Holy crap it is dark in my house right now! It is about 3:00PM and adding to the fact that in the little canyon where I live it gets dark a bit earlier than an elevated or flat area, it is also a rare cloudy day here in So Cal. And still no rain – ugh! But even if it were not cloudy, it would be fairly dark already due to the time of year. It always seems to sneak up on us doesn’t it? I am a morning person, so I am definitely enjoying more morning light now that the clock changed, but some alterations are required for my afternoon/evening if I am going to survive the dark months without slipping into depression and falling into bed by 6:00PM every night. How do you fare in the darker months? If you are like a large portion of the population, you might suffer a bit (or a lot) from SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. It happens. There is a fancy name for it now, but our ancestors were well aware of what happens in the dark…and they adapted. So can we, but it takes awareness, acceptance and surrender if we are going to thrive through the fall/winter. And what we learn from nourishing ourselves through the darkness can also help us create nourishing habits for any time that depression sets in, or what I refer to as “the demons getting too loud.”
I noticed at a very young age that in the dark, everything seems worse. And if I let those demons get too loud, things can snowball out of control and the next thing I know I’m feeling like my world will end and sometimes I even end up in tears. Once the sun rises, I realize that I conjured up things in my mind that weren’t true – well, the demons did anyhow. That is what I call the negative “monkey mind,” because those monkeys lie. They are not voices, but thoughts; untrue thoughts. As a deep thinker, I can get caught up in over thinking which is when those damn demons pipe in. Of course I can get caught up in over thinking anytime; usually when I am out of harmony like being over tired or having too much chaos around me. But when it is dark, well, the demons like the dark. On occasion I take them out for dinner and feed them, which quiets them a bit. But I must employ an alternative voice that counters their efforts, daily; particularly when the little buggers wake me up in the middle of the night and start their lies.
Being a 45 year old woman in a world that over-values youth, I’ve noticed in the last few years those wretched demons have gotten louder. Some days they tell me I’m fat, or I’m too old, or undereducated, or not making enough money, or ugly, or not a good enough mom – the list goes on and on. And not one of those things is true. They are all outright abominable lies! So I created a deeply loving, nurturing and nourishing inner voice that shuts them right up. She has always been there of course, but she was too quiet for too long. So I gave her some voice lessons and got her to speak loud and clear. She is especially effective at 3:00AM when the demons think they can come out and play. She refocuses my thoughts on gratitude, which is like kryptonite to negativity. She also calls me endearing names like lovey, baby girl, sweet thing, precious, etc. She tells the truth, always. Even when the truth might be a little tough to hear, she speaks it in a loving and uplifting tone.
I haven’t given her a name per se. I simply call her nourishment. If I’m feeling down, I ask myself what is the most nourishing thing I can do for myself right now. Sometimes it is to just let go and have a down, depressed moment (or more than a moment). There are times when that is nourishing. But most of the time, she offers empowering suggestions that lift me up. So I thought I would share some of her encouraging advice with you in case you have similar demons to mine, or know someone who does. It is especially helpful during the dark months, when our shadow selves ask for some attention. They certainly need attention, which is why I take the demons to dinner. That is just my metaphor for honoring the shadow self. Our shadow self gets loud sometimes because it is trying to lead us to wisdom. Our shadow is asking us to go deep into ourselves and look for places that need nourishment – hence feeding the demons. By feeding them every now and then, we can see where we are lacking true nourishment.
Here are some ways we can nourish ourselves through the dark months:
• Go ahead and go to bed a little earlier! How about honoring the rhythms of the earth instead of fighting them. We all would benefit greatly from getting 8+ hours of sleep each night. Know your personal rhythms. If you are naturally a night owl, rejoice in this time of year! You just got more dark and can still get to bed early. If you are a morning person like me, go ahead and go to bed early, then wake up with the sun. Make good use of the daylight you have. When it gets dark, go ahead and wind down without feeling guilty. Yeah, guilt is one of those demons.
• Get your movement in! Movement is the creator of endorphins – the feel-good hormones. Explore when is the best time for you to get your movement in and make a commitment to yourself to do it. I like the mornings. I hike 3 miles almost every day with my dogs. I like to get out into nature and get those endorphins flowing early on and use them throughout the day. But I also like a little light movement in the evening, like yoga or a gentle walk. Want to hear something funny…sometimes I run around the first floor of my home for 10 minutes in the evening. The cats think I’m nuts. But if I’m already in my comfies, and I don’t want to put on walking shoes, I just run barefoot or in socks around the house. It helps me sleep better too. I’m not suggesting you do the same, just do what is nourishing for you. But I thought at least the visual might give you a chuckle. Movement every day is nourishing to everyone, but it is especially important in the dark months.
• Get in your vitamin N – vitamin Nature! Don’t let cooler weather, or for those outside of California, sometimes freezing weather deter you. Bundle up, grab the pups if you have them, maybe a friend, or even go at it alone and get outside. The light, even when cloudy, still gets in through the eyes and feeds the body and soul by increasing your serotonin and dopamine, the other happy hormones. Try to do it without sunglasses, for a few minutes at least.
• Get good nutrition! Nourishing your body nourishes your brain, and your soul. These days I realize good nutrition has a different definition for everyone. It is like parenting styles. Whatever type of diet you prefer, make sure to get in plenty of good fats. If you are not vegan, plenty of animal fats like grass fed butter, organic full-fat dairy, organic meats, etc. They will also help keep healthy levels of feel-good hormones pumping strong. Consider some nourishing bone broths. They’re warm and deeply nutritive. I don’t do the smoothie thing for a variety of reasons, but I do drink nourishing herbal infusions (different from teas). My favorites for the blues are Nettle and Oatstraw. I rotate through more than that, but I drink extra when I need upliftment. Also consider sources of vitamin D if you live in areas that don’t get a lot of sun. Salmon is an excellent source. That is why it is so abundant in the Northwest by the way. Nature takes care of her peeps! Cheese and egg yolks are good too.
• Get in plenty of time with community! It is easy to hunker down and read, or write, or watch TV this time of year. Nothing wrong with that. But make sure you have harmony between down time and community time. If you have kids and/or a partner, play games, have daily family dinners, and do projects together. If you don’t have kids, or are empty nesting it like me with a partner who works A LOT, take a class, offer a class, get together with friends, go to a drum circle – just don’t hermit too much. I’m definitely guilty of hermiting too much, but my nourishing voice nudges me to get out at least one night a week for some community nourishment. Pets are great, and they help, but we also need human connection. I’m known to teach evening classes during the dark months and the main reason is to ensure I get a community fix. For those of you local, what class would you like to see me teach this season?
• Get in plenty of gratitude! I don’t know about you, but I can physically feel when depression begins to seep in. For example, in the middle of the night when the demons get loud. This is when I use gratitude like a tuning fork. I begin to focus on all of the people I am grateful for and why, all of the experiences I’ve had, and even those yet to come. I might reflect on that day, or that week, or even that year. It’s ok if you are grateful for the same thing over and over. It is not a creativity contest. But sincerity is crucial. Draw attention to how your body feels when you are in gratitude. There is a kinesthetic shift in the body when we start focusing on things that make us feel good, like what we are grateful for. I used to have a terrible time refocusing my mind when the demons get too loud in the middle of the night. I’d attempt to visualize something joyful and before I knew it, those sneaky little turds worked their way back into my thoughts. But counting my blessings is far better than trying to count sheep. As my mind reaches for what I am grateful for, there is a magical effect that occurs that puts both me and my demons back to sleep.
Lastly, if you have not already, please create your own nourishing inner voice. It takes conscious awareness and practice, but it won’t be long until new neural pathways are made and she/he becomes louder and louder. When you catch yourself unconsciously allowing the demons to run amuck, invoke that voice of nourishment! Let it tell you that you are adorable, beautiful, have an amazing heart, are of such incredible value just for being you and that you are so very needed in this world. Because that is truth! Yes, we will all age, we might gain or loose weight, maybe we let opportunities go or think we pursued the wrong ones, we are not perfect parents, partners, friends or relatives, nor could we ever be, but we are always doing the best we can. When we are nourished, we make nourished choices and have nourishing thoughts. When we are depleted, we make depleted choices and the demons rule our thoughts. Choosing to listen to the nourishing voice is the true pathway to self love. Self love is not a final destination that you will master, so let go of that notion of nonsense. We will always have moments, days, and weeks even of self loathing. That is how we know what self love really is. The contrast between self loathing and self love is exactly what we came here for. Conscious awareness is our practice that leads us to loving all of our self; the demons and the shadow as well as the glorious light that is our ultimate truth.
Enjoy the fall/winter season. It will pass as all things do.