In the Northern Hemisphere, winter solstice takes place on 21st December. This date has been celebrated by different traditions throughout history as a time to honour the darkness and welcome the coming of new light.
In pagan tradition, on the night of the solstice, people would light fires, drink hot, sweet liquor and tell stories of old. Their lives were largely spent outside endowing on them a deep reverence for nature, weather cyles, and the changing seasons.
This date is significant because it’s the point at which the earth’s poles are at their maximum distance from the sun, making winter solstice the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. Following this date, the earth’s tilt slowly begins to turn back towards the sun, bringing with it lengthening days and the promise of spring.
Winter can be long and cold. And even with the gradually lengthening days that winter solstice signifies, spring is often a weary while away as we move through the cold months of January and February. As organic creatures of the earth, our bodies and energies respond to environmental changes and seasonal transformation. The earth, its animals, and its flora and fauna are not alone in their processes of hibernation, the shedding of leaves, their dormancy, and stillness. Through these times, we humans too, transform. Following Halloween where the veils between the living and the dead are at their thinnest, a blanket of sweet darkness falls upon the world and invites a time of introspection and quiet.
You may find yourself more reflective during the winter months. More inclined to stay indoors, be cosy, warm, well-fed, well-slept, and rested.
But, perhaps it’s important to shed a new and softer light on these experiences?
*❄ That, rather than being inconvenient and tiresome, these feelings are normal and even more explicitly demonstrate how we humans are not at all separate from our natural environment.
❄ That darkness is needed for metamorphosis.
❄That nothing blooms without a period of incubation or dormancy. *
The cycles of death and rebirth happen at multiple phases throughout our lives as we move through the natural motions of growth, integration, and transformation. Rest is very much required before the rebirth of a new light, a new day, a new year, a new you.
We see these patterns of nature replicating themselves throughout our lives if we’re looking, and the messages that these beautiful moments provide can reassure us that this world, this earth, this life, this experience of life has a meaning, a purpose, and is constantly providing the opportunity to elevate our human existence to regenerate, renew, reawaken and evolve.
If we reconnect to our environment and the blessings of the earth’s wisdom, we learn that nothing ever stays the same, there is a constant cycle of life, death and rebirth that we can very much tap into for our own personal growth if we chose to.
Lets take a look at the biological rhythms of nature:
Circadian Rhythms are natural cycles that repeat every 24 hours in response to external stimuli such as light and dark. Circadian rhythms govern our sleep and wake cycle, as well as other functions such as hormone production, eating habits, and body temperature. When darkness descends, our eyes signal to the pineal gland to secrete more melatonin, telling our bodies it’s time for sleep. As light appears with the dawn, the brain reduces its melatonin production to give us energy and vitality for the day. If our circadian rhythms are out of balance, we can be more prone to health conditions such as depression or obesity (Booth, 2020).
This process occurs not only in humans but also in plants and animals. It’s helpful to look to nature to frame this concept in relation to the seasons. Animals sleep, eat and rest more in winter. Many go into hibernation until the light is longer in spring. Trees become ‘lifeless’ and cease to grow or bud, onions and garlic stay in bed in the soil over winter, dormantly preparing to produce delicious harvests in summer. Much of the natural world ‘dies back’ in winter only to bloom again brighter with tree blossom, spring lambs and abundant summer crops.
Dark hours are much longer in winter, in some locations, there is no light at all. Our bodies have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to chemically respond to light and darkness for our survival. It stands to reason that these biological processes play an important role, and perhaps we should allow our natural rhythms to guide us through life instead of the demands of commerce and industry? Just a thought…
Intentional Rest Where You Can
Although the prospect of lengthening days and the welcoming back of the sun is a warm and uplifting one, I invite you to harness the power of the current darkness and the energy of these short, more solitary days. Cherish it. It is equally important to life on earth to recognise the magic of these darker days and the gifts that they too bring us.
And if you're feeling a surge of creative energy and inspiration, this is common too! As we naturally slow down with the colder nights, we give our energies time to settle and find some space in the mind for inspiration and creativity. But, here’s a challenge to you - see if you can write down your insights and sit on it for a bit, allow them to develop, like a fetus in the womb, and trust that they will germinate in the most perfect way when the time is right and you are truly ready.
One of Buddha’s helpful metaphors goes a little like this:
Imagine your mind as a glass of water and sediment. If you are constantly stirring the water, the glass is murky and full of sediment so it’s impossible to see with any clarity. The Buddha invites us to stop stirring the water and mixing up the sediment, to take a step back and allow time for the dust to settle… leaving a crystal clear view.
It is in this stillness where insight, revelation, and inspiration fluidly occur.
Darkness invites us to channel our energy and attention inward, to nurture, recharge, hibernate and gather resource. To truly honour this energy is an invitation into moments of quiet reflection, mindfulness, and being extra gentle with the self.
We can handle so much, us humans. We really are very resilient. But we have to work with compassion and care for ourselves in order to allow this. We know what we need, our bodies tell us all the time.
So if you're feeling the need for rest at the moment I very much encourage you to take the hint and make time for it. Even if it's just once a week, schedule it in.
You need this time to integrate, like a dormant phase before the rebirth, the quiet before the storm. For you to truly shine your light bright, it needs to charge up its batteries for the rest of the year.
We cannot have light without darkness, and nothing in this life is to be rejected or ignored if we see all experiences as teachers and opportunities to develop our consciousness and nurture our existence. As Albert Einstein once said:
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein