Mid-Winter Reflections

Sunrise Prayer – A Sunrise Prayer for Yule
By Patti Wigington
The sun returns! The light returns!
The earth begins to warm once more!
The time of darkness has passed,
and a path of light begins the new day.
Welcome, welcome, the heat of the sun,
blessing us all with its rays.

It is mid-winter day, the shortest day of the year. It has been raining and freezing and the trees in my yard are bend low with the weight of their glittering, icy load. Beauty and danger are so close together on their branches, the ice reflecting sunlight in brilliant sparkles and yet threatening to break the very branch that carries it.

Mid-winter traditionally is a time for introspection in the northern hemisphere. We are deeper incarnated into this planet than at any other time of the year: we feel solid, heavy, cold. Nature shuts us in with ice and snow and cold winds. Long evenings invite us to draw our gaze inside; no brilliant lights are drawing our attention out into the world. This is the time of year where we have the greatest chance to get close to the core of who we are.

In simpler times, people were thrown back onto themselves during mid-winter. They had to live out of their reserves — memories of light-filled summer days, food that was put aside and preserved during the autumn, connections and friendships that were forged while the roads where clear and people could travel. People also didn’t have as much choice of things to do to distract themselves from their thoughts and feelings, from their souls.

In our modern world most of us live in plenty: we can take the care to meet friends or seek out spiritual or emotional help; we can get any kind of food at any time of day; we can use an endless array of distractions so we don’t have to face our feelings, worries, thoughts, and inner darkness. However, the price for all this convenience may be an increased disconnection from our souls and, paradoxically, an increasing darkness within us.

The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.” – Joseph Campbell

Many of the old traditions have celebrated mid-winter with lights, feasts, and rituals. Those traditions acknowledged the power of winter and the darkness it brings; and they greeted the new light, welcomed the hope of renewal which came with days getting longer again. They expressed gratitude for having been carried through the darkness once more and appreciation for Mother Earth and her ability to protect and nourish life through the dark and cold months of winter. No matter, what deity was honoured or which traditions were followed, the main message mostly remained the same: gratitude for being saved, celebration of the light, of hope and love returning to the world.

Without these traditions we are no longer facing ourselves and our darkness on a regular basis. We banish the dark with artificial means and often end up feeling empty, lonely, confused, and overwhelmed by life itself. Again, paradoxically it is the season that traditionally gave us the space and time to find inner peace and rekindle our inner light that now for many is the most stressful, meaningless, and harrowing time of year. But what is there to do about it?

“The holiest of all holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence and apart; the secret anniversaries of the heart.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A big part of the celebrations of old were the rituals of mid-winter night: the lighting of fires to cheer for the sun; the giving of gifts to show appreciation and gratitude and to spread abundance; the preparation and sharing of a feast to connect to others, show care and love to them. Many of these rituals are now cold and empty: the family feast is something to fear as it brings stress, fights, and awkward moments; the gift giving has become a race against time and a competition for “the best gift ever”; the lights burn day and night without anyone really paying attention to them anymore. Prayers and contemplation are done quickly in between other tasks — or not at all. And the heart-too-heart connection to friends and loved ones has been replaced by hastily written cards, emails, or text messages: “merry xmas + happy new year, xoxo”

Maybe if we take the time to develop only one little ritual of our own for this time of year, we can begin to turn this season around again. Lighting a candle at that family dinner; taking a moment to consciously and clearly express our love or gratitude to someone; playing with the kids (or the cats) on Christmas morning before worrying about the turkey. Those little things can make a difference.
One of the results of doing ritual — and truly doing it, not only going through the motions — is that it calms down our souls. It brings back into harmony our emotional world, slows down the mind, brings the physical body into rhythmic movement, and opens us up to imagination and wonder. The turn of the year is a good time to practice a ritual daily so that both our bodies and souls can fall back into harmony.

For many of us, this past year has been hectic, difficult, and full. Many colleagues and clients of mine have expressed feeling more than usual run-down and tired this winter. Illness and death have been frequent visitors to some. It would seem to me that many of us could do with some calming, balancing, harmonizing energy, with some ritual in our lives.

“A successful ritual is one that addresses both aspects of our predicament, recalling us to the shamefulness of our deeds at the same time it celebrates what the poet Frederick Turner calls “the beauty we have paid for with our shame.” ― Michael Pollan

This year, the new year will start with a new moon rising at 7:38 am on January 1st. New Moon energy is the energy of manifestation and creation, of possibility and opportunity. To me that seems like a very fortuitous event: starting the new year with the energy of renewal and hope. And so I have created my own winter ritual this year. I will spend some time every night sitting by a candle, reviewing the old year, facing my ‘shameful deeds’ and celebrating the beauty I have had in my life this past year. And I will leave space in those moments for intentions to arise, true soul-intentions being born out of looking into the mirror my soul holds me. On New Year’s Day I am planning on formulating these intentions within the energies of a Capricorn New Moon and set them free.

As this year draws to an end I feel underneath all the hustle and strive the hopeful energy of this mid-winter night. Tomorrow morning this night will give way to a longer day and slowly the light will return, even through freezing rain storms and grey clouds. And with the light I feel hope, love, and joy returning. I hope and wish that you, too, will find some moments of peace and quiet in this busy holiday season. Maybe you will find one small — or not so small — ritual to make this season more meaningful and healing for you.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”  ―  Albert Camus