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Winter solstice. It is the longest night of the year. On one level, this is simply fact. But humans like to turn facts into metaphors and look for patterns that give our lives meaning, so this day takes on spiritual significance for some.
I’ve been thinking about darkness a lot recently. This year, I watched as the courage of some of my friends crumbled and they plunged themselves into despair. “Dark times are coming, dark times are here” has been the plaintive chorus of this holiday season. It’s tempting to equate darkness with bad.
But don’t. For today, reconcile with darkness. Today, find strength in it. Realize that we all came from darkness, that we are all darkness, and that we will return to darkness in the end.
Because to be human, or to exist at all, is to suffer and to cause suffering. That’s inescapable. But like darkness, it simply is. Acknowledging suffering like this takes a certain amount of courage, but there are lots of ways to take courage. It can come from the words of teachers, the inspiration found in nature, from embracing art and creativity, and from spending time with friends.
One of my favorite Buddhist teachers is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, activist, and prolific writer. There are many of his quotes that I treasure, little notes I’ve written for myself that help me re-orient when I am struggling to face the reality of so much suffering in the world.
“Our own life has to be our message.”
“My actions are my only true belongings.”
“The most radical activism we can practice is mindfulness.”
But my favorite is:
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”
Tea is one of my great loves. The alchemy of plants, water, and the human spirit is pretty astounding. So I would like to leave you with a tea meditation that I wrote to use this solstice in my own personal meditation practice. Fill your cup with something special or something ordinary.
Everything is sacred. Celebrate it. Take your tea out into the night and look at the skies. Take your tea and soak in the bath. Or simply take your tea and sit.
“Close your eyes. You will see that darkness is within you.
Which one among us was not conceived in darkness
And carried in night
And which among us
Did not cry as we left the dark waters of our birth?
And as we grew, our bones, bathed in the secrets of our blood, ached.
Yet we did not draw back from growing.
Which one among us has not held a seed in our hands and marveled that it would Become?
But the seed we held
Was the very form of darkness.
We plunged it into the dark earth.
And in that darkness
A mystery began
As chaos organized
And forced the seed apart
So that the first root
Anchored in the soil
And the first leaves
Until what it Became stood marveling
at this thing, light.
But the flower was rooted in darkness,
And called the dark bee
With the stench of time.
Fragrance is only a voice:
Take of me into your dark halls
Until your dark wells
With their dark brood
So fulfilled, the flower fades
And returns to darkness and the earth.
Creating dark seeds even as it dies.
And what is the seed,
If not a catastrophe in the soil
Mistaken by our size?
And so I will not fear the darkness.
Instead I will search for the tranquility within it, the potential, the peace of reconciling
That I am darkness, conceived and born, marveling at the beauty of time.
All the best,