The winter solstice is the longest night of the year. Imagine what it must have been like for our ancient ancestors. As every day grew shorter and every night a bit longer, they must have wondered if the sun would ever return. What a relief it must have been when they saw the sun ever so slowly grow stronger! It gave them hope that no matter how cold and dark things got, brighter days would surely come.
Yogic living means striving to live in balance. After all, the words hatha yoga mean solar-lunar union. Light is not inherently good and darkness is not inherently bad. Both are needed and even appropriate depending on the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Light is life-giving. It brings warmth and allows us to see more clearly. Light is energizing, motivating, and invigorating. We often feel happier and more upbeat when we experience light.
If light is life-giving, then it may seem counter-intuitive to consider darkness to be life-giving as well. We need the darkness as much as we need the light. Darkness is womb-time. In order to fully appreciate all the light has to offer, we must spend time in darkness.
When we spend time in darkness, things slow down. Darkness is shadow and reflective silence. It is a quiet, open space that has no need to be filled. Darkness is stillness in our own being.
Because darkness may lead us to ruminate in solitude, it makes sense why darkness is sometimes experienced as depression. This depression, which is very different from clinical depression, is as natural and helpful an emotion as joy. The difference is it doesn’t feel very good. However, it is through navigating darkness that we think more deeply, act more carefully, and are able to more fully step into being the people we are capable of being. After all, Krishna did not attend Arjuna at the apex of his victory in battle. It was in Arjuna’s moment of despair that he was visited by the god.
When things seem at there worst, it is all too easy to get caught up in doubt and despair. Sadly, we live in a society that unduly glorifies the darkness while simultaneously trying to get rid of the very real pain we find there. Rather than move into the darkness and learn its lessons, we are encouraged to numb ourselves with excessive shopping, food and drink, social media, and other distractions.
Ways to live with greater depth and harmony.
The path of the yogi is neither flighty nor austere. Yogic living is deep living. In order to cultivate a calm, steady mind, we must let go of our attachments, even to light and darkness themselves! Living as a yogi is simple, just not particularly easy. It is a counter-cultural lifestyle, to be sure! Here are some helpful ways to honor the darkness, invoke the light, and live more harmoniously in the year to come.
- Taking our cues from nature is a wonderful way to embrace the inevitable ebb and flow we experience in our day-to-day lives. The wheel of the year (the annual procession of the winter and summer solstices and spring and autumn equinoxes) reminds us to embrace change and release our preferences in order to maintain our inner peace no matter the circumstances.
- The lunar cycle is a more personal way of aligning ourselves with nature. When we work with the moon, we notice things like when we are our most and least social, creative, reflective, intuitive, etc. The patterns we see inform us as to how to live within our own seasons and cycles. As we uncover the yin and yang of our monthly rhythm, we can plan events we have control over accordingly. We can also provide more effective self-care for all of our unplanned encounters!
- Darkness and light do not just exist in the world around us. They are within each of us as well! Our inner darkness is what the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung called the Shadow. Our Shadow consists of all that exists in our Unconscious: past traumas, childhood wounds, deeply hidden emotions, and neurotic thinking and behavior patterns are but a few elements that reside in our Shadow. When we are unaware of our Shadow, these things seem to pop-up out of nowhere, and usually at the most inopportune moment! When we consciously bring that which is hidden in our Shadow to the light, we are able to respond to our triggers rather than react to them. The point is not to “get rid of” our Shadow, but to integrate it. Our Shadow exists because at some point we needed it to. Healing means honoring all of our experiences, even the dark ones.
- There are many ways in which our society contributes to the idea that we are small, weak, and defective. True, sometimes we are victimized by our circumstances, the actions of another, or by society itself. That does not mean that we are inherently victims. Sadly, well-meaning friends and family members may support us in our belief and contribute to our seeming inability to heal. When our friends are going through a dark time in their lives, we can help by allowing them this sacred time of being with their pain. We can hold the vision that where they are wounded is not ultimately who they are, even when they forget that themselves.
When we are in darkness, the temptation may be to isolate ourselves completely. It is up to us to find the balance between the time we need to ourselves to rest and reflect, and time needed in the company of companions who will walk with us on our journey back to the light.
With all this in mind, may your Winter Solstice be blessed!