Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Shortest Day

Today in the northern hemisphere, it is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. That also translates to the darkest night of the year. There is so much written about the solstice that it is almost fruitless to add to it. But this year in particular I want to reach into the depths of what the winter solstice means.

The changing seasons are always a time to reflect on the circle of life, the ebb and flow of change, and the reminder that nothing stays the same – nothing. The only real guarantee we have in life is change.

The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is a particularly interesting solstice every year. At a time when our bodies and minds want to curl up in front of a fire, eat some warming foods, and relax into stillness, we choose instead to participate in the most capitalistic of traditions. Even if you spend this time donating and sharing, you are still out in the world pushing hard. There is nothing inherently wrong with that; it is simply a recognition that our focus this time of year is radically different than what the season would ask of us.

It is no surprise, then, that this is also flu season. If we ask our bodies to use more energy than normal at a time when they have fewer reserves than normal, the outcome is going to be dis-ease. And I have thought about this a lot over the years, and I have asked myself how to do things differently. But this year I think I have realized there might be an underlying reason for this dichotomy this time of year.

We are running away.

The winter solstice is a time to remember what it means to live in the dark night of the soul. It brings us inward and wants us to let go of our attachment to this world. It reminds us of the struggles we face on our path to richness (not riches). And that can be a scary place to go. So instead we go to the mall.

But the winter solstice, with its darkness and cold, is simply a reminder to leave behind that which no longer serves us. It is a time to be introspective and quiet and leave everything in the darkness. The pagan tradition of Yule (upon which so many Christmas traditions are based) is a holiday celebrating the rebirth of the sun. Traditionally, a log is burned for 12 days. I do not know much about Yule, but that tradition seems like a great reminder to burn away the deadness within ourselves and to wake up to the rebirth of the sun and honor it.

The world is moving faster and faster. So few of us take the time to truly slow down. And I do not mean in one yoga class per week amidst a crazy schedule. I mean honestly stop and listen long enough to really hear what is happening. Instead we run from any opportunity to see ourselves as something other than productive. Lawyers love to talk about face time at work. Even if you work 30 hours per week at home, it does not count unless you are in the office. It means something to be there before the boss and to still be there when the boss leaves.

But at this time of year, are we really doing anyone, including our clients, any favors when we do that? How does it help anyone to ignore the pull of the season so strongly? Electricity was an amazing invention, and one for which I am personally grateful. But sometimes I wonder what we have lost as a result. It can be daytime anytime. It can be warm or cold any day of the year. The earth still ebbs and flows, but we are trying to reach a point of homeostasis where the ebb and flow of the seasons is more of an inconvenience than a reflection of how we should live our lives.

But as I watch the sun slowly come up this beautiful solstice morning, I wonder what would happen if we used today to simply be. Honestly, I know how hard that is. My plan for today was to take some work to the coffee shop. But today is the shortest day. It is a chance to say thank you to this darkening season and move into the lighter days. And not only do we know that our days our going to get lighter, but we can remember that our friends in the southern hemisphere are experiencing their longest day. No matter how dark it is, there is always light somewhere.

What do you do to reflect on the solstice?


© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.

The post, The Shortest Day, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.

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