The Winter Solstice is coming up. For many of us it represents an intellectual or scientific footnote in the year. It is the shortest day and the longest night here in the Northern hemisphere. From that day onward daylight increases every day until late June when the longest day in the Northern hemisphere occurs. Again, a scientific footnote.
Yet in the warm animal of our physical being, we feel it. Obscured by the noise and energy of the holidays, by the comings and goings, the rich food and gifts. But perhaps the purpose of the gaiety and bustle is to protect us from being alone and unoccupied in this time of greatest darkness.
It makes us realize how much we really need each other. It shows us what a true blessing the very people who push our buttons all year are.
And what happens if we are cut off at this season from the noise and laughter. What if we are alone come Winter Solstice or Christmas or Hanukah or Kwanzaa or … whatever holiday our tradition has cooked up to bring us together?
In ancient times, when electricity was fire from heaven, there was little light for the majority of humans to hold the darkness at bay come nightfall. If a person was alone come solstice, bereft of the light of human society in this darkest season, what then? Even now, when we can light the night so brightly the stars themselves are obscured from our sight, it is considered misfortune to be alone at this time of year.
It seems to me we have three choices about how to handle the solitude and darkness: obsess about being alone while others are having fun, find some way to serve others (and thus be with others) or face the darkness and the opportunity it offers for turning inside ourselves.
This is the time when embracing the solitude can mean allowing the voice of divinity to bubble up from within. When poetry can well up from the deep source of our being. When darkness can be transformed from vast and empty space outside, to close and warm and full of life inside.
Darkness takes away the surfaces of things. It takes away appearances and leaves behind the mystery. With the surfaces gone, with the appearances gone, all that is left is the reality of our greater nature.
In a cave the darkness is so thick it seems solid, yet it is unresisting as we wave our arms and it swallows our voices like sand in a desert swallows water. It swallows rock and water — even our bodies. We are left to contemplate the infinite nothing out of which our bodies and the rocks and water take their substance.
But we don’t need the perfect blackness of cave-dark to access the wisdom waiting just beyond the laughter and candle light. We need only take ourselves to a dark and quiet place, breathe and listen to the darkness, listen to the quiet places inside our own being and relax into the moment.