I was visiting family in North Georgia over the holidays. We were there during the Winter Solstice.

And as you know, on that day we celebrate the longest night of the year. Local cultures around the world have celebrated this event with ceremonies and rituals for millennia.

When my family and I visited Stonehenge in England last July, we learned that the Winter Solstice is the biggest annual event there, when pagan pilgrims come to recognize and honor the “rebirth” of the sun for the new year.

We did it in Georgia as well.

Burning ceremony

On a cold and windy night, my family gathered around the fire to make a bonfire in honor of the return of the sun.

And to respect the fruitful darkness.

We each wrote down on little strips of paper what we wanted and needed to let go of: hurt feelings, lingering grudges, toxic relationships, and other wounds and baggage we’d accumulated over the year.

Then we went around the circle and threw our little paper prayers into the fire, burning each strip one by one. And we set our intention to free ourselves from these emotional anchors to make room and give birth to whatever comes next.

It was a ritual act of letting go. It’s not unlike the secret letting go ritual we practice when we sit in meditation.

Finding Wholeness in Light And Dark

But what I love about the solstice is the obvious juxtaposition of light and dark. You don’t think about one without the other. In our darkness and pain, we are all shepherds of light.

Of course, most of us want light and try to avoid darkness. But clinical psychologist Dr. As Steven Hays so eloquently puts it in his essay From Loss to Love, “opening your heart to pain means opening your heart to joy.”

And that wonderful Pixar movie Inside Out captures the same poignant dynamic with its central reveal…when Joy’s character realizes that her human Rylee can’t be truly happy without embracing Joy’s antagonist, the ever-blue “Sadness.”

One does not exist without the other. Our human integrity depends on a balance of both.

Restoring Spirit of Darkness

As we welcome the coming New Year, yes, let us celebrate the arrival of light. But the dark days are still long. Before we rush to embrace the light, let’s not forget that we also find our wholeness in the fertile and often difficult darkness.

For this purpose, let me share a poem. An ode to the redemptive, restorative, revealing and reviving spirit of darkness.

And if you’re feeling particularly bogged down in the dark, please know that you’re never alone. Help is always available.

In celebration of the Winter Solstice
By Stephanie Noble

Don’t be afraid of the dark.
Darkness is rich fertile ground
which nourishes the seed and makes it grow.
Darkness is the soft night that cradles us to rest.
Only in the dark
stars can shine in the vastness of space.
Only in the dark
the dance of the moon is so clear.
There is a mystery woven into the dark quiet hours.
There is magic in the dark.

Don’t be afraid.
We are born of this magic.
It fills our dreams
that root, unfold themselves and weave again
in the shelter of deep dark night.
Darkness has its own color
its own resonance, its own breath.
It fills our soul,
not with despair but with promise.
Darkness is the womb of our deep and knowing self.
Darkness is the cave where we rest and refresh our souls.
We are born of darkness
and we return every night
into the deep wet womb of our beginnings.

don’t be afraid of the dark
because in the depths of that darkness
comes the first sight of our own light,
the pure inner light of love and knowledge.
As it glows and grows, the darkness recedes.
As we shed our light, we shed our fear,
and enjoy the wonder of all that is revealed.

So don’t rush the sun.
Do not aspire to prolong the day.
Celebrate the darkness.
Here and now. A period of prosperity. A time of joy.

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