The following is a poem I wrote nineteen years ago. At that time I was frustrated because every celebration of winter solstice, a natural phenomenon that has great meaning to many people, was focused on the return of the light. As a Buddhist practitioner, learning how to be present with what is here and now, I could see that was is present right now is darkness. This is the shortest day and the longest night in the northern hemisphere. (Happy Summer Solstice to you in the southern hemisphere!)
Since then this poem has been shared at many a winter solstice celebration. Feel free to share it, keeping in mind that in the spirit of taking only what is freely given we always include the poet’s name on any poem we share with others.
In Celebration of the Winter Solstice
Do not be afraid of the darkness.
Dark is the rich fertile earth
that cradles the seed, nourishing growth.
Dark is the soft night that cradles us to rest.
Only in darkness
can stars shine across the vastness of space.
Only in darkness
is the moon’s dance so clear.
There is mystery woven in the dark quiet hours,
There is magic in the darkness.
Do not be afraid.
We are born of this magic.
It fills our dreams
that root, unravel and reweave themselves
in the shelter of the deep dark night.
The dark has its own hue,
its own resonance, its own breath.
It fills our soul,
not with despair, but with promise.
Dark is the gestation of our deep and knowing self.
Dark is the cave where we rest and renew our soul.
We are born of the darkness,
and each night we return
to the deep moist womb of our beginnings.
Do not be afraid of the darkness,
for in the depth of that very darkness
comes a first glimpse of our own light,
the pure inner light of love and knowing.
As it glows and grows, the darkness recedes.
As we shed our light, we shed our fear,
and revel in the wonder of all that is revealed.
So, do not rush the coming of the sun.
Do not crave the lengthening of the day.
Celebrate the darkness.
Here and now. A time of richness. A time of joy.
This time of year the darkness provides an opportunity to slow down, but do we?
If we take a slower pace, if we give ourselves our meditation practice and then extend that sense of timeless awareness that arises from it into our experience of this season, it does indeed become merry, joyous and filled with an inner light.
The poem talks about ‘our own inner light’ — what does this mean?
We often talk in class about our inner wisdom, our Buddha nature, our most authentic self — well this inner light is the same. Our inner wisdom has the quality of light. First metta, loving-kindness, has the infinite quality of light, shedding light everywhere, not picking and choosing who is worthy of the light of our loving kindness. This kindness and it’s companion compassion (karuna) arise naturally as light and spreads without effort. So light is very much a quality of metta.
Awareness also has the quality of light. When we develop awareness we are casting light in the darkness of our habitual thoughts and patterns. This is both a floodlight of awareness, when we understand our interconnection with all that is; and a spotlight, when we are able to focus on a particular aspect of something and discern what is going on more clearly, seeing previously hidden connections and associations, seeing how assumptions we have relied on don’t hold up when we are really paying attention and noticing. We can see more clearly and more deeply with this light of awareness.
One morning this week, I awoke at 5 AM and, thinking it was later, I got up and opened the curtains so that the sunrise would lighten the room as I meditated. But what I discovered was the stars shining so brilliantly in the western sky, stars that I am not used to seeing there. I am no astronomer, but I could see that the constellations were in a very different position, and also that the sky was very far from sunrise. Even as dark as mornings are this time of year, I could tell it was very very early. But I was drawn to throw on some warm things and go outside and stand in the deep darkness with those brilliant stars. And they were so bright that even the neighbors’ bright security lights across the street could not dim their brilliance. And I really felt the truth of the poem, how ‘Only in darkness can stars shine across the vastness of space.’
This is a very special season, both a season of sharing and celebration, and a season of quiet. In this season of darkness the faintest light of awareness can be more noticeable, more amplified.
In this season the sense of joyous loving kindness can bubble forth and express itself in such good will and generosity, reminding us of our truest nature. We can find our true selves under the tree of being! The greatest gift of all.
So I wish you all a very Happy Solstice! May the awareness of your inner light bring joy to all the holidays you celebrate — Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Years Eve — and all the moments in between the celebrations, when you are a celebration unto yourself.