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Winter Blues, Winter Light

By Sheryl Paul
December 17, 2012

Winter is the season of introspection and rest, and yet the culture pulls you outside of yourself at every turn. What would it feel like to resist the pull, stop, and turn inside during this darker and quieter time of year?


Each day the fairies of darkness gather in greater numbers and pull their veil across the daylight hours. They’re inviting us into their season of solitude, their great love of stillness, their reverence for the mystery that is often revealed in the darkest spaces. How easy it is to resist the invitation, to stay busy with the must-haves and have-tos and parties that characterize this time of year, to focus on externals as a way to avoid the quiet realm of the inner world.

There are so many ways to avoid.

The culture says: It’s time to spend! Everywhere we turn there are sales and signs declaring the next best thing. We shop for others because it’s what we are supposed to do without ever stopping to ask ourselves, “Is this really the way I want to spend my time and money? Do we really need more stuff?”

The culture says: It’s time to eat! Feast, make merry, enjoy! There’s nothing wrong, of course, with enjoying a delicious meal with friends, but more often than not the over-eating that our culture pushes only fuels the place inside that wants to avoid what lives in the darker and quieter places inherent to this season.

And then there’s the sleek and miraculous little machines we call computers: magnets for the search to fill ourselves up and find the next great thing. At the touch of our fingertips and click of a button, we have access to the entire world of shopping and information, and it’s frightfully easy to allow ourselves to become sucked into the virtual vortex of “the search.” What are we searching for? A new something, a new adventure, a new partner, a new book – anything but sitting with the right here right now emptiness that pulls at the edges of soul and says, “Stop. There’s nothing left to do. This is the season of being.”

What will we find if we resist the urge to spend and stay busy? We may find wells of grief. We may connect to the tree who has lost her leaves and whose sap is imperceptibly slowing until it comes to a complete stop. The ecstatic life force that will slowly accelerate in the coming months and crescendo in the first buds of spring is now on the decrescendo, slowing, slowing, slowing down and turning inward. The tree doesn’t resist its impulses. It doesn’t fear the loss or the emptiness. It understands in a place beyond understanding that this is the way it must be.

We may find wells of fear. The top layer of fear will attempt to attach onto its favorite storyline – you don’t love him enough or in the right way, you have a terminal illness, there’s something wrong with one of your kids – but see if you can avoid the hook and instead place your two warm and loving hands on your chest where the tight fists take residence. Breathe into the cold places. Breathe into the fear. It will start to soften under your loving attention and the tears may come, warm and salty like a southern sea. Every time the familiar story attempts to pull you back into your head, make a conscious effort to stay in your body, connect to your breath, melt into your heart. There is joy inside the grief, the tender and delicate joy of finding the willingness to be with what is.

And we may find wells of… nothing. Nothing is a terrifying place to befriend, especially if you’ve spent your life avoiding the nothing. Nothing can feel like boredom. It can feel like depression. It can feel like death. But when we find the courage to sit with the nothing, we’ve planted the first seed for new life to take root. Life only wants to be seen, and when we stop running from what is and instead become curious about the experience of nothingness or collapse into the grief, we clear out the debris and send a message to the soul that says, “I’m ready for the new birth.” The new birth can only arise when the old ways and the old grief have been cleared away, when we’ve found the time and courage to grieve the autumn losses and make space for the nothingness of winter. Nature’s wisdom shows the way; we would be wise to follow suit.

I often wonder if the glitz and sparkle of the holiday season is a way to provide a mass produced drug to our culture to avoid sinking into the depression too early. December keeps us on our ballet toes with much to do and much to spend and much to eat, and then January and February hit with a loud thud of nothingness. How much harder is that thud when we’ve been chasing after the glittery carrot from Thanksgiving to New Year’s? The outward pull that our culture pushes with a hard sell is antithetical to the inner yearnings of the soul. This paradox can only result in an underlying yet pervasive mass confusion, kept at bay through the holidays but, as with anything that we force underground, one that comes rearing up with triple force once the noise dies down.

As with every other transition in life, our culture fails miserably in its role of offering guidance through the tricky terrain. Instead of encouraging real rituals that would honor this passage from autumn into the depths of winter, we’re injected with the tantalizing drug of spending and staying busy and spoon-fed a pseudo ritual in the form of watered down holidays. It’s not that Hannukah and Christmas are devoid of ritual, but most people celebrate these potentially enriching holidays with more emphasis on giving and receiving gifts than on the true historic and symbolic meaning. And without meaning, without enacting ritual in a way that engages body and soul, the holidays fail to offer what they’re meant to offer: a way to bring light into this dark time and an opportunity to connect to our core values of service, giving, and opening our hearts to giving and receiving love.

To read about a deeper understanding of Hanukkah, click here

To read about a Winter Solstice ritual, click here.


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