Though we’re not yet in the depths of winter, I can already feel the encroaching darkness. I walk the dog in deep blue mornings, lit by the just-waning moon. It’s already dark when I get home from work. Even at the zenith of the day, the light is weaker, less distinct. And yet the trees are now in full blaze, as though attempting to ward off the darkness with their colours for as long as possible. The path is a mulch of luminous sycamore leaves. It rains leaves as we walk.
On Tuesday we had our first snow of the season. Tiny, gossamer spots at first, that amounted to nothing. Then, a blizzard of fat, stinging flakes that coated the ground. An hour later, the sun appeared and it was as though the snow storm had never happened.
As the nights lengthen, we move into what I believe is the most fertile time of year for creativity. Darkness, for me, is comforting, electric, expectant. I love the dark hours of the night, when the world is tinged cold blue and silence prevails. It’s the time when anything can happen. It’s the time when, if you’re struggling with fear or worry, your imagination can lead you down a desolate path. But it’s also a time when ideas are wild and whimsical. Until morning, when the thoughts of the night can seem silly or futile. My best plans form when darkness has fallen. So is darkness deceiving, fooling us into false dreams, or is it that we’re most ourselves in the dark, when the distractions of the world are hidden and we can think the things we truly would without its influence?
The plunge into winter offers months of fruitful darkness. Like anyone else, I’d prefer to turn over in bed on dark mornings rather than getting up for work. I’d prefer to walk to and from work in the light. Yet paradoxically for this introspective season, this is the time when I most desire to walk or visit nature, revelling in the desolation of a wintry coast or skeletal forest. I feel animated in the dark months, restless to better myself. This is the season of the hermit, but it’s also the season when if you do go out, your face, body and mind can be scoured clean. When instead of the sticky, lethargic tiredness of summer, you feel like you’ve earned your apathy. So I will go out and let myself be purified by the season. I’ll wrap up warm, but choose somewhere exposed – a beach, a hillside – where the elements will divest me of all my stale ideas.
Just because this is the dreaming season, this doesn’t mean that you have to stop creating. My dreaming is about actively gathering ideas and inspiration. I began this season with a series of darkness meditations. I doused the lights and meditated with eyes open, confronting the darkness. Thoughts and images came, which I recorded to use later as inspiration. I’ll also use this season to stretch my creative legs and experiment: writing exercises, stream of consciousness writing and sketching, paying attention to my actual dreams. I’ll record my ideas, thoughts and fears uncensored for future use. I’ll also use the respite of staying indoors to try new skills, focus on my work, think about what I will do in spring.
This is an ideal season to go on a writers’ or artists’ retreat. As I can’t do that, I take inspiration from the Hermit and the Four of Swords in the Tarot to remind me that this is a season to hide, to repose, to plough and fertilise the soil of my mind. I use some of the same principles as I would use in a fallow period – to bask in others’ creativity and simply absorb the world around me. But I will also deliberately set aside fallow periods: creativity-free days, when I intentionally choose not to focus on creating.
The dark season is an ideal time to really scrutinise yourself and your practice. Though I won’t worry about how realistic my dreams are for the moment, in the honing season following winter solstice, I’ll sift and shape them. That’s when I’ll use the truth of the darkness to plan my direction for the year to come. And hopefully, I’ll emerge into the light of spring newly focussed and with an arsenal of inspiration to draw on.