Today is the winter solstice, also known as midwinter or the darkest day of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, our world for this period is oriented away from the sun, and the earth grows drier, colder, storing life underneath the surface. The earth is not dead; it is preserving its energy, resting as we should. This is a beautiful time filled with healing and great possibility, if we use it wisely.
In New York, the sun feels as though it sets at 3:00 pm around this time of the year. The buildings block the remnant light. From apartment windows, the warm lights of menorahs, kinaras, and Christmas trees glow in place of the sunset. People bemoan the shorter days and longer nights, the early ink black and the daily fatigue it inspires, but this part of the natural rhythm, the ending of the autumn season which for months has been telling us to grow quieter, culminates in dim light. Dim light that reveals what is truly essential.
Over the last several weeks, I have been taking a cue from late autumn, retreating into my own nest, right in the middle of Manhattan. Instead of writing publicly, I have journaled. Instead of mapping my post-graduate school steps, I have meditated. . Like a tree, I have drawn my energy from my branches and into my trunk, giving love, care, generosity, support to those nearest to me. Like every other living thing, defined too by limitation, we must take periods of rest to quiet our minds and turn inward. Autumn and winter are periods of refining what truly matters, of gathering strength, of thoughtful generosity.
The etymology of the word “solstice,” drawn from Latin, means the “sun stands still.” On this solstice day, I am writing from a quiet corner in Ohio, watching mist drift off the river and woodsmoke hang in the air. Today, though a day of mystery and lore, is a turning point. From this place of enveloping darkness, we prepare to turn back towards the light in celebration and to reach out again to the rest of the world, to help other things grow. On the cusp of something new, we must look for and honor the miracles before us.
“Winter Prayer,” by Cynthia Gale
“May the winds of winter
stir our hearts.
May the icicles of winter
crystallize our dreams.
May the snow of winter
quiet our fears.
In the winter of winter,
may we find our spring.”