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Winter Solstice, Solace in These Times of Stillness
At the time of the Solstice, the sun changes course. There is a moment in that change, when the sun stops and seems to pause before reversing directions. Cultures, as far back as Neolithic cultures, have acknowledged this moment. On the Winter Solstice, as the sun reached its lowest point and the land lay fallow, a pause was taken in the daily routine to honor natural cycles and celebrate the return of the light. The land would not come back to life, it was believed, unless pause was taken.The word “Solstice” – derived from the Latin word “sol” (sun) and “sistere” (to stand still) – reflects that pause.
As the Winter Solstice on December 22 draws near, it is a good time to align yourself with this natural cycle and take time out of your busy life to become still. There are several ways you can do this. You can find a time between now and the end of the year to take a meaningful pause – spending a whole day, a half day, even a few hours alone in stillness. Alternately, you can pause each day for ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes. This could be a time of formal meditation or prayer, or a time sitting quietly outdoors or in a room removed from the bustle of daily activity – the main elements being stillness (not moving) and silence (not talking). Lastly, at any point in the day, you can take a moment to pause and notice your breath – breathing in, holding for a second, then breathing out, holding another second before breathing in. This momentary pause is something that you can do anytime of the day or night – when you need a break from what you’re doing, when you are overtaken by negative thoughts, or when you just want to feel more invigorated and alive.
Let’s take a moment to practice this third way to pause. Stop what you’re doing. Make yourself comfortable. If sitting – get into a relaxed position, feeling the chair, couch, bed firmly beneath you. If walking, feel the earth beneath your feet, allowing the rhythm of your body to be easeful and flowing. Let whatever thoughts you have drift through your mind like clouds drifting across the sky – notice them as they pass. Occasionally they may obscure who you really are, just as a passing cloud obscures the sun. But just as the sun is always there whether you see it or not, your true self is always shining despite a cloudbank of thoughts.
Now turn your focus to your breath, noticing for a few breaths its natural ebb and flow, its ongoing rhythm. Like the sun, your breath is always there. Take a moment to appreciate it’s constancy and presence in your life – this miracle you take for granted. Now, on the next breath, breathe in easily and naturally. At the moment before the out-breath, pause – like the sun pausing at its highest point before beginning to sink - then breathe out, smoothly, effortlessly. Once again pause for a second – like the sun at its lowest point pausing before beginning to rise – then breathe in. Continue in this way making the pause two seconds, three seconds, four seconds, until you are holding the pause at the end of each in and out breath for five seconds. This whole practice takes less than a minute.
Before returning to whatever you were doing, take a moment to look at your surroundings – really look – the patterns of light and shadow, the textures and movements. Take another moment to listen to the sounds. Sound upon sound, sound beneath sound, hearing sounds you never realized were there. Then return to your day. Remember that at any moment you can stop and begin again.
There is solace in these times of stillness. It is fitting that the word solace – meaning comfort, support, relief – and the word “solstice” are so similar in sound. Taking a pause does bring comfort. During this time of celebration, give comfort to yourself by taking a day, an hour, a minute to experience the on-going cycle of life.
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