The Winter Solstice is upon us, and the year is in its darkest phase. In many ancient societies the return of the sun and rebirth of the world was by no means seen as a guarantee. Monuments were built, sacrifices made, and ceremonies held to ensure that the sun would once again return to the sky, the world would thaw, and life would go on. Today, barring a disaster of unconscionable scope, we can be assured that the days will begin to grow longer as the seasons continue to turn. At the same time, let’s not be too hasty. There are blessings in the darkness we should endeavor to recognize.
I have always loved the night and the dark. I remember the sense of peace I felt just sitting on my porch in my pajamas as a child on Christmas Eve, watching the snow gently blanket the street. As a teenager, I would often leave my house around midnight when my parents were asleep and just take long walks through the shadowed, silent streets of my home town, reveling in that silence and the sensations the experience afforded me. I am reminded of some lines from Robert Frost’s poem “Acquainted with the Night”:
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
Yeah. Me too.
This is a time of year in which we can all recharge. I know, the frenetic pace of the society around us, with its obsessive Holiday Season present shopping and feast prepping can tend to create anything but a restful atmosphere. However, that is a train we don’t have to get on. At the very least, we can choose to step off the train once in a while to appreciate the deep, quiet solitude the season offers us. In fact, let’s just do that. If you have the ability to turn your lights down or off right now, do so. Perhaps go find a candle, light it, and set it down next to you. Pick out a gentle, soothing piece of music you love and put it on. Steep some tea. When you’re ready, come back. It’s okay…I’ll wait.
Now doesn’t that feel better?
Yes, there are blessings in the darkness. It can act as a gentle blanket that embraces us and shelters us from the chaos. Our yearning for it could hearken back to our months in the womb, where all was quiet, warm, and safe. Over the centuries, darkness has been somewhat slandered in stories that associate it with the forces of evil; the darkness is where danger lurks, we’re told. Stay away! Well, sometimes that might hold up, like if you are out where nocturnal and predatory animals large enough to eat you might be roaming. I would instead offer that it is not evil, but rather mystery, that the darkness shelters. We cannot see into the darkness, so the truth of what is within it is not made fully clear to us. Mystery is not something we should fear; it is okay to admit that there is much we do not know. I can stare into the blackness of a midnight sky and wonder about what might be out there, and I am content with the mystery of it.
I can close my eyes and create darkness at will, probing the depths of the mysteries inside my own head, contemplating my own existence and place in the universe. That is a very private journey and one we must all make alone, the way I preferred my midnight walks to be. Ultimately, we will all embrace the darkness and mystery once again when our lives have run their courses. This too we can only do alone.
Though there is much to revere and take pleasure in when exploring the darknesses around us, there is a paradox we must also acknowledge. The word “dark,” despite my own efforts here to exonerate it to some degree, will forever carry with it a negative connotation. The “Dark” Ages. The “Dark” Side of the Force. In all seriousness, we have but to look at the news to see metaphorical darkness arising all around us. Terrorist attacks, mass shootings, climate disruption, and what passes for political candidacy and discourse today are enough to make anyone want to crawl back into the comfort of the womb from which they sprang and perhaps never be born in the first place. Too late. We’re here, so we need to deal with it.
So, how do we hang on to the darkness we wish to keep and at the same time combat the darkness that is causing the world to unravel at an ever-increasing pace? Here are some ideas to pursue as your schedule and preferences allow:
1) MEDITATE. Sit in the good darkness, breathe, and let go of the bad darkness that tries to keep us stressed and confused. Explore the mindfulness meditation resources right here at the Spiritual Naturalist Society to get started! There are so many great ideas and resources here. You have to take care of yourself if you are to take care of others.
2) HELP THOSE AROUND YOU. Look to the needs in your own immediate community. Find a family who needs help with affording a holiday meal or providing presents for children. Donate your time, skills, and energy to causes surrounding you that need them. There is no shortage of need, wherever you are; just seek it out.
3) SING. Invite some friends over for a “bringing light to the darkness” concert. Have everyone there participate in some way, by playing an instrument, singing a favorite seasonal carol, or reciting a poem. Then revel in the joy of one another’s presence. You don’t need any audience-gripping talent for this, just enthusiasm and the desire to spread some happiness among those close to you. Trust me, this is a lot of fun.
4) EMBRACE THE MAGIC. If you have little kids, make this season one of wonder and magic for them. Learn how to dip real wax candles, and then use them in rituals appropriate for your family’s unique beliefs and traditions. Make art together, and don’t apologize for it. Honor whatever tradition you subscribe to this time of the year (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, Chalica, or your own personal quest for truth and meaning) and genuinely honor what that tradition means to you by following its customs and rituals. Go out and look at the stars together, and wonder at the infinite beauty of the spiraling cosmos. Do these things even if you don’t have any children—you need magic too (or wonder, beauty, peace, contentment…call it what you will).
5) WORK TO LEAD OTHERS “OUT OF THE CAVE.” If only Plato had known how many future prisoners his allegorical cave would embrace. So many of the people around us mistake the shadows for reality, and have no interest in turning away from the inconsequential distractions that govern their empty and meaningless lives. They wish only to be entertained. As Guy Montag said in Fahrenheit 451, “We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” (Bradbury 49). Take the time to bother some people. Speak out against the commercialization of the culture that is particularly pronounced during this time of the year. Engage people in genuine conversations about things that really matter. We cannot take action to change things when we are unaware that they are happening, as so many are. Shine your light upon things the people in your life cannot or will not see. Banish the darkness that keeps their minds trapped, willfully or not, in the world of illusion. Work to make everyone around you, as well as yourself, a little less ignorant about something every day. Ignorance and apathy are destroying us; do what you can to combat them whenever and wherever you see them.
6) LOVE EACH OTHER. In the end, this is the greatest defense we have against the undesirable darkness. Surround yourself with those you love, hold them, and tell them how much they mean to you. In fact, go do that now. Right now. Again…I’ll wait. If they aren’t home, close your eyes, and send the loving thoughts their way, reveling in memories of them.
Didn’t that feel good?
Peace be with you, my friends. Embrace the darkness of the season, and let it love you.
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Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013. Print.