Accepting the Longest Night: the Winter Solstice

Accepting the Longest Night: the Winter Solstice

By A.M. Thompson

The Winter Solstice is rich with meaning. 

This Thursday, December 21, 2017 marks the Winter Solstice: a pivotal turning point in the continual cycle of the seasons.  For millennia, human civilizations have celebrated this longest night as a mysterious, sacred and profoundly spiritual time.

In the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the start of true winter: the season of ice, deprivation and challenges. Yet it also marks the start of a subtle but mystical transformation. Even as we hunker down against the cold, the days are lengthening.  Steadily and invariably, we are headed back toward spring.

We all know that feeling of the longest night.  It happens each time you feel discouraged, depleted or depressed. When you’re lonely and at a loss. When your job or relationships or bank account are empty. When you feel scared or trapped or powerless.  When you look into the mirror, and recoil.

Fortunately, just like the Winter Solstice, our own longest night can be holy and powerful…  if we are willing to accept it.

Pema Chodron, an American mother and grandmother who is also a Tibetan Buddhist nun, teaches that “when we touch the center of sorrow, when we sit with discomfort without trying to fix it, when we stay present to the pain of disapproval or betrayal and let it soften us” we move toward enlightenment.

Or, as she explains with characteristically blunt humor: “Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”

It is uncomfortable, even painful, to stay present to our own inner darkness. But when we accept and open ourselves to the longest night, we may find it contains an insight into something our soul lacks, and is craving.  Each time we honor that craving and make whatever change the darkness has been demanding, we become more genuine.

Then as surely as the Winter Solstice marks the long, slow turning back toward spring, we gradually become truer, kinder, lighter… more enlightened.

SWEET DARKNESS

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

– David Whyte,  House of Belonging

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