Today is the solstice and there is nothing you need to do about it

I like the idea that there is a seasonal waypoint, a holiday/holy day, as it were, that doesn’t need you to do anything, to mark it.

I mean, I plan to go for a walk with some friends tonight and speak into the frigid dark the things we’d like to release from the year, and what we cherish and call close, and we may light a candle or two, but that’s a different kind of marking of time than many festivals dictate. (I’m looking at you, Christmas.)

What has been shared with me is that the winter solstice is a kind of sacred pause.

The winter solstice is actually a precise moment, that occurred at 1:36pm PST today, at which the Earth begins to tilt back towards the Sun, lengthening the daylight we will experience from here on. Natalie Rousseau, who introduced me to these ideas, likens the moment to the pause at the end of a long exhale. If we imagine the year as a cycle of breath, from the high point of summer, everything begins to slowly breathe out, and this moment is when we reach the bottom of the breath, and for a moment, everything is still.

Stillness can be confronting.

When we become quiet, and allow ourselves to settle, much can arise – all the stuff that we tend to push away in the swirl of our activity – comes closer. It can be unsettling, to settle, yes. Sometimes I think this is what powers the manic intensity of our culture these days. People are moving, everywhere, and fast. The enforced stillness of the pandemic triggered a wave of mental unease. Part of that, I think, was the isolation. Part of it, though, I suspect, is that we tend to avoid stillness, and the reckoning that come when all is quiet.

Stillness can also be a place of deep ease and peace. Like: there is nothing more to be done, right now, at this inflection point of the year. Yes, it is almost spookily quiet, in that place between breaths. What if the in-breath doesn’t come? One day, one year, one moment, that will be the case. One day, for all of us, the in-breath will not follow the out. Something else will. At least that is my belief. It just won’t be an in-breath. It won’t be what we know.

I think of this moment as a point of reckoning, but a gentle one. Or at least, a non-punitive one. It’s not judgmental, so much as an invitation to consider, reflect, assess. The time for planting, for harvesting, for processing, is over. It is the season of sitting with what is.

(And if we practice this, every year, when the winter solstice comes, is it possible that it will make that final breath a little easier to breathe out? Will we find ourselves in better stead? Will our lives slowly become more considered and beautiful with each pass through the cycle of the year? I wonder.)

What did this year bring your way? If you were to sort through the experiences and ideas and memories and challenges, what baskets would you fill?

What would be piled into the basket of delights and joys?

I thought it would be fun to print out some photos from the year, as a family Christmas gift… I’d pick photos of highlights and great memories and then we could put them into an album or display them somehow. I didn’t get the display component worked out, so my kid is getting an envelope of about 30 photos under the tree. I have no idea how this will land. But I don’t really care because I’ve already extracted a ton of joy from the entire process. (Ya, it’s all about me.) I printed an additional 16 photos just for me, and now have them displayed by my desk – of favourite people and moments – things that just bring me joy to look at. These are a harvest… and looking at these photos is like looking over a pantry full of jars and chutneys and pickles and sauces and lovely preserves and bushels of apples and syrup and honey (I don’t have a pantry like this, for the record. It is my fantasy pantry. And someone else has done the labouring for it. That’s what makes it a fantasy.)

Another basket is of disappointments, because they too deserve their honouring. Catching COVID, and cancelling a trip to Hollyhock because of the lurgy, is in that basket. Other things too. When the ground thaws, I will take that basket out and toss it on the compost pile and let the worms turn it into good earth for next year’s seeds.

Another basket is full of seeds – dreams for next year, literal and metaphorical. It is informed by the delights and the disappointments, because those have been wonderful teachers… they showed me what lights me up, what hurts, what matters. What I want more of. What I want less of.

It’s all worth reflecting on… in the light of the longest night.

Warm solstice wishes to you all.

Solstice greeting art above was made for The All We Can Save Project by Madeleine Jubilee Saito. Read more of Madeleine’s work on her website or follow her on Instagram.

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