I love going into the winter solstice. Here in New Hampshire we already have a thick blanket of white snow which insulates the ground and literally makes things quieter. When the earth gets a blanket of fresh, fluffy snow the sound waves are absorbed and dampened – much the same effect as when a building wall is sound proofed by adding foam and fiber to the walls. Add to this the white color unbroken except for the occasional deer or fox track, and I find the whole scene brings quiet to my mind as well.
Along with the dropping temperatures and arrival of snow, the solstice brings a blessed darkening of the light. We literally go into darkness – that is if we let ourselves. There is a strange irony to the way that at this time of darkness in the northern hemisphere we are inundated with the hype of holiday shopping and glitter. Underneath the glitz if I listen carefully I can hear the deep river of darkness calling me – calling me to rest more, stoke the fires and still with a warm cup of tea nestled between my hands. This river of darkness calls me home, literally and figuratively. It is the same river that I touch every month in my practice of silence.
If there is a wish I have for myself and actually the whole planet, it is the wish that the true purpose and power of darkness is understood and honored more fully. All the ecosystems of our planet honor the place that darkness nurtures. Seeds are always planted and need to gestate in the dark, undisturbed until they are ready to grow and reach for the light. And well before they reach for the light, their first stirring are deep in the dark, sending roots into the dark from which they drawn strength, sustenance and stability. Without this deep root system in the dark, all vegetation would fall over the minute it broke surface and reached for the sun.
Although I already knew this basic fact, I have come to a much deeper appreciation of how truly important this deep, dark rootedness is to all of life. On the 55 acres of land that are ours to steward here in New England, the bulk of the property is trees and the main tree is Red Oak. Oak trees epitomize this dynamic of rooting. Like all trees they need direct sunlight to grow and thrive and the oak compete with other trees like White Pine, which grows much more quickly, has a much shallower root system and a shorter life-span than Oak. We are in the process of thinning out some of the very large White Pine on the property so that the small, oak seedling that have been waiting - sometimes for decades but all the while sending down more and more roots - can shoot for the sun. And when they finally shoot for the sun, they can grow for hundreds of years.
Walking through the woods seeing these tiny oak shoots scattered underneath their giant grandmother and grandfather oaks, I wonder how deep their roots have gone and how long they have been waiting until it is their moment to grow. Patience and unconditional surrender is the energy that I feel deeply as I wander through our grand forests. Patience and surrender born of years of growing deep roots in the darkness until the time is perfect to burst forth and take their place as the next generation of this beautiful forest. One tree among many, each with its own beauty, character and stature.
Contemplating the beauty of these long-arc cycles and the natural seasons of our land, I am filled with gratitude for the way life works and that I, too, am deeply connected to these exact same rhythms myself. We all are.
May you each take time over this solstice season to let yourself go into the darkness, grow down into the deeply rich soil of your own soul and lay strong roots of quiet strength for the year ahead. I think it is this quiet strength that will allow us all to find our way in these days ahead.