Today is the Winter Solstice, an important point in the calendar as it marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. It is a celebration of the returning light that goes on gaining strength until the Summer Solstice in June. The Winter Solstice also marks the start of a new season: Winter, when nature is dormant, wildlife hibernates and the trees that have shed their leaves now put all their energy into their roots deep underground.
Very appropriately, I spent this morning at a Winter Solstice Mindfulness event in woodland at Erddig Hall near Wrexham. Our group of about 10 people gathered around the fire as we reflected on the meaning of the season and took inspiration from the natural world around us to connect with the present moment using our five senses. This "forest bathing" experience felt like a real treat, a chance to slow right down, pause and be still, away from the busyness of life - and Christmas preparations - and an invitation for reflection.
Setting aside time for self-reflection and contemplation, despite the various distractions that this time of year can bring to our life, is important as it enables us to make meaning of the past twelve months. Reflecting on what has worked, what has not worked, what we want to let go of, what we want to bring more into our life in the coming year, what/who we can be grateful for, acknowledging the opportunities and the losses we have experienced... plays an important role in helping us shape our hopes, desires and intentions for the new year. With meaning and purpose, our well-being improves as we feel more connected with ourselves.
This is not a call for beating ourselves up for our failures and shortcomings throughout the past year. No use in that! Acceptance, non-striving and non-judgement of whatever emerges out of the darkness are three of the pillars of a mindfulness practice and teach us to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves as we explore, reflect and contemplate. In the woodland this morning, I got a strong sense of this: seeing things as they actually are... the bare trees, the muddy ground, leaves rotting on the ground, the wind helping or hindering the lighting of the fire, the sunlight coming through the trees, the birds singing, the occasional remaining leaf tumbling down through the air. Nothing was forced, fought or resisted; everything unfolding naturally. What a powerful way to learn how to embrace my own darkness, trusting in the process, however difficult it is.
Happy Winter Solstice! May you pause to embrace your own darkness so that you can welcome the returning light to guide you into the new year.