Category Archives: darkness

This little light of mine

Here we are in the deepest darkness of the year. Most of us have challenging relationships with darkness. Why? Our fearful thoughts and feelings are activated in the dark because we can’t see, so we don’t know what there is there. And in the quiet of the dark night our other senses are heightened. We hear things. What is that? We don’t know!! Yikes. Then our imaginations, already activated with the patterns of dream-making in the dark, can create all manner of things to be afraid of. So yes, the dark can be difficult.

But the dark is also where the riches can be found — all those hidden treasures stored away in the dark cavernous basement or the dark dusty attic of our inner world. But if we are going to explore these areas, we need a flashlight, right? Through the regular practice of meditation, that’s exactly what we are developing: the ability to shine a light in our own darkness.The ability to calm our fears and see more clearly. Our practice is illumination! We actively cultivate the light of clarity and the infinite loving light of kindness and compassion. We are well equipped to be present with whatever we find, and our discoveries will very likely be of benefit to us and in turn to all beings.

So on this longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, I wish you Happy Solstice! I attended a granddaughter’s holiday chorus and was delighted to hear her group singing ‘This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine!’ That shall be my theme song for the season and beyond. Try it for yourself and feel the glow. 😉

Here is a video of my illustrated solstice poem, and below that is the poem for reading. Enjoy and share widely. You never know who among all your friends, family and acquaintances might be afraid of the dark and in need of some soulful fortification. 

Stephanie Noble

In Celebration of the Winter Solstice
a poem by Stephanie Noble

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.

– copyright 1994 Stephanie Noble

 

Are you afraid of the dark?

Happy Winter Solstice!
eb391-wendygoldbergtwilighttomales-bmpTonight is the longest night, the turning point when the light begins to return in the northern hemisphere. But before we celebrate the coming of the light, can we pause and appreciate the darkness for its many gifts?

Here’s a poem I wrote over twenty years ago that I’m happy to say is still getting requested. It’s used in solstice celebrations around the world. Share this post to spread the spirit of the season.

Painting above by Wendy Goldberg

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.

– Stephanie Noble  (copyright 1994)

 

Walking through a dark valley

When I’m going through a difficult time, I try to remember to pause and notice what’s going on in my body. What sensations are present that aren’t usually here?
For example, have you ever felt an achy heaviness in the chest area? That can be a physical manifestation of loss. Next time you feel that sensation, you might pause to consider what’s going on in your life. Where might you be feeling loss?
If we can notice a physical sensation, we can hold it with tenderness. We can be the kind friend to ourselves that we try to be for others. We can be present to experience this sensation, and to be compassionate with it. This is much more powerful than trying to talk ourselves out of it.
I grew up back when ’emotional intelligence’ was not even coined as a term. My mother was a great and loving woman. I was very lucky. But even so, if I said, ‘Mom, I’m feeling sad,’ she would get very uncomfortable and tell me that I had nothing to complain about. It’s not her fault. If she were a young mother today, chances are she would know that telling someone they shouldn’t feel what they feel is not very useful.
Has anyone ever told you to stuff down your feelings or trade them in for a shinier happy version that would make everyone feel more comfortable? And if so, have you found that their voices are still in your head, still telling you it’s not okay to feel what you feel?
Most of us have stuffed-down sadness that we didn’t let ourselves feel at the time it occurred. It is still there, compressed under layers and layers of judgment. When we notice it, we rush to put on a smiley-faced band-aid and hope nobody notices.
Noticing is what our mindfulness practice is all about. We notice physical sensation first and foremost. It anchors us in the present moment which is the only one that exists. The past and future are just thoughts. We can’t change the past, though we can change how we relate to it, and any power we have over the future is contained in this present moment.
But are we willing to be present when we’re going through something difficult?
Most of us want to rush past this experience and get to a pleasant one. Maybe we’re embarrassed to be down and that adds to our discomfort. So we’re racing toward some brighter future, but we are dragging all these weighty anchors from the past. Our anger and judgments are rooted there. We’re not operating from here and now but from where we once were because we weren’t sufficiently there to notice what was going on at the time and to give ourselves the simple gift of being there. It’s complicated!
You can see how this gets us into trouble.

In Psalms 23.4 the Bible says ‘Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ This is identifying a human experience we all share at times. We find ourselves walking through a dark valley. We don’t have the vantage of the mountain top to see the lay of the land, so we don’t know where this valley leads. Maybe we get anxious and want very much to get past this narrowing in the inner landscape. We’re spending all our time looking for a way out.

But the valley is actually a very fertile place, and there is great value in simply being here where we are. In fact, the valley is so fertile that whatever it is we seed there will grow up before our eyes. If we are afraid of what we’ll find in the darkness, we seed fear. From the seeds of fear grow all manner of demon-like thoughts and emotions, like associated memories from youth that have lain dormant these many years that now rise up to taunt us. Loser! Loner! Unacceptable! Different! Pathetic!
But even in this dark narrow valley we are never alone. We are each of us an intrinsic part of the grand scheme of things, a natural expression of the life force. If we can sense into physical sensation we can remember this connection and the fear will soften. We can seed that same valley with love and compassion that in turn nourishes us. We are then able to follow our natural course at an easeful pace. We cease to struggle to get a mountain top vantage point but accept that we just don’t know. And that’s okay.
We expect to be in dark valleys when we have experienced a loss of any kind. We don’t expect to wake up one day and for no particular reason find we’re in a valley. But it happens, doesn’t it?
Sometimes when we do what feels like the next right thing in the natural flow of our lives, we come to a bend in the river and the shadows of the canyon walls make everything go dark. At this point we have no idea what to do. We thought we had a clear course, yet here we are in the valley of darkness! How did this happen?
As an example, I have recently embarked on a journey, having made a decision to publish some of my writing in book form, and I find myself at times in the valley. I recognize it. I have been here before. It is the place where all the taunts of my youth come up to haunt me.
I think how foolish I must have appeared when, as a new kid in school, I ran for an office because no one else was running and I thought it would be a good way to meet people. That would have probably worked out okay except that at the last minute the most popular girl in the class decided to run as well, and it was too late for me to withdraw. How awkward I felt making campaign promises standing in front of the whole student body in the expensive Pendleton plaid wool pleated skirt my mother had splurged on so I would feel confident for the occasion.
It was of course no surprise that I didn’t win, but here’s the painful part for me to remember: I stayed after school to wait for the voting results. Now why did I do that? Did I think I had a chance? That delusional hopefulness worries me.It makes me wonder if am I just as delusional now.
Of course in my mother’s view the worst thing about it was that I never wore that Pendleton skirt again. It was jinxed and had bad memories. I wanted to forget the whole experience. But clearly I haven’t, have I?
When you find yourself in a dark valley for seemingly no reason, notice what ancient taunts rise up to pull you down. What are the parallels to your current situation?
We all have these echoes within us, these events in our lives that reactivate fear when any potentially parallel situation arises. So where’s the parallel for me? In publishing these days it is supremely important to have a preexisting ‘author platform’ — an audience of people already interested in what the author has to say. Back in high school as the new kid in town I was completely lacking in any ‘platform’ at all, especially compared to that very popular girl. That’s a seemingly direct parallel. Except, as my meditation students point out, I have them, my blog readers, readers of my last book, as well as a wide circle of friends. I’m not the new kid at school. But the fear is there. 
So here I am in this dark valley at some moments when self-doubt creeps in. Just last week I was up on the proverbial mountain, leaping from peak to peak, feeling so supported by the universe. Absolutely nothing has changed from that moment to this. Students are sending me lovely expressions of praise to share with publishers. Friends say how great it is I’m doing it. Those with knowledge about publishing are particularly encouraging.
But still I find myself in the dark valley with a bunch of fourteen-year-olds from fifty years ago, who to their credit never said one mean word to me about the whole debacle. It’s all me creating this valley of darkness. And that’s important to remember.
What can I do about it? What can any of us do? We stay present with this moment and notice how it feels to be here with these physical sensations, some of them painful. We notice how it feels to stay present with these thoughts and emotions that arise in our field of awareness. Some of them are painful. We don’t try to talk ourselves out of what we are feeling. We don’t try to shame ourselves into more cheerful views. We simply stay present and acknowledge that we don’t know how long we’ll be walking in this dark valley. It may disappear in the next instant. It may last awhile. We do not know, and that’s important for us to embrace as a way of relating to our experience and life in general because it’s the truth in every moment, not just this one.
So we stay present and compassionate with ourselves, planting seeds of kindness in this fertile valley. If demons rise up from the fear-seeds we’ve planted in the past, we are compassionate with them. We don’t indulge their fears but we do acknowledge them. They are like old friends who think they are trying to protect us. We can remind ourselves that they are well-intentioned but not wise. So we appreciate their efforts but we don’t follow their advice.

With compassion and awareness, we may find that this valley is verdant. Someday we may look back and see it as the source of wonderful things that followed, how we grew in ways we could never have imagined. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s be here in the valley now, noticing physical sensation and giving ourselves time to experience it with compassion.

Happy Solstice!

Winter Solstice

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.

– Stephanie Noble



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.

Discovering the Shadow & the Inner Light

We’ve been talking about this inner cast of negatively-charged emotions that each of us has within us. This is really just another way to talk about what Jung called the shadow. The shadow is the part of our nature that we deny. It is unacceptable to us and must be hidden from others. We hide the shadow so well that we are usually unaware of it, but we may have an uneasy sense of its presence lurking somewhere. This intentional unawareness combined with unease causes us to contract in fear and fuels the subversive behavior of the shadowy aspects within. We do things we are then ashamed of, unable to explain what came over us, because we don’t see the shadowy aspects with their fear-based hidden agendas and secret intentions.

Then through the practice of meditation in a supportive atmosphere we are encouraged to notice our thoughts and emotions as they arise and fall away. Especially if we spend an extended period of time doing so, as on a silent retreat, we begin to see what we had been hiding from view. This can be scary and it can be thrilling. It is scary to the shadow aspects that feel threatened with discovery. And it is thrilling to the deepest part of our nature, our Buddha nature, to illuminate the darkness and thus dissipate the shadow.

Now here’s a very interesting thing about shadow: Think about a physical shadow caused by our standing in the light of the sun. If we rely on the cast light of another being, whether a particular human, a deity or a set of cultural norms, then that light will cast a shadow. There will be a part of us that must be hidden as unacceptable because it doesn’t meet the other’s expectations, or what we speculate to be the expectations of the other. We revolve around this external light and like the moon, always carry a dark side, that unacceptable side that doesn’t meet external expectation.

Feeling the density of the shadow like a weight, a person might turn away from the light altogether. They may feel the darkness is more honest and comfortable. They feel safer in the darkness because it seems to accept all of who they are. Think of the muted and almost blind camaraderie of the all-forgiving bar, opium den, casino or bordello, whether actual places or just the dark unwholesome places within our mind that can feel safer, relieved of having to try to be so good. In this place goodness looks very shallow and ineffectual, full of itself, self-righteous, hypocritical, treacle-y sweet and unsatisfying.

From the darkness external light is often suspect and accusatory, like a searchlight tracking us down to drag us off for questioning. Thus the darkness dweller turns away further and further from the externally cast light.

From the darkness the shadows of others, who are trying to live up to the light cast by external sources, are very easy to see, exposing the falseness of their endless efforts to be good. This further justifies the darkness dwellers belief that darkness is the only honest place, and they become further entrenched in darkness.

But at its core a yearning to succumb to darkness is truly a yearning for gestation, for rebirth. When someone wandering in the darkness undertakes to awaken through setting the intention to be fully present with what is, they experience a ‘dark night of the soul’ of wrenching proportions but if they stay with it, can find that being in the darkness has enhanced their ability to recognize their own inner light. We all know how in the middle of the night all the little electronic lights in the house suddenly glow brightly when during the day they weren’t even noticeable.

This is not to recommend hanging out in the unwholesome and unsavory nooks and crannies of shadow to find the inner light, for awareness is required and awareness is hugely lacking in the dark shadows of our existence. That’s how it got so damn dark! Most darkness dwellers prefer to stay trapped where they are, feeling they don’t deserve better and they see no value in self-exploration or meditative practices.

But for anyone who has been wandering in the darkness and has begun to see glimpses of an inner glow, this is a strong reminder to encourage that inner light to glow and grow. It will shed light on the darkness, bring understanding and illuminate life, no matter who we are, where we have been or what we have done or not done.

If we are not wandering in the darkness, we may not be noticing that inner light because there is so much other light around and nothing in our upbringing or culture has encouraged us to look for it. We see light as external and we long to stand in it as long as we can, treating it like a much-needed vacation. The practice of meditation is often treated this way, as a getaway. If this is how it feels for you, remember that our practice is to develop awareness in every moment, awareness of the gift of life, awareness of the light that is ever present, radiating from within.

Jesus said, ‘Be a lamp unto yourself.’ He recognized that we each have access to the source of light, not by standing in the light cast by others but by being aware of our own light nature, our connection to the infinite light of being.

We can honor the cast light of others as a celebration of life. But we need to also recognize the shadow cast when we stand only in that cast light. This is the danger of submitting to the will of a master or powerful teacher, who is casting false light and false hopes while dwelling in the darkness and trying to suck the inner light out of their followers. With insight through meditation we begin to understand that we are each expressions of infinite light that is the interconnected web of life. If we use the name of God for this infinite light, then feel God as beingness itself, world without end, not some finite external being that picks and chooses who is worthy of its love and light. Feel the joy of being an expression of God’s infinite love and light.

And think: When we are radiating light, when we are an expression of the infinite light of being, we cast no shadow.

Since we are humans living in a human society with all that entails, it’s all too easy to get lost, to forget we are lamps unto ourselves, to forget that we have access to inner wisdom, so our practice to deepen and maintain that awareness is ongoing. We set our intention to be present with our experience, to notice our thoughts, our judgments, our tendencies to grasp and cling to the past and the future; to anchor awareness in physical sensation to keep us present and to notice and release habituated tension in the body, noticing associative memories, images, thoughts and emotions that the tension is holding. This noticing sets the stage for noticing the shadow. And when the shadow is seen and not further banished, then it begins to dissipate. As we identify more and more with the radiant light within us, knowing ourselves to be a part of the infinite expression of life, we can become much less defensive for we have nothing to defend against. As we begin to see the shadow we cast when standing in the bright externalized light, we recognize that shadow is just fear, compressed and hidden in darkness. Releasing tension, shedding our inner light of awareness on the fear-based emotions, we are able to gently and steadily awaken.

This process of shedding light and acknowledging the shadow, or the negatively-charged aspects we have suppressed so long that they have become dense and toxic, is part of our ongoing exploration through awareness or insight meditation. In the process of letting go of the belief that we are the emotions and thoughts that pass through our experience, we are more able to hold ourselves in an open loving embrace. We see the shadowy aspects for what they are. We align with the infinite light of our being to unravel the tight fearful tangle, shedding loving light, metta, upon all that we find. Noticing the judgments, noticing the expectations, and even sending metta to those fearful aspects that must criticize lest someone criticize them, to the ones that find fault with the way things are, comparing them to the way they were or the way we had hoped they would be, we make room for all of these expressions in the spaciousness of our being. And by making room for them to be seen, we loosen their tight hold on us, and are no longer blindly vulnerable to their subversion of our intentions to be kind and compassionate. Our willingness to acknowledge that at times we experience thoughts, urges and emotions that would be harmful if acted upon, frees us from the need to act upon them! We can simply acknowledge them, or if they are urgent, we can take the time to sit with them and explore what their need is, and respectfully negotiate a truce as discussed in previous posts.

To the degree that we access and align with the infinite light of being, this deep understanding of our interconnection and the infinite nature of being, then the more joyful we are able to be. We needn’t be afraid of our shadow! But if we are aware of it we can recognize that we need to spend some time looking in to see that inner light glowing in the darkness.

We can even sing to ourselves that wonderful tune: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine….Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!”

Celebrating the Winter Solstice

(This is a pastel by my friend Wendy Goldberg, titled Twilight Tomales.)
Paying attention to the seasons and rhythms of the earth helps me to stay more present, so I enjoy celebrating the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. This year on December 21, 2008 at 4 :04 AM PST the earth is tipped on its axis to the greatest degree, so that in the northern hemisphere, the sun appears at its lowest point. (Those in the southern hemisphere are experiencing the summer solstice.)

Throughout the centuries in cultures around the world winter solstice riturals have been focused on the return of the light. I can certainly understand that, especially in times before electric lights and central heat, but I want my personal celebration to focus on what is in this present moment. And what is most present in this moment is the darkness.

So in 1992 I wrote the poem that follows. It has since been incorporated into solstice rituals around the world, including our Friday morning class at Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

For yesterday’s class I was again asked to read my poem, but our dharma teacher Dana de Palma added a new twist, asking me to create a solstice altar, something we have not done before.

Here is the altar:
I happened to have a black and white patterned shawl that I set in the middle of our circle. On it I placed a small low table. I covered the top with aluminum foil to protect it and to reflect the candle light, and filled it with candles, small decorative objects, some natural items I had gathered on recent hikes, and some inspirational phrases (see below). Around the table I took some upturned circular lids from big yogurt cartons and made a ring of twelve around the table, placing a candle in each one. My sangha sisters Patti and Alice brought additional candles, and together with sangha brother Bill, we prepared the altar, making sure each candle was secure and wouldn’t burn down the building! (If it had not been wet out, I might have added some evergreens as well.)

After a delicious hour of yoga led by Janice Gates, in which she encouraged us to feel our expansive hearts radiating out in all directions, even while feeling totally present in our bodies and in the room, and a lovely meditation by Dana in which we felt our inner light growing with each breath, I read my poem and we did a candle lighting ritual.

As I introduced the poem, I told the circle about my own personal difficulty with some of the wording over the years, and how just that morning I had found a different way of seeing it. The poem tells us “Do not be afraid…” Well, I object to anyone telling me how to feel or not to feel, even a poem that I wrote! As practitioners, we are instructed to be with what is, not try to change our feelings.

But now I can see that the poem is just offering an opportunity to question some long held assumptions and beliefs about darkness, to look more closely at this culturally inherited negative story about darkness and see something more there than previously thought. Looking more closely and finding a way to reframe the story is a very Buddhist practice indeed. Phew! It’s not a bossy poem after all.

Here is the poem:

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.

— Stephanie Noble copyright 1995

And here is the ritual we did:
Each person in turn lit a candle saying one of the following intentions or another intention that rose up naturally within them, with absolute permission to do so in silence:
May I be a lamp unto myself. (This was the Buddha’s last instruction to his students.)
May I be guided by my inner light.
May my practice bring awareness of my own inner light.
May I light the darkness with awareness.
May my inner light grow and glow.
May I sit and savor the darkness until I see the light.

Because we had about twice as many candles as people, I encouraged people to light a second candle to send metta to anyone they knew that was in need. Everyone did light a second candle, and that addition, though unplanned, sweetened the ceremony further. (My second candle was for my beloved sister-in-law Rose and niece Doris, mother and daughter, who are both in the (same) hospital right now. May they both be well.)

For lighting the candles, we had provided both lighters and matches. Some people had trouble with the lighter or just didn’t like it. People who used matches sometimes felt rushed in saying their intentions while the flame was headed straight for their tender fingers. For anyone wanting to create a ritual like this, I would suggest having a lit taper candle resting in a solid holder – a short glass or cup would do – that would make the lighting simply a matter of picking up that candle and lighting another. (Although I must say that each person’s way of dealing with the challenge was lovely to behold.)

At the end of Dana’s dharma talk about the solstice, after she dedicated the merits of our practice to all beings, we took turns blowing out the candles, saying ‘so be it’ or ‘may it be so.’

Later one sangha sister asked me if I thought she could get away with incorporating a ritual like this into a dinner party she was having with some people she didn’t know well enough to know how they felt about the solstice. Her question brought up such an interesting truth: That many people have resistance to acknowledging this natural annual event of the earth. There is a long history of seeing it as pagan ritual, and a long history of seeing pagans as anti-Christian, when they are just not necessarily Christians, which is quite a different (and totally non-threatening) thing. Even in our little Buddhist community, a significant number of people left before the ritual began, when usually everyone stays for the whole class.

So, with that in mind, I told my friend to celebrate the solstice with her guests by having the radiant heart of a hostess, offering a delicious meal, creating a candle-lit atmosphere, and by staying fully in the moment, allowing the conversation to grow rich and deep. And if, by chance, through that conversation she finds that her guests are interested in celebrating the solstice too, she could have extra candles to create a ceremony, or simply suggest they all bundle up and step out into her lovely garden on this cold clear night and take in the beauty of the star-studded darkness.

So however you celebrate the solstice over this weekend, whether with friends or family, or by adding a little ritual to your personal practice, or simply by giving yourself the gift of a little longer rest on these long winter nights, may you find a sense of joy and deep connection in being fully present in the darkness, present enough to sense your own inner light glowing and growing.

May it be so! Happy Solstice.