The dark of December and the Winter Solstice are an invitation, not a death sentence, though it has taken me many birthdays to realize this.
In the sparkling LED-lighted frenzy of the holidays, amid our habits of hyperconnectedness and the avalanche of dopamine-fix information, we can almost believe that stillness is not necessary or possible.
Yet the longer I inhabit this planet, I know that stillness is the most treasured and elusive state of mind. Rather than resist the darkness, as I am prone to do, I see this time around the solstice as an invitation to be more than the superficiality of the so-called giving season expects of me. Be less of what’s blaring and empty and more of what’s authentic and fortifying. That’s the allure of the dark.
This year, this birthday, I have fallen in love with the darkness. I relish the darkness because I am wise enough now to know that it’s not the collected mass of my fears but rather the deep, inner fire of my soul.
The darkness presents to me the light within me that remains when all other light has receded. This time of year always reveals to me the gifts of the year, the fruits of my labors, and it does so in unexpected ways. In the utter and complete darkness of these winter nights, the darkness reveals to me my fierce desire for the light – and the revelation that it’s not somewhere else. It’s already within.
I practice speaking life, not loss; hope not death, and in that determination, I will be the light. I can find it in my writing, in the way I love my children, my sisters and my dear ones. I find it in that point of stillness, when I sense the earth has tilted too far on its axis and might not tilt back. I find it at the edge of confusion and doubt. I find that no matter how many times I go there to the brink, I too turn back to the sun. I now relish being put to the test. I trust that I know the way.
On the eve of Winter Solstice, in yoga, the stillness in the room was palpable. Each of us held the sense that all might stop, that perhaps we had reached the point where nothing more would happen. The earth might simply stop, and that would be that. And then we stepped to the altar in the center of the room, each with our own faith, and we lit candles. I returned to my mat and sat meditating and praying and setting intentions and aligning my body with what I knew to be true: The light would come again.
Let me be clear. I am simply not right-brain enough or pagan enough to believe that we light candles and we stop the earth from freezing in place too far from the sun and descending into darkness. We each come to spiritual insight from our own comet place, crackling and sizzling in trajectories of light. I happen to come in as a Christian with a contemplative, compassionate and mindful leanings that remained attuned to the feminine and our place in the body of the world. One simple way to describe it is that I embrace a strong Celtic spiritual heritage, and I relish in the mystery of a God who has eight million names, who proclaimed himself in the desert, in bush aflame but not burning up, as “I am that which cannot be named,” if you take the purest Hebrew translation of what we know as “Yahweh.”
For those reasons and many more, I embrace the awe of doubt. The longest night of the year, nine hours of the deepest dark, brings me not to a place that breaks me, but a place that fortifies me. The darkness is alluring. It is where the birthing begins. It brings me the seeds of the new year.
The first rime of light tomorrow, that first extra minute – we greet it with the ardor of relieved gratitude. And with new wonder, because we are now informed by listening to the deeper call within.
I often speak with my author clients and writing retreat participants about answering a personal calling, that call to discover the significance of your very own voice and what you alone are meant to bring into this world. The author Paolo Coelho (“The Alchemist”) calls it living your personal legend, and he says that when you answer the call, the universe lines everything up to help you. I believe that, in the Celtic tradition, there are times in the calendar year when we are naturally attuned to be open to receiving insight and illumination about our place in the world and the meaning we can bring to our lives. This is one of those times. And that is why the darkness is so alluring that we try with all our might to resist, turning instead to the bright lights and false promises of culturally mandated materialism that is so often disconnected to the true, transformative meaning of the season. We are compelled to by the darkness that is so unmistakable and downright insistent that we can – we must – go within and heed that voice. It is a deep time of discovery. From that place, we can vault into the new year.
From this time of darkness, we can arrive at a new truth: We must be the change. We must, each one of us, find the light within to bring the light into the world. Make the light be in the way you join with others and their light. On onbeing.org, Barbara Mahany writes in her blog, “December invites us to be our most radiant selves.”
Be radiant – with yourself, in your own stillness, and in your generosity. Step into what the dance of the sun and the earth, not the sparkly lights, glittery promises of discounts and free shipping, ask of you.
Go into the darkness, find the stillness and have that difficult conversation: Why am I here? What am I meant to do?
Plug in to the spark within, the eternal flame of your soulfire. And then, breathe the radiance, emerge and look to the light.