In the northern hemisphere, most of our late December holidays revolve around the winter solstice. The winter solstice is a turning point in the cyclical year. The longest night of the year, from this point on the days gradually grow longer. The Sun has returned!
Faith is the foundation of our winter celebrations, and hope is their cornerstone. Faith acknowledges that the light is there, even when we can’t see it. Hope is the conviction that the light will return. Faith and hope are attitudes we adopt that express in innate trust in the cyclical nature of life and death.
The transformational power of winter.
There is dynamic tension between life and death that we live out in our human experience. Neither ever has the final say. We are birthed from nothingness. We live. We return to nothingness at the end of our human experiences. Although we don’t know for sure what happens to us after we die, if our winter holidays are any indication, we trust that in some way, like the light, we go on.
Winter is uncomfortable. It is cold, dark, and, being stuck indoors, we are more prone to illnesses. Winter is the death of the natural world. Its lesson is one of abiding presence. We may deny winter by vacationing to warmer climates, but we cannot completely escape it.
Yet, if we are willing, winter has the power to transform us. True, winter has much to teach us about dying. However, if we learn its lessons well, it ultimately informs us in how to live well.
I remember the excitement of waiting for Santa Claus to come when I was a child. As I counted down the minutes until my Christmas stockings were filled, my parents would encourage me, “You have to wait… be patient.”
Patience is anticipation’s quiet cousin. As we anticipate spring’s transformation, we learn to wait, watch, and listen. We are invited to live the present moment more fully, even as we look ahead with optimism and expectation of all that good we have confidence will come!
During the winter, many people find it more difficult to get out of bed in the mornings than they do in warmer seasons. In agriculturally-based cultures of old, winter was the time farmers rested with their fields. In our modern world, we peel ourselves out of our warm blankets and step into a chilly day. Considering how difficult it is to simply arise from our beds, it is a small wonder we accomplish anything during the winter. It takes commitment and discipline!
It is important that we find or create ways of living in harmony with our natural inclination to rest at this time of year. Yoga is not a practice just for the elites or holy people living in a monastery. It is a practice for people with jobs, homes, and families. Indeed, yoga is a practice for folks like us!
In order to be well and healthy during the winter, it is critical we strike a balance between rest and work. How we do that will depend on our own unique circumstances. One thing that we all must do is be persistent in present-moment living, even as we anticipate the future and are mindful of the past. When feeling conflicted, uncertain, and melancholy, choose to do the next right thing. Don’t be concerned with anything but the step ahead. Persistently practicing presence allows us to navigate whatever shifts a given season brings!
Finding what is comforting in the uncomfortable.
For many, the darkest days of the year are also times of the greatest merriment and festivities! Winter is not a comfortable season. Yet, it is the season we create comfort the most. Cozy socks, warm beverages, nights by the fire…. We humans find imaginative ways to make ourselves at home even in the most inhospitable of circumstances. Winter teaches us not only how to make ourselves comfortable in that which is uncomfortable, but reveals an inner enduring strength we didn’t even know we had!
Winter is a precursor to tremendous growth. It is through winter’s death that we emerge into spring’s new life, hopefully wiser and more resilient than we had been the year before. When we fully embrace winter’s transformational power, we uncover our truer, deeper self: a divine soul in human flesh birthed into the light on a silent, holy night.