A Rumination on Darkness and Light for the Winter Solstice

As the end of the calendar year approaches we on the SYF Team find ourselves contemplative, in preparation for the long inward journey of winter. As the light begins to fade in the Northern Hemisphere and days reach their shortest and nights their longest, we can’t help but lovingly explore these moments of darkness for what they can reveal both personally and collectively. 

Though we are grateful to have been able to gather in community at SYF2022 (photo above, credit to Ty Dobbs), the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic — and the seeming chasm it created in our social systems — are still real. While it’s safe to say that every generation can lay claim, in some capacity, to a tragedy or sorrow that begets collective mourning, it’s arguably been a century since the world has undergone this extent of  disruption. We need not foray into heated political discussion to acknowledge the pain and loss that has been endured around the world. 

And yet in these darker days is an opportunity to cultivate light, to not run from the sadnesses of the world, but to allow our practice to inform how we approach it. To live in the grace of our yoga is to hold on to joy and honor the collective transformation of community. It is also a practice in the beauty of letting go. 

“Grace is the intersection of that moment when you get out of your head and into your heart,” says SYF Programming Lead Reggie Hubbard. Allowing the heart to lead, to infuse purpose with care and consideration is to recognize oneness, and to take action to ensure that when darkness sets in, all people have a pathway to light. “The only way to fix the mess we’re in,” says Reggie, “is if we do it together. We need to listen more than we talk, and take action toward collective healing.” 

A Time of Service

These contemplative weeks leading to the winter solstice are prime for taking stock and exploring, and tenderly beginning to make plans with what we’ll do as the light returns. In some cultures, the weeks around the winter solstice were traditionally a time of service. According to History.com

“Yalda night” is an Iranian festival celebrating the longest and darkest night of the year. The celebration springs out of ancient Zoroastrian traditions and customs intended to protect people from evil spirits during the long night.

On Shab-e Yalda, (which translates to “Night of Birth”), Iranians all over the world celebrate the triumph of the sun god Mithra over darkness. According to tradition, people gather together to protect each other from evil, burn fires to light their way through the darkness, and perform charitable acts.

Creating the Light

To be of service is to live in grace — and to live graciously. It’s no secret that our society is polarized and discordant, and that our disagreements often seem louder and more sure than the ties that bind us. Yoga, like winter, is about the long inward journey; but it’s also about creating the change and the light we want to see. This means disagreeing compassionately, and finding empathy for one another even when we vehemently oppose certain beliefs or ideas. 

This also means creating the conditions so that all people feel seen, heard, and welcome. At the end of the day (or the end of the year, as the case may be), we’re all in this together, interconnected and interdependent. When a neighbor is hurting, the neighborhood suffers. Our community, both our yoga community and our global community, is like this. The solstice is a good time to ruminate on what you can do to bring light to those around you. How can you use your practice to inform the creation of a more just, compassionate, and kind world for all?

Non-Attachment as the Light

There’s also solstice musings in traditional yogic philosophy. In Sutra 1.36–1.37, Patanjali explores the idea of nonattachment, and how detaching from the world into the cave of the heart helps us on the path of light, toward true connection and deep, unwavering joy. When we come to meditation with the desire and striving to release ourselves from the pain (and pleasures!) of the world, we cultivate that ability to step into the light of our truest nature. To say—we all experience the darkness of ignorance, avidya. Life, and spiritual pursuit, is a long journey to transcend this darkness, and to work toward that understanding. 

This is pertinent to keep in mind as we wade through these dark weeks leading up to the solstice in the Northern Hemisphere — and as we work toward collective healing of the experiential darknesses of the past year. 

May you all find light in your personal journeys, as well as inspiration to be the light in your community. Happy winter solstice! 

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