Whatever holidays we celebrate during this season, there is one underlying constant that we all share in the northern hemisphere, and that is the fact that this is the season of darkness. Tonight is the winter solstice, when the northern hemisphere of the earth is tilted the furthest away from the sun, giving us the longest night and shortest day of the year.
If we look around us we can see that the rest of nature has quieted down, slowed down, or at least taken its activity underground into its roots or burrows. Since we are a part of nature, I’ve always wondered why we take this time to become even more frenetic and busy than usual. I’ve talked about this in past Winter Solstice postings. But what I realize now is that to the degree that we are gathering together with family and old friends we are also focusing on nourishing our roots, on burrowing in to what feeds us. I’m often asked to share the Winter Solstice poem I wrote back in 1992 (which you can find in the past WS postings) but a few days ago I wrote this poem and read it as well at a lovely solstice party I attended, because I think there’s a place for this aspect of ourselves too.
Winter Solstice Too
Dear darkness, what am I to do with you?
Burrow under the eiderdown, close my eyes and dream?
Mmm, how sweet, how soft, how succulent, and yet
I toss off the covers, wishing (on a bright star) to share
this vast indigo expanse, to gather in festivity, to hear
oft-told tales from long-loved lips, to mingle merrily.
Some nights, yes, I settle: a bear in my winter cave.
But other evenings like a dormant rose, I tend my roots
so they may deepen and hold me true for flowering.
Here, candles cast a mellow glow, melting the dark beyond.
We, the long intertwined vines of family born and family made
twinkle the night with laughter as we sip and sup and sing.
– Stephanie Noble 2010
So this is the gift of the season: a pause to appreciate and to nurture our roots, our connections that support us so well all year long.
We can find the balance between our yearning to burrow in and our yearning to gather together when we allow the darkness to fill us, as we allow the silence to fill us, with a sense of presence, compassion and spacious awareness. Sensing in to our body’s wisdom, noticing the thoughts and emotions that arise in the safe space we have created. These thoughts may be sad. We may feel depressed by conditions — the seemingly endless rain, for example — and we may feel uncomfortable with such thoughts. But simply noticing them, allowing them to exist, not needing to push them away — that’s the art of our meditative practice, our life practice. There is no need to put on a happy face, scold ourselves for what we are feeling. These inner battles with what arises simply create suffering. But what we might notice is that by simply noticing and allowing, neither fighting nor indulging these thoughts and emotions, somehow they lighten their tense hold on us.
If we are bored or stuck in an emotional quagmire, there is another action that can also help to pull us out: generosity. I once heard tell of a jolly old elf, a chubby white-bearded fellow in a red suit and black boots whose generous spirit reminds us that when we are moved by the impulse to generosity we tap into the infinite metta energy that can spread loving kindness around the world all in one night, all in one moment. Ho, ho, ho! The secret of joy in a reindeer pulled sleigh!
May you be well, even in the darkness. May you be happy, even in the cold. May you find peace, even when your heart is troubled. May you find ease, even when life seems hard.