by Kelly Banker, Mayyim Hayyim Intern

Kelly BankerAs we move into the Hebrew month of Kislev, the weather gets colder and the light becomes increasingly scarce. I find myself continually reminded of what the darkness can do, the stillness it can bring. Kislev, a month that literally means “in the pocket of the heart,” is a time of reconnecting with our dreams of all kinds—whether they be as we sleep, or the hopes in our waking lives. Dreams are utterly bewildering sometimes, and yet they serve as a critical reminder of what stirs in our subconscious mind. I have been trying (to little success, I might add) to remember my dreams this month and write them down, so that I might have a sense of what is brewing beneath thesurface. I find that many of the dreams I do remember are painful ones, caught in the past. The word ‘dream,’ to me, conjures up an image of whimsy and beauty, and thus it is all the more difficult to reconcile these sometimes painful visions with this notion of ‘dream’ as inherently connected to lightness.

Perhaps it is this expectation—that dreams always be connected to lightness—that limits my experience of dreams and darkness. Like many of us, I lived in fear of the darkness for many years. I found myself afraid to be with pain, trauma, loss or grief, convincing myself that to be with these ‘darker’ emotions was to be overly self-indulgent. Recently, I have begun to experiment with the idea of lightness and darkness as mutually dependent. Without light, we cannot know darkness, and without darkness, we can never know light. It is the same, I believe, with our dreams and their ensuing emotions. If we are to live our lives in fear of the hurt we have suffered or might suffer in the future, we refuse to acknowledge the natural cycles that make our existence possible. We cannot only live in lightness, nor should we strive to. Our worldrotates around the coexistence of the sun and the moon—the Jewish calendar is notably both solar and lunar. Therefore these cycles of light and dark serve as powerful models for how to live healthy, balanced lives that lovingly embrace dreams and difficult experiences.

Darkness is uncomfortable. It brings us to places of vulnerability that we spend most of our waking lives pushing beneath the surface. Yet it is precisely these moments and memories of vulnerability and pain that reveal our greatest strengths. We each have a profound capacity for healing within us thatmakes itself known exactly when it is needed. Kislev, and with it Chanukkah, reminds us that darkness and dreaming are hopelessly, irrevocably intertwined. Our moments of darkness can be our most challenging, inspiring teachers because they have the potential to reveal our own radiance. Poet Mary Oliver articulates this connection in her poem, “The Uses of Sorrow:”

 “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to realize that this, too, was a gift.”

Mikveh, for many of us, becomes a sacred space through which an exploration of that which lies beneath the surface is possible. In the mikveh, we immerse ourselves into the depths of water and return to the surface changed, renewed, and sometimes, transformed. Immersing at Mayyim Hayyim is a safe, holy space of embracing our vulnerability and with it, our moments of darkness as well as our moments of celebration and lightness. The mikveh overflows with a life-affirming blend of grief, joy, change, trauma, transitions, and, perhaps most of all, with new life. How blessed we are to have access to a space that so fluidly complements our personal transformations.

With the approach of Chanukkah and the winter solstice, may we find comfort in the darkness that envelops us. May we find the strength to kindle our own light, and may we hold space for our loved ones to do the same for themselves. May we revel in the brilliance of the moon, forever demonstrating the possibility and heartbreaking beauty that darkness holds.

Kelly Banker is an intern at Mayyim Hayyim. She is also a resident organizer at Moishe Kavod House and teaches Hebrew school at local synagogues. Kelly recently earned her BA from Carleton College in Religion and Womens Studies, and has worked with teenagers in the Dominican Republic, as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, and has taught dance. She loves yoga, modern dance, running in the woods, poetry, and the moon.