In the northern hemisphere, we know winter solstice as a time of low light and long night. It’s a time when the Sun clings to the horizon, arcing low. There’s clearly a retreat at work. Since the autumn equinox, the Earth has appeared to draw its energy within as growing darkness and cold are felt by all of nature. The northern pole is the farthest away from the Sun it can be, and we feel this distance daily. For all of Earth’s creatures, the Sun is a profound source of life and warmth. It is the fire of outer nature. It’s no surprise then, that since time immemorial and everywhere on Earth, spirited celebration marks the return of the light.
The solstice is the still-point, the turning point. It’s the deepest, darkest part of the year. And it is a time of transition. The solstice marks the lengthening of days and the flush of renewed life. Simultaneously, it symbolizes death and rebirth. In Celtic and Pagan traditions, this process was known as the ‘Cauldron of Regeneration’, wherein roots and seedlings grow in darkness and from death; as do our own personal seeds, plans and dreams. The algae and plants will again receive their solar nourishment and live, feeding the web by producing oxygen and becoming more and more, themselves. We too have the chance to bring forth our depth.
OUT OF SYNC WITH THE SEASON
The other-than-human world knows these regenerative seasonal shifts instinctively. Human beings, like other animals, are also seasonal but a strange estrangement is afoot in our technologically-oriented age. We are living further away from our bodies, the Earth’s seasonal rhythms and the darkness of the solstice time, perhaps than ever before. This way of living is working ‘against the clock’ in an attempt to transcend these natural cycles and rhythms; and the regenerative needs of our bodies and the Earth. But without the necessary periods of slowing down, quiet, reflection and assimilation, how can we biologically, psychologically, socially and spiritually, rejuvenate? The winter solstice, it seems, offers what is desperately needed – the invitation to slow down, integrate and listen deeply within. I am reminded of a quote by social reformer Octavia Hill: we all need space, unless we have it we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.
What is it like to embody this Winter’s Solstice with it’s longest night and rich darkness, more deeply than we can recall? Can you, can I, live this soulful time, like the birds and creatures of this world, “unutterably themselves”, with our bones and our choices, for our own wellbeing and that of the world?
The time of winter solstice invites a turn inward and thus away from the outer world. Outer nature’s warmth has waned and we are called to seek warmth within: the inner fire of the heart and hearth. The Sun’s outer absence becomes the presence of the inner fire of the heart. I am reminded of an experience I had last summer while on a long walk in rural Southwest England. Following a muddy trail out of a small woodland, I stopped to rest in an adjacent field. Spreading out my jacket on the ground, I settled onto my back and gazed at the sky. Clouds puttered across its blue expanse and occasionally blocked the Sun’s rays. Without the Sun’s warmth, the cool undertone of the air felt positively chilly. I was annoyed at the absence of warmth and desired the heat on my skin again. As the clouds continued their movements and this cycle repeated itself, I realized that I could not summon the Sun’s warmth. I needed to heat myself up.
The Earth and the Sun, and their living cycles manifest on Earth, teach that we must turn inward to receive what is not available outside. Love, like warmth and light, too must be generated from within by the inner fire of the heart. In my experience, retreat – like the kind of retreat that the winter solstice invites and the Sun symbolizes – has always been a time to assimilate experience, incubate ideas, process grief and remember what I love into action. From retreat, love has emerged more alive and poignantly real for me than before.
We give thanks for the Earth for this period of rest and regeneration in the dark. We give thanks for the deep wisdom inside ourselves that has helped to guide us. We strengthen our roots and create our stability. We anchor ourselves in our hearts and in our love. As the Sun is reborn, we begin to make ready for a new part of the cycle. We ask that we stay grounded and connected to the Earth. We ask that we grow well with love and care for our Earth-home.
Glennie Kindred, Sacred Earth Celebrations
Winter solstice is just one point, a tiny part, along the orbital path of the Earth – the Earth’s revolving life, it’s cycle. This precious dark time is a pattern of and on Earth, revealing our planet’s life and temporality. To me, it speaks assuredly about the need to look inward. This is an innate capacity of being of Earth. To recognize this calling to slowness and inward looking is to recognize we too are nature. Within this movement is a quest: can we live these days more deeply than before to know ourselves as nature? What winter solstice asks of us is to be attentive, more than ever, to participation with and belonging to an inconceivably great web of life and being; and to include light and dark, dying and rebirth within our conscious knowing. We are invited to learn again to live simply, to let go of what is no longer needed. We are invited to accept what we must.
As we step steadily into winter and the day’s light lengthens, the cycle continues.
EVERYTHING IS WAITING FOR YOU
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease
into the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
Top picture: Day and night sides of Earth, December 2015 solstice –(2015 December 22 at 4:48 Universal Time). Image credit: Earth and Moon Viewerhttp://earthsky.org/earth/everything-you-need-to-know-december-solstice
Bottom picture: This mature yew is purported to be nearly 2000 years old, and it has undoubtedly witnessed great changes, ceremonies and events over the centuries. Long-living and evergreen, yews were a pagan sacred symbol of new springing from old, death and rebirth.