What a difference a light makes. Used to waking up at 6, much to my chagrin I’ve been sleeping in and having to set an alarm to make sure I’m up. I wondered what was going on until I realized that, at this time of year, the world is still pitch black at 6.am and that, after hibernating for 6-8 hours, it’s the light that wakes me up each morning. Now I’m more likely open my eyes around 6:45 – consciousness dawning in synch with the sun. If I do wake up earlier and decide against getting up in the dark – I luxuriate in dozing off again knowing that the big on switch in the sky will slowly illuminate my little corner of earth.
At the winter solstice, the scales that are tipped toward darkness are also poised to welcome the return of the light. It’s a cusp, a heavenly pivot point as we go from waning, where each day is shorter that then last to waxing where each day grows longer and lighter. Even if it’s still dark I know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Whatever traditions and beliefs we espouse and whatever our feelings about the holidays – sad and glad, the fact is that we are all in this together. We share space on a sphere that is spinning through space while orbiting a fireball in the sky – all participants in this tenuous, scary and miraculous proposition.
However we celebrate this season or to avoid it, we are all living through a time each year when it is darker outside as well as times of inner darkness. The solstice reminds us that the light does return – that the darkness is truly just before the dawn.
For millennia, cultures throughout the world have observed the winter solstice (Dec. 21) as a sacred event and marked the first day of winter with elaborate ceremonies and celebrations – important in an agricultural society it marked the seasons of harvest, dormancy, rebirth and ripening as well as their counterparts in our inner and outer lives physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Whether secular or religious, all of these celebrations are full of light whether a big bonfire, one tiny candle or simply the promise of light: the star that guides us – the lantern that keeps burning for 8 nights, the birth of pure potential out of the darkness of a seed – a baby and the everyday miracle of seeing the world take on form in the dawning of each and every morning.
Even as I huddle in the darkest of days under the covers, I fear not power outages. I have my lanterns, my oil and my candles both flamed and flameless. And I know that something’s coming – like in Westside story – just around the corner – on a clear day you can see forever – song and dance.. There’s a lot to get excited about, a lot to look forward to. The Solstice is a time to cast off old habits and negative feelings to clear the way and embrace hope amid darkness.
People come to see me because they are experiencing times of darkness. They feel discouraged, angry, hopeless and powerless and are looking for some peace, some illumination. Doing my best to shine a light and help them to uncover theirs, I am often able to tap into a place where something starts to dawns, a light goes off and I can see, by the flicker of a smile or a shift in demeanor that there they are – embracing hope amid the darkness, reminding me of what Rumi said :
“I wish I could show you when you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”
The Solstice reminds us that it’s not going to stay dark forever. We are not going to be depressed forever. By cutting through the darkness, light is proof that, sometimes, all it takes it takes is the flick of a switch, the lighting of a candle and there it is, hope springing eternal and darkness yielding to the light of the sun and the light of consciousness. Light makes a big difference.
In vigils people hold candles. At Christmas Eve caroling services they flicker in the darkness and dance in the breeze – hopeful, valient, bright and vulnerable and on the 8th day of hannukah there are eight candles burning bright.
I have glass cylinders that protect the candle flames from sea breezes on my deck and just yesterday, I was transported to a piece of happy childhood when I untangled and wrapped strands of multi-colored Christmas lights around my Norfolk pine and then “ta da” – turned them on in the darkness. I could feel my own little light flickering back in recognition.