Solstice Solace

by Milissa on December 6, 2010

in Seasons

One of my favorite times of the year to go on personal retreat is during Winter Solstice. I crave the stillness, the silence, the inner focus that this season—where darkness comes early—calls me to. During the longer days of summer and early fall, I connect with nature on walks by the river, swinging in the hammock while gazing up at the oak tree’s canopy, puttering around the garden. I savor the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and—like a bee—buzz from one activity to the next.

This time of year, my outdoor experience is usually a dash around the block with the dog, chin tucked into my down parka. There’s no time—or inclination, in the cold weather—to linger outdoors. I miss the revelry. The exchange of prana—life force energy—between my body and the natural environment, which is at the core of my spiritual practice.

So, for the last few years, I have given myself the gift of a getaway at a borrowed cabin in northern Minnesota in late December. Solo, spent in silence, I savor this time to reconnect with the natural world—even if it is mostly through the window. On retreat I become reacquainted with my Self—the deeper knowing that guides me.

Here are some vignettes from my winter mindfulness retreats in recent years:

When I drove north on Friday, after teaching my yoga class, I listened to Sigur Ros and merged with a wind-sculpted landscape that I imagined could be the band’s native Iceland. The ambient music, with haunting vocals in a made-up language, swaddled me. Night was falling fast, with pink suffusing the grey day. As the atmosphere blackened, a star cut into the night, guiding me to the cabin that would provide respite—be my stable in a sense—through Solstice until Christmas Eve.

Winter Solstice—where night trumps day—was underway. I intended to observe the Earth, and the firmament, and to celebrate the inner transformation that a tipping point can lead to. To rest and find reverie in a cold, dark time. “The dark will be your womb tonight”—a line from a poem by David Whyte, that I’d read in an email before leaving home—spoke to me, like whispered counsel from the Universe. My intention: to birth the light within, bringing it forward again into the world.

The first day I awoke to a wall of white. I couldn’t even make out the finely falling snow, as it blended with a backdrop of frosted lake under a sky comprised of one vast gauzy cloud. Never mind, I had nothing to get done, nowhere to get out and go to. At my friends’ cabin on a northern lakeshore, I got to be in my own rhythm. Nestled into the heated shelter with books, chili, tea, blankets, yoga mat and lots of firewood, I taunted, Bring it on! to the longest of nights. Back to the womb.

I went into the kitchen to make hot cereal, and remembered the frozen millet bread I’d brought. I’ll cube some and sprinkle it on the deck for the birds later, I thought. If I could get myself to go out into the wind that whipped the snow, making the banks go from stark and still to animate. The patterns on the encrusted lake reminded me of heat waves rippling the air. Could I go into the proverbial desert from here? Even if I stayed behind this wall of plate glass, lit up like a cathedral’s windows, protected from the frigid gusts? I longed to feel the sparseness of the environment, expanding into space. To become the hollow reed that the Sufi mystic Rumi croons about. Or the hollow little bone, Angeles Arrien speaks of in her book about consciously navigating midlife. An empty vessel, ready for consciousness to pour into it.

I decided to step out after lunch, sharing a piece of toast with the little nuthatch that had tapped at the window earlier, and a fox squirrel that hung upside down on the bare twigs of the oak tree out front, whipped by the wind that raced across the lake. If these little animals could brave it so could I.

The longest night of the year was presaged by a sundog. A pillar of rainbow light streaming south. Getting ready to entice the sun back earthward, with a ritual I do annually, this seemed auspicious. But then I’m always looking for signs and omens, especially in nature. I sat by the window, watching the blush of sundown become immersed in nightfall. Looking up, my heart seized, as I spotted the six-pointed start that I’d seen when driving to the cabin—my own personal Star of Bethlehem, it seemed. It’s points sharp, it seemed to cut into the cloth of night, so much brighter for the darkness.

Happy Solstice Season! May you stay cozy and warm, and reconnect with the light within.

If you’re feeling the pull to retreat, there are a few spots remaining in the Restorative Yoga & Mindfulness Retreat on December 11, 2010. Pre-register here.

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