“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’m just not that into Christmas this year. I don’t want a tree, I’m not interested in buying presents; I just want to curl up with a book and be quiet.” My client looked at me half expectantly, half sheepishly.
“Well,” I replied slowly, “it sounds to me like you are really feeling into the true, archetypal nature of the season.”
She looked at me with some surprise, her curiosity piqued.
I went on to say that the origins of this season — the longest period of darkness in our calendar — are ancient. For thousands of years before Christmas or Hanukah or Kwanza or Eid or any of the religious holidays/holy days, our ancestors gathered together for warmth and security against an ever-encroaching night. Fires were lit, prayers were spoken and ceremonies enacted to beseech the sun to return and for life to be renewed. It wasn’t celebratory; rather, it was sacred and serious.
The stories that arose over the millennia from this powerful, potent, archetypal energy survive in us still. These stories became the myths that sustain us: how new life arises from the old, how the light survives the darkness, and how something much larger and more unfathomable than our mere, mortal selves moves and shapes the forces of our world.
Now, however, the season of Solstice has been stretched and twisted into the total opposite of what the season is about at a soul level, which is a time of quiet reflection and a focus on our place in the cosmos. Christmas, as it is currently marketed — uh, celebrated — is completely antithetical to what is natural and necessary at this time of year: It is busy, loud and extraverted.
One only need look to nature to understand the natural rhythm of the cycle of seasons and life; Winter is the quiescent, introverted part of a growth cycle. It is the necessary resting period that precedes new life and new growth. The natural energetic flow of winter is slow, inward, and quiet. No quiet, no rest, equals no growth or at best a very depleted, unhealthy plant. Or person.
So for those of you who are not feeling particularly inclined to making merry, I say welcome to the true spirit of the season. You have tapped into a powerful, ancient and soulful current, unsullied by the agitating froth of materialism and false festivity. Now, don’t get me wrong; there is absolutely nothing wrong about feeling happy or festive, but if you’re not so inclined, it is not the mark of mental illness. There is nothing wrong with you and you are not a grinch. You are simply feeling the deep, instinctual and spiritual energy of the darkening of the light.
The time of darkness allows for the sort of illumination that is the greatest gift of all: to be filled with awe and wonder and gratitude and a sense of the numinous. In quiet darkness we come to know the Eternal and our own smallness and connection to it and we are appropriately humbled. In the darkness we think and feel differently. We slow our busy selves and take stock. We appreciate. We entertain our fears and depressions. We grow our souls. In the darkness, light is born.
We celebrate the solstice and Christmas and the like to mark our relief and happiness, our faith and hope and, ultimately, our gratitude for the return of the light and for the opportunity of continued life. We celebrate, in Gandhi’s famous words, that, “In the midst of darkness, light persists … In the midst of death, life persists.”
There is no light without darkness, no growth without rest, no appreciation without deprivation, no insight without turning in. The beauty of this season is ample in its quiet, resting perfection. So if you aren’t in mall mode or feeling holly jolly, rest easy. You’re in perfect sync with the eternal, ancient cycle of life. Flip off the lights, look at the stars, consider Nature and count yourself blessed.