The winter solstice is the longest night of the year, the night when, courtesy of the earth’s axial tilt, the light will start to return. It is one of the two extremes we experience very year as a part of the solar cycle. As an extreme, the solstices are a vital component of celestial and personal balance, and can teach us a great deal about how to move through life even in the most trying of times.
The Illusory Nature of Static Balance
Balance is almost never about finding a perfect fulcrum point and posing with almost unmoving perfection. Instead, it is a dance that moves you in all different directions so you can meet the varying and ever-changing needs, demands, and desires of existence.
Even when life is about finding a fulcrum point, static balance never lasts, for the flow of time eventually erodes or alters all foundations. If you cannot shift with the changes, you are doomed to find yourself pitched into tumultuous waters with no sense of direction because you have forgotten how to adapt.
Even when things are still and calm, it is but a lull while time flows on, and trying to stay there eternally does nothing more than cause the world to move on without you, at least until a large enough wave comes along and knocks you violently back into the flow.
I love the below photo as an illustration of life balance because it is a snapshot of static balance perfectly adapted to a moving world. It is static with purpose! The fisherman has all his tools at the ready. He has a slightly bent knee so he can subtly adapt to the movement of the boat on the water, while he waits for his target to move within reach. Then, when the moment is absolutely perfect, he will strike. The static moment will end when he adapts his state of being to the task of killing the fish, and because he was perfectly ready for movement, he is unlikely to find himself pitched into the water.
Static and Transient Extremes
Extremes are not inherently a bad or toxic thing, but they very easily become that if you try to stay in them. If you go out for a night of heavy partying to unwind, cut loose, and forget about your cares, it can be a very liberating and rejuvenating endeavor. The more nights in a row you do it, the more likely you are to deprive yourself of sleep, make yourself sick, endanger your livelihood and relationships, get into an accident, and more. It becomes profoundly damaging on multiple levels.
There are times when life naturally moves into extremes as part of the cycles and flow of events. That is not an inherently bad thing. It does not automatically mean you have moved out of balance, but in order to stay balanced you must continue to move. If you do not, you are likely to become mired in the toxicity of extremity, or take a long and likely very unpleasant tumble.
When extreme events happen, it is often necessary to take extreme actions to maintain or return to balance. Mass protests become necessary when those in control refuse to make changes which are needed. This is taking an extreme action in response to extreme circumstances, in the hopes of bringing things into balance.
Mass protests would be insane if government was working for the benefit of all citizens and making changes as they were needed. This would be an extreme response to balanced circumstances, which would at a minimum create confusion, and potentially create imbalance in systems which had previously been working properly.
The Solstices and Equinoxes
The equinoxes are a transient time of perfect balance. Equinoxes are moments when day and night are the same length of time, which we pass by every six months as time inexorably marches on. The solstices are a transient time of extremes. On the peak of the winter solstice the night is at its longest, and we shift from increasing darkness to increasing light. That extreme is balanced by the summer solstice where the day is at its longest, and we shift from increasing light to increasing darkness.
The two solstices are in a multi-billion-year dance, where the extremes balance each other in turn. They are counterweights which create the seasons that have shaped the evolution of life on our planet. The closer you get to the extreme polls, north or south, where the affects of the seasons are felt in their most extreme form, the fewer species of plants and animals can naturally live there.
Extremes are harsh, and so it makes sense that a majority of plants and animals would not be suited to surviving it. The ones that are adapted to it, and flow with the changing needs of the seasons, absolutely thrive in those extremes, to the point that many cannot naturally survive closer to the equator.
Inner and Outer Darkness in the Winter Solstice
As we find ourselves in the darkest part of the year, especially during particularly difficult times, it is important to remember that darkness is not something to be feared. We all are born from darkness and life is renewed by darkness, even when we sleep. It is a natural part of existence, and without it we would be blinded as surely as if we stared into the sun for hours. Darkness is something to adapt to so that we may see the way forward, enjoy the time we spend there, and choose our path into warmer and easier days.
The winter solstice can be a lot like the monster lurking under your bed, terrifying until you get to know it. It is when many people most poignantly feel their losses, recent and distant, like missing the beloved individual who will never see another holiday season or remembering the year nothing went to plan. As the shadows literally close in around, we cannot help but be more aware of inner darkness, fear, dread, guilt, shame, jealousy, greed, and sorrow. Just like the presence of a nightlight does not eliminate fear of the monster under the bed, no matter how many bright lights and baubles we adorn our spaces with, those emotions remain close at hand.
The physical shadows remind us of our inner shadows, bringing into awareness the wounds, traumas, and mistakes of the past we have not yet healed. It is up to each of us whether we decide to do the shadow work to heal, or instead focus on the fact that those issues will sink back into the subconscious as the light returns, even though we know they will resurface again next winter.
The darkness of the solstice gives us a greater opportunity to recognize the light that is always within each of us. No matter how dark things are outside, we always have a spark within that can show us our inner truths and help us find a way forward. We do not need blinking holiday lights, holiday candles, or increasing day lengths to find that light, for as we live, so it is there. It is there no matter the murky depths of unaddressed shadow issues, or how overwhelming the difficult circumstances of life all around.
Adapting, not Stagnating
When we work with extreme circumstances, adapt with them, and take the extreme measures necessary to navigate them, not only are we capable of surviving them, but we can thrive in them.
We all know someone who becomes depressed at the holidays, remembering someone who is no longer present to celebrate with them. When you avoid healing your shadow, grief over a lost loved one can taint and ruin the holiday spirit, as each well wish and happy face seems antagonistically defiant of the pain in your own heart. When you heal your shadow, the holiday season becomes an opportunity to remember and celebrate the good times you had, and the love you still hold.
Even without painful memories scratching at the window, when times are particularly difficult it can be hard to feel like celebrating. I certainly was not feeling like celebrating this past Samhain. You may be tempted to force celebrations anyway, but in times of extremes, doing what you have always done is unlikely to be the best approach. Perhaps doing some of what you have always done will be a component of what you do in the present, but rigidly adhering to accustomed behaviors prevents you from going with the flow and adapting to what is happening right now.
Change is always happening. Extremes tend to create more visible and rapid changes, which require flexibility and adaptation. Even as I hold to my ideals, I must adapt to changing circumstances in order to most effectively bring those ideals into reality.
Everything is always moving, even when we are resting. We need the extreme of rest to rejuvenate, recharge, and reorient. We need the extreme of rapid action to break through barriers and create dramatic change. Staying in either extreme for too long is a recipe for disaster, and yet we need both those extremes. When circumstances are such that we cannot stay balanced closer to center, we need to flow between the extremes in order to accomplish our greatest good while staying healthy and balanced.
Holiday Blessings to You and Yours
Going with the flow and adapting to extreme circumstances so you can make it to the awakening of spring and the return of light is as solstice energy as it gets. No matter which holidays you observe, I hope you are adapting to changing circumstances to keep yourself and your loved ones as safe, happy, and healthy as possible.