks light paper lanterns, which they release in community festivals. Kwanzaa involves lighting candles and families and communities coming together.
Are you seeing a pattern here?
Winter can be really challenging for many people. With the cold and darkness, we’re more biologically vulnerable to experiencing intense emotions. Add to that the expectations of how things “should” be, challenging relationship dynamics, financial concerns, and (as always) the capitalist expectation that despite all our obligations, we still need to be ‘productive,’ and you’ve got a terrible storm to weather!
Weathering it Together, or Light and Hope
All these traditions are about light. It’s funny how many figures of speech there are about light: in light of something, to bring something to light, the light of someone’s life, shed light on something, light a fire under someone, et cetera. Light is so important during these dark times, but more importantly, community is important. We know that people succeed when they are given appropriate support, whether it’s in recovery from substance misuse, independent living with an intellectual disability, or overall mental health.
Along with light and community, there is hope. Hope that the darkness will not overcome us. Hope that tomorrow will be just a little bit brighter. When I was in my training program, one of my mentors called therapists ‘keepers and cultivators of hope.’ I love that as not just a job description but as a life philosophy. At True North, we aim to cultivate hope with our clients. Sometimes that means holding hope for them when they become too overwhelmed to hold it themselves. I’d like to end these thoughts with my favorite Emily Dickinson poem:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
And the sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
It asked a crumb—of me.
This blog was written by True North’s Clinical Director, Jennifer Kendrick. Jennifer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Indiana and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Kentucky. Learn more or get in touch here.