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Balancing Extremes – Winter Solstice, 2014

December 21, 2014
Balancing Winter by John C. Crawford

Balancing Winter by John C. Crawford

The Winter Solstice this year came amidst a deluge – days of heavy rain, bringing flooding and landslides to those who live on rivers less wide and gentle than ours. Every time it rains now, especially this heavily, I think about our friends in California and elsewhere in the Southwest whose gardens are parched, whose water supplies are dwindling. An over abundance of rain in one place, not enough in another. Sounds a little like the Solstice – not enough light in our hemisphere while it’s summer for our friends “down under.”

I’ve always thought about the solstices as extremes, the equinoxes as points of balance but this year I’ve realized that the solstices are about balance as well. When it’s the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere it is the brightest, most light time in the southern. Viewed on a planetary scale, that’s balance.

We are hard-wired to view cycles and seasons from our human, personal perspective, from wherever we are on the planet. After all, for our ancestors, adapting to the natural cycles of where they lived was a matter of survival; the sun and the light it brought meant life. But from a planetary perspective, the rotation of the earth in relationship to the sun is simply a distribution issue. There’s no less light falling on the planet – it’s just allocated differently. So even when we are plunged into darkness in the northern hemisphere, our friends in Sidney, Auckland, and Cape Town are enjoying the height of summer.

Focusing on the extreme point of darkness, this longest night, at this time of the year makes sense from a human perspective – after all, roughly 90% of the world’s population lives in the northern hemisphere. (That’s because most of the planet’s land mass is in the northern hemisphere.) Cultures who live close to the equator don’t have the same focus on the extremes – they have roughly the same amount of daylight and night through all seasons.

The rest of us are caught on a pendulum. Today the pendulum of light has hit the height of its arc in one direction. Tomorrow, without bonfires on the hills, the pendulum will begin its swing to the other point of the arc, the Summer Solstice. We know what our early ancestors may not have known – that the sun hasn’t gone away, it’s just shining more light on another part of the planet right now. But our ancestors knew something many of us have forgotten – that it’s a matter of survival to know and be in tune with the cycles of nature. They also knew not to disturb those cycles – especially the climate cycles – if we want them to continue in a way that supports life as we know it.

The rituals of lighting a Yule log, decorating our homes with evergreen boughs, bringing light into the darkness in whatever ways we can, are a part of acknowledging those cycles. The giving of gifts, the honoring of each other, serve to remind us that it’s only through community that we can survive the long dark. The celebration of birth, whether of “son” or “sun,” inspires hope that seeds now dormant will spring to life with the returning light.

Although we can’t affect the swing of the pendulum/planet in its journey around the sun, we can align ourselves with it. When the cycle offers us more darkness than light, it’s time to go inward and dream. Time to listen to the winds, the rain, the falling snow. Time to connect to each other and the world around us. Time to bring light into each other’s lives.

Bright Blessings to you and all those you touch this holiday season.

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