into the dark

when I notice the moon waning into a thinner smile each night, I know we’re moving towards a brief time of utter darkness– and it makes my heart flutter! not just because the stars will shine brighter, the milky way visible even from the balcony of my seaside apartment, and the deep space of the cosmos beyond black as velvet– no, it’s because the new moon is such a brilliant emblem of renewal and rebirth. each month, the cyclical disappearance and returning of the moon demonstrates to us our continuously recurring ability to hit the ‘restart’ button if we need to– or want to. either way, by setting new intentions for the month to come, we intentionally plant seeds in the rich, dark humus of our awareness so that we can see our dreams germinate and grow taller each day– until they are full, and we can surrender them to the everything and start anew.

last december, the new moon coincided with the winter solstice, a point in time d & I chose to honor with a small ceremony on my balcony. the milky way pulsed with faraway light. we had decided to write one word on a small piece of paper, a word that encompassed everything we wanted to cultivate not just for the coming lunar cycle, but for the next solar year. on this darkest, longest night of the year, we lit candles and sat with our words.

my word for the year prior (yes, I’d played this game before) had been ‘abundance,’ and this choice had blessed me each day with a deeper understanding of what it means to be abundant, or to have abundance. sometimes these lessons were joyful and fulfilling, both other times they were tough– I learned what it meant to be overly full, to have too much on your plate, and was met with a lot of resistance by people who wanted to talk about scarcity instead.

knowing that whatever we cultivate will show itself to us in a complex way that is not always perceived positively, I knew that in a certain sense, deciding on a single word, I had to be careful what I wished for. so that when some deep part of me kept insisting on the word courage, I kept wondering, yes, it sounds nice to work with courage, to explore being courageous– but what if, to prove its point, ‘the universe’ sends me some awful tragedy?

maybe I was just choosing not to embody my own courage during the ceremony. either way, I wrote the word ‘sweetness’ on my piece of paper, and sat with it. and placed it in the small fire of the candle. and watched the light eat my intention and send it up in a stream of smoke to the black void of the everything, until it blended with the great smoky stream of stars overhead that make up our galaxy. all the while thinking, courage, courage, courage

ten months later, I’m finally starting to see a relationship between the word I chose– sweetness– and the word that chose me, the one I kept silent but that followed me through each moon of the past year into the now.

what I’ve learned is this: whenever we engage (skillfully) in beginning a new task, action, or cycle, we are marrying courage and sweetness within us. we gather our courage to step out onto a ledge– then we melt into our own sweetness on that ledge, softening into the newness of what is. it takes courage to walk on into the dark, and it takes sweetness to care for ourselves through the experience, relying on our inner light to guide us through to whatever lies beyond.

this has been kind of a big deal in my yoga practice this year. the cycle looks like this: I’ll notice that I have plateaued in some way, and feel the drive or the urge to deepen or intensify my practice in one way or another. then, after enough time has passed on this new level of extremity in my yoga, I’ll realize that I’m holding too much or pushing too hard, and I’ll remind myself to step back, slow down, return home to myself.

this can happen in the space of three months or an hour, or the time it takes to fully express a single asana.

finding and losing and regaining this balance between tapas (the fire of our spiritual discipline) and ahimsa (non-violence, in this case against our selves, w/r/t our expectations of ourselves), playing with our edge and coming away from it again to find ease in the effort of our poses and our lives– this is what I reckon with on and off the mat, this year. the courage to progress and evolve, and the sweetness to sink back into myself, to rest in the softness with which I empower myself anew.

recognizing with compassion my need to rest, my need for dark, for sleep. seeing in myself the seed that waits in the cold earth for the right moment, for the courage to engage with the world of action and interaction– or the courage to sit back and watch the cycles of expansion and contraction within our psyches and selves, which we see echoing throughout the everything, from the circular shifts of the moon’s face to the tides of the ocean and the seasons of the earth to the births and deaths of stars, galaxies, and universes.

get out on a hike this new moon, if you can. watch the sun set over the ridges to the west. look east at what’s not rising– know it’s there anyway, hidden by shadow. know it will be revealed in nights to come. hold whatever intention you want to cultivate close to your center. as the trail grows dark, let the light of your intention guide you back to the very beginning of everything: home.

know the potential of the new moon is the potential you only realize when you adopt the courage to walk your path in the deepening gloaming. only this way can we learn to light the way with the fire we carry within– the tapas that spurs us endlessly toward our own infinite expansion– and the ahimsa which calls us back to the truth of our unconditional love for all that is. watch the two commingle within yourself and feel sweetness spread through your entire being like the radiant smile of your heart.

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