Tomorrow night is the Winter Solstice, and as such I am at the zenith of this year’s Yuletide Journey, coming to rest in the crèche of my Heart in the darkness that this night portends; awaiting revelations and potential epiphanies. As chance would have it, I’ve been able to go out for short walks on four different nights this month after work. On three of these wintry jaunts, I have gone down the rails-to-trails project near town that carries me off into landscapes long imbued by poetic fantasies. _I have walked down to the arche of all my imaginings of the family known as The Whittiers, and come back with runes of poetic fascination.
Each of these after-work saunters has lasted just over an hour, going there and back again, yet they have silenced my being-in-becoming, drawing me on toward precipices of poetic luxuriance. I have journeyed creatively into earthen Silence & Solitude; and then come home more deeply centered than I was when I 'left town.'
Wandering out, just beyond the pale of the street lights as the sun has vanished behind cloud-banked horizons, I’ve found my way into a vista where the natural seclusion restores my senses; solitude refreshes the soul. I have been alone on the trail, most nights; mine being almost the only feet to have left tracks in the newly fallen snow; besides the evidence of raccoons, squirrels and various winter birds. Alone without being 'lonely;' this is the goal toward which Solitude draws us. To be quiet in the stillness, external and then internal, without distraction or angst; this is the state toward which an authentic experience of Silence draws us.
While Silence & Solitude can be experienced at any tide of the year, I often associate them most profoundly with the Winter Solstice; with the denuding of the senses that Winter brings and with the deprivations that cold and snow impose on our activities. To be out walking in the Winterwood is to experience the 'absence' of the sounds of Nature that captivate us at other times of the year—e.g., the rustling of leaves and the singing of the birds that go south for the Winter. To be out on the hoof in this darkening tide of the year is to experience the vibrant colors that characterized the Summer- and Autumnwood gone from the world. Yet different colors; a refreshingly grey—white—brown palette – replaces them. Each season has its own characteristic colours.
I walk along the rails-to-trails project – once a spur of the Pennsylvania Railroad – and marvel at what I do hear: the burbling of water, the crisp sound of the snow being crushed beneath my feet; all amidst an ‘openness’ made possible by the lack of leaves on the trees. The more ‘muffled’ acoustics of a summerwood walk are gone. I am in 'the Open;' and yet the darkness encompasses me about as twilight fades and night commences its reign. Tomorrow night is the longest night of the year.
Yesterday afternoon I went out to a local park where they have a holiday light display. Thousands of lights! I walked around the lake in the silence of the afternoon, and felt grounded and resourced in the solitude I discovered there. I saw only one other person in the park before I left at 4 PM. There were ducks and geese on the lake, and in the dimming light of the late afternoon I felt almost haunted by memories of experiences I’ve had at that park over the years, with friends and with my parents. It was that strange experience I sometimes have (perhaps you do, too)_ of being ‘in company’ in my imagination while wholly alone in the silence of a seemingly lonesome place. Yesterday, the lights of the various displays were slowly coming on as I got back to the car; it was an almost eerie animation of the place that spoke of even deeper experiences to come as the Yule comes to a close, once more.
This, for me, is what Winter Solstice is about. I experience it as a time to embrace the experience of darkness and enter into Silence & Solitude in ever more profound ways. The experience of the natural world at this tide of the year is conducive to the nurturance of Silence & Solitude. If we allow that the bleak beauty of the Winter may be reflected within us, and if we let the hubbub that normally characterizes us wash quietly and effortlessly away, it becomes possible to come to rest; a contemplative state, naturalistically considered—in which a restoration of our bodily and spiritual energies becomes possible.
Returning from such walks, I oft find I want to remain in the quiet, so I sit near the Yule Tree and employ the old fashioned looking LED lights in which it is decked as a focus for imaging and meditative centering. Quieted within, I can then return to work and the world the next day, as well as imagine the next year's poetic and spiritual journey and where I might be led, as the quest for wisdom continues. So be it.
May you have a Merry Winter Solstice, and a blessed year to come!