Here in the Northern Hemisphere, on the shortest day and longest night of the year, we are invited to the hearth to reflect on our lives and the larger context in which they unfurl. The Winter Solstice is a sight poem, one that marks the end of growing darkness and the beginning of growing light. On the largest scale we know, at least with our physical senses, this moment in time helps us to understand that all the rhythms of our lives conform to the greater rhythm of expansion and contraction we see in the seasonal changes on Earth.
The rhythmic dance of seasonal transformation is especially important to us in the West since our dominant culture constantly expresses its preference for the light side of the dance of light and dark. And yet the dark offers so many gifts, among them night skies to take our breath away, at least when we travel to those places where we can see the galaxies dancing all around our home planet. Darkness offers us an opportunity to rekindle a sense of awe at the mystery we travel through daily; it restores our physical and emotional energies by supporting our need to unplug from the stimuli of modern life and rest in the rhythms of our ancestral wisdom and dreams.
At this time of year there is the persistent call to gather – with co-workers, friends, and family – and to compete for the most innovative gifts, the most excessive preparations, and the most electronic replicas of true joy. Depression doesn’t arise from the seasonal darkness as is often thought, but from the cultural expectations of perfection, of couple-related activities, of family gatherings, of extraordinary material gifts, and of an excessive number of foods to match the glossy photos in magazines that do their best to sell us what our consumer culture manipulates us to desire. This dinner, this dance, this party, this vacation will be the one, we tell ourselves, that will make all that we yearn for shunt into place to fulfill our dreams of perfection.
And then we awaken from the glamour of perfection to find ourselves in the same life conditions we experienced before our misplaced hope for perfection took hold of us. In the midst of the advertisements, the frenetic schedules, and the deep sadness within us that is rooted in all our past disappointments, we lose sight of our ability to stop, to move out of the light into the dark, and to surrender to its healing mystery.
The opportunities for quiet reflection abound during this season of voluptuous darkness. We can rise a little earlier to sit within the womb of mystery and simply be. Or, we can leave the table in the evening and invite our companions to bundle up to experience a little of the season’s long darkness first hand. Standing together to search for shooting stars, constellations, and the moon is to re-enter the wonders of time and space as we experience them here on Earth. Even the obliteration of the dark by our human lights offers opportunities to meditate on what this obliteration means to us, to our children, and to theirs.
Standing or sitting still in the dark helps us to return to the reality of our own physical nature. We hear our beating hearts. We feel our skin responses to changes in temperature. We sense our interconnectedness to energies we may not physically see. Stepping into our imaginations, we recall one or two of the magnificent photos that help us to realize the vastness of our Universe and the wonder of life on Earth. In these moments, we sense the cosmic choreography of our true reality every moment of our lives. In silence and stillness we know – we are infinitesimally small creatures briefly alive on a planet constantly following its course around a fiery star. Our true destiny is not the destiny of consumers. Our true destiny is the destiny of participants in the rhythmic dance that is life on Earth. This dance requires our gifts and skills, our visions, and our sense of what is needed to repair what we have broken with our misplaced attention. The dark helps us to return to our part in the sometimes joyful, sometimes painful, always amazing Tarantella we call life. During this moment and this season, let us all utter our prayers of gratitude for the deep and wondrous dark.
Until next week