At this holiday time of year we are surrounded by “lights in the darkness” – twinkling holiday reminders of the coming light now that we have reached and passed the Winter Solstice, the darkest time of the year. For millennia, humans all over the world have made bonfires and light festivals at this time to signify the hope in the midst of mid-winter despair that Earth’s life will renew itself. In our not-so-distant past, when winter could be a time of starvation, especially in my part of the northern hemisphere, such rejoicing at the coming of the light at the Solstice made sense for it meant reassurance of springtime food and relief from the killing cold.
But I love the darkness. I wait for winter and the chance to rest, dream, and be more fully my spiritual self in the long nights and velvety deep blackness I see for so much of the day and night. As much as anyone can who lives in the modern, western world, I retreat into my envisioned cave and enjoy being part of the cosmos while exploring my inner world. The little twinkly lights sometime seem like an intrusion. The springtime and long summer days will come soon enough; why do they need to invade my too short season of darkness?
Yet, there are lessons to be learned in winter’s starlike lights that can only be learned when we also appreciate the darkness. The combination of deep darkness and the holiday lights are a reminder that we are both infinite and embodied. So often we see those two aspects of our being in conflict, as if we can only be one or the other at a time. But what if they are not in conflict, not even complementary, but each is necessary to the other?
The twinkly lights remind me that my winter dreaming is useless if it has no meaning in the embodied, action-packed daytime aspect of the world, if I cannot take my dreamings and make a better planet with them. When we are in the dark dreaming, we must remember to make our dreams achievable and relevant to the outside world.
The twinkly lights remind me that we need to make our bodies ready for the more active time of the light by resting, by nourishing ourselves in these moments of quiet contemplation. Soon the twinkly lights will become the blazing sun and our labor, of whatever kind, will be required to put food on the table of the world, whatever form our work in the outside world takes. Our bodies must be ready for the task.
Finally, the twinkly lights are our beacons of light on the way back to our home in the sun, just as the few hours of darkness we may enjoy in the summer when we are in nature and able to see the blackest night without artificial lights are our pathway back to the dreaming time of winter. When our time of resting, contemplation, and creating the seeds of what we will harvest in the summer and fall is over, we know we will have a way to where we need to be.
To those of us who do not long for the spring and summer in the dark days of winter, the illuminations that the world seems to so instinctively light at this time of year are a reminder of the importance of our dreaming and resting in winter to the world of action that thrives under the sun. It reminds me that this luxuriant season of darkness is short, the summer will soon be upon us, and we must make the most of it.
Photo of dark matter credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Coe (NASA JPL/Caltech and STScl)