At Winter Solstice: Be Still, & Know

Where shalt thou seek the light if thou dost not turn within?

This is about this very moment. This wonderful moment. Have you noticed? This week brings us the solstice. The shortest day of the year, and the longest night.

Typically a time of clarity and community, introspection and renewal, it’s an apt time to begin my modest career as a mediocre writer at Medium. So I ask myself, in this moment, what is there for me to say, to this community, of any clarity, much less wisdom? What am I learning that others might learn with me? What might prompt nourishing contemplation, and fruitful conversation? As always the answer is as plain as the nose in front of my face.

’Tis the season. Time to celebrate light in time of darkness. To affirm life. See the light and love in life.

Touching the still point in the turning world

Solstices come to us whether we we come to them or not. That’s the beautiful thing. They aren’t at all dependent on human calendars. In fact, they’ve always been the current situation, well before coinage and calendars. A civilized observant might disdain this fundamental, scientific fact as being “primitive.” But at the root of primitive is prime. Primary, not secondary. Primo. As an initial experience, this can be an initiatory moment. At least, such is a personal ritual I happily adhere to. Finding the meaning of life within life itself. Moment to moment.

The occurrence of a solstice isn’t accompanied by prophecy nor commandment. It simply is what it is. It’s up to us to be present and mindful of it. Every winter, I don’t know and so invariably have to consult an appointment book to find out when Hanukkah falls this year and when is Christmas. But I can always feel the winter solstice in my bones. I can sense Mother Earth, beneath my soles, yearning for the return of the light. I hear the birds gossiping about it.

Within and beyond time, solstice calls to me: Pause: be still! As I do, I come home. I come home to breathing the breath that breathes me. As I do, I come to know a greater sense of spaciousness, beyond my tightly wound skein of self. I notice — right now, in fact — in the space between my inhalation and exhalation there’s a wonderful pause. A place of no breath. Nada. A solstice. The word comes from Latin for the point at which the sun seems to stand still.

I notice this even more deeply present in the space between my exhalation and inhalation. Waiting for the next breath, like a naked hunter attentive in a forest of all beings. As it is within, so too without and all around me: the year too is at that point of pivot, like a gyroscope balanced on a string. The terrestrial and the celestial are congruent: as above, so below, and over under sideways down

How wonderful, and needful, to pause and be nada. Then I can look around see clearly all that supports me in this journey. I recognize all things interconnected in this circle of life — all vivid and vital and completely without me. I don’t need to lift a finger for solstice to happen. (What a relief! I’m NOT The One.) Yet I feel called to lift more than a finger. I want to lift up all things as I am uplifted.


What rituals do you subscribe to?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like every year I look to find a new way to celebrate winter solstice. There seem (almost) as many objects of winter solstice celebration as there are ways to bow and kiss the earth: Dongzhi, Saint Lucia, Gody, Kolduvane, Ameteratsu. But, taking stock, I realize I’ve observed winter solstice more faithfully and more frequently than any other winter ritual. This year, dawning rays of the solstice sun saw me at International Council of First Nations’ first annual Wawa Inti Raymi Winter Solstice — Birth of the Sun Uitzilopochtli, at San Francisco City College.

Wawa Inti Raymi celebrates the birthday of Uitzilopochtli, the little sun. “Little,” because he appears now as a hummingbird. Over time, he’ll grow and his plumage will become more varicolored. You’ll see.

And did you know? San Francisco City College’s Valencia Street campus is home to a 27’-high mural of the Toletc calendar, (Tonalmachiotl). Composed of 660 ceramic tiles, it’s the largest Tonalmachiotl in the world. Standing beneath it, Maestro Mazatzin Aztekayolokalli Acosta, Mexica, gave us a gloss of the use of Tonalmachiotl. It is, he tells us, “the culmination of ALL the Calendar systems. Finished and carved in 1489, just 13 years before the European invasion…Nothing was done after that. This was the product of thousands of years of patient and respectful observation and study by thousands of People across thousands of miles of the western hemisphere.” And, as Mazatzin reminded us, time is common to us all. It’s all about time.

I was already well-primed for this initiation. Across town, at Golden Gate Park, I’d immersed in the exhibition of monuments and artifacts from Teotihuacan. So my soil was receptive to more seeds about how these daily embodiments of cosmic processes function here. Also recently I’d celebrated, at City Lights, the launch of the third edition of the amazing, ground-breaking, indispensable, and enchanting anthologyTechnicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania edited by Jerome Rothenberg. [Full disclosure: I’m a humble contributor to that potlatch.]

Present at the ceremony, celebration, and council were also Renée Smokey, Piute; Félix Chuma Pinguil, Inka; Tony Gonzalez, AIM-West; Robert White Mountain, Sioux; Morningstar Sakwanometwa, Hopi, Krsytakline, Nauha, of Starlight Projects Foundation, and José Ajpu Muñoz, Day Keeper of the Mayan Calendar for the Maya Chorti, Quiche, Mam and Kakchiquel people — among others. It was an indeed an privilege, a pleasure, and a heavenly delight to participate in sacred dance of prayer and intention from many traditions, as one.


When we awaken, we recognize we are indeed one

Many readers, familiar with Christmas and Hanukkah, might not yet be aware of the winter holy day of the Buddhists. Bodhi Day. So I’ll add a plug here for my guy. CNN wasn’t there, but, from all accounts, two and a half millennia ago, a human being woke up. (Yay!) I mean woke up completely. Beneath the shelter of a tree, attaining full realization, the Buddha looked up, and saw … the morning star. In that instant he recognized that he and the lone star were one.

Here too light is key: seeing things as they truly are. Just because our eyes are open doesn’t mean we’re awake … truly intimate with our lives … engaged in a genuine life. Connecting. So, properly, we may consider enlightenment not as an end so much as a process, an enlightened way of being and living. It takes being able to pause and be still – because if we cannot do no thing, then how can we expect to do any thing? Given just a moment of enlightenment, whenever and however it comes, with or without heavenly messenger – we immediately hear our calling. Life is calling us. What have we come here for? Who are we meant to be in this life? How can we be of most benefit, for ourselves and others?

With awakening comes the splendid discovery, Aha!, we have this inherent capacity for joie de vivre, the sheer joy of mere being. It’s our birth right. Our buddha nature. Awakening to this wholeness, our oneness with life, we might also realize how all beings contain the same seeds of their awakening and, given the right causes and conditions, may eventually fully awaken also. Looking around, we might smile to discover, each in their own way, walking alongside us, are already on the path of awakening.

Whichever tradition, the story reminds us there’s more to life than the material realm. Our winter solstice stories seem to all tell of light, no matter whether flame light or star light, the inward light or the sacredness of light itself. In the telling, we are unburdened and feel lighter.

It’s good to look too beneath our tales — beyond dark and light, and the interplay of their dance of yin and yang — and appreciate the earth kissing our soles; the soil and grounding of our ego; and stark winter light itself, in the sky and upon our faces. From my vantage, I reckon to omit such essential valuables from our list is to risk remaining a very small package indeed, bound up and wound up in small self, trying to be happy by resolving our past and plotting out our future, without ever noticing the gift so immediately and abundantly at our feet.


from Psalm 46 • calligraphy byThich Nhat Hanh

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Our winter solstice stories seem to all tell of light, no matter whether flame light or star light, the inward light or the sacredness of light itself. In the telling, we are unburdened and feel lighter. Whichever their tradition, the sacred stories of winter remind us there’s more to life than the material realm. (Think: Scrooge, and his transformation.) Life’s not all about stuff. If we’re at least 51% spirit, we’re doing alright. If we have enough light from our headlamps to see where to go a few yards ahead driving in dense fog, it is enough. We know that light will eventually win out.

It’s good to look too beneath our tales – beyond dark and light, and the interplay of their dance of yin and yang – and appreciate the Mother Earth kissing our soles; the soil and grounding of our ego; and stark winter light itself, in the sky and upon our faces. From my vantage, I reckon to omit spiritual essential valuables from our Christmas shopping list is to risk remaining a very small package indeed. We get so bound up and wound up in small self, we make a very small package, as gospel preservationist Emmit Powell reminds. When we wake up, we realize we’ve been chasing after our desires and running away from our dislikes, and never really living. Trying to be happy by resolving our past and plotting out our future, without ever noticing the gift so immediately and abundantly at our feet, is to miss our appointment. Our appointment with life.

Q: What does the awakened blogger say to the hurried Christmas shopper?
A: Be the present.


For further research

From ‘Das Wunderzeichenbuch’ (The Book of Miracles). Augsburg. Germany, 1552. [ from the visual library of Stephen Ellcock ]

Here are three insightful questions for your inner journey …

=> What aspirational intentions are you nourishing as the dark gives way to light ?

=> What obstacles to your motivation are you seeing deeply, to get at the root, & transform them into compost ?

=> Where are you right now in the Great Wheel of the Turning Year ?