The dark is at its height before we slowly move back to the light by tiny increments. We’re on the verge of winter solstice and a long way into Advent.
A time for the dark
The Winter Solstice is a time brimming with associations, images and archetypes. It includes themes of solitude and deep contemplation, mindfulness of the narrative of death and (eventually) rebirth. At the solstices the sun stands still and the Winter Solstice is the beginning of the astronomical winter. Whether your tradition is to celebrate Chanukah, burn the solstice yule log, keep Christmas or something wholly different, themes of light and dark touch us all.
As the year turns, a lot comes our way — families and relationships (whether wonderfully supportive or not) take huge emotional energy, as do friendships; we face illnesses, sometimes life-threatening or stripping away the quality of life, in ourselves and others; we balance work and the fast pace of modern living with needs for an inner life and a creative life; we have domestic concerns and a thousand-and-one other things competing for just a bit of us until sometimes we realise there isn’t one bit left over for the next thing, but still have to keep going. Even if life is going extraordinarily well and we feel continually blessed, there can still be a pace to this that we need to rest from.
A time to go inward
The Solstice is a good time to step back, even if only for an hour or two, and give yourself time to think in stillness and quiet; a time for spiritual nourishment (whatever ‘spirituality’ might mean to you). Going inward in retreat is not a rejection of the world and responsibilities and love, but a way of storing energy for whatever life throws at it — think of it as your stash of squirrel nuts for the winter.
It’s also a way of giving yourself the space to process emotions, to absorb and contemplate what is going on in your life at the moment and how you want to move forward — by doing this deep considering we become more considerate, less likely to be reactive or to project our shadow parts onto others.
Transforming ourselves within is continual work, but this is a day to do such work, which is rich and fertile. Change begins deep inside. It begins when we slow down sufficiently to contemplate how to be the people we want to become.
A time for restoration
When we have rich inner lives, our journey becomes deeply restorative, we start to realign in all kinds of ways. The story of who we are shifts, and the stories we write shift. At this time of the year, animals hibernate and seeds lie deeply buried. It’s a time for the dark, a time to do inward, a time of deep work and restoration.
When we lose our inner life we become alienated in our outer life. We may be busy. We may be running from task to task, but at some point the emptiness will show. Perhaps in over-consumption, addiction, depression or losing ourselves in increasingly meaningless distractions. Perhaps in burnout.
When we lose our inner life we feel ungrounded and separate rather than connected. And when a whole society loses a sense of inner life, groundedness and connection, our myths degenerate into stories of fear, keeping out the ‘other’, hate.
When we have rich inner lives, as individuals, as communities, we find new stories. Going within is an act of imagination, an act of restoration. And in winter, when the green earth is germinating beneath frost and snow, there is time to nurture new stories.
A time to learn
My metaphors for finding the stories that restore us and flow from us come from the earth. Creativity has rhythms like seasons and nature provides endless examples of times to pare back and times to flourish; times to go within and times to connect.
The non-human world is a wonderful teacher, not only of rhythm, but also of generosity. Plants make food and medicines from light and water, then give them away. They give us a sense not only of seasons, but of connections. Mast-fruiting trees, as I learnt from reading Robin Wall Kimmerer, store starch to accumulate the calories needed for mass-fruiting. But whether they are able to garner small or large stores as individuals is immaterial. They fruit as one — across groves, forests, even states: they act collectively.
This is a story humans need: what happens to one, happens to all. We can perish together or thrive together. Survival and unity are inextricable from one another.
Rhythm, seasons, generosity, connection. Over the last few months I’ve been immersed in two courses. One in aromatherapy with a wonderful teacher who has a deeply intuitive and spiritual sense of wellness. And the other a herbal apprenticeship with two tutors whose wisdom and perspective is inspirational.
The rhythms, seasons, generosity and connections of the plant world are a mirror for how life might be and the story we could become. So this autumn and winter, as well as writing, I’ve learnt new recipes. I’ve not only made Christmas cakes, glistening dried fruits offering their intense riches for the winter months, but also learnt recipes for rose hip syrup and Venus rob from elderberries; for soothing teas and nettle tincture and heather oil to add to balms.
A time for story
December is a time for story. We tell stories of light in the darkness. We tell stories of going inwards, finding restoration and learning from the earth that nurtures us. We tell stories of hope in times of fear, of safe birth against all the odds, of stars in the night sky lighting the way. We tell stories of rhythm, generosity, connection.
Increasingly it seems to me that creativity, being grounded and earthed, feeling the interconnections of life and telling stories of healing and hope are intertwined. This is the story of solstice.
An invitation to become your story
Thank you for reading — I’d love to help you as you transform your story.
Sign up to my email list and I’ll send you a free PDF on writing and the writing life plus a free copy of my premium journalling course, Diving Deeply into Your Story. While you’re on the site, take a look at other free courses available and at my forthcoming book, Writing Down Deep. I’ll be using the book as the core text for a community of writers next year and I’d love you to get involved.