be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
These lines are from “The Laughing Heart”, a short poem by Charles Bukowski. (You can see Tom Waits read it here.) I have the poem taped to the inside of my bedroom door, so that it enters my eyeballs every day even if I don’t always actually read it.
That passage seems a fit Yule meditation for difficult times. Are we on the watch for the light, or for the darkness?
The whole phenomenon of the seasons and the solstices is, in effect, a question of which direction we look. Right now our half of the planet is leaning outward, looking more out into the vast dark gulfs of space than toward the central hearthfire of Sol. (While our friends on the southern half of the planet lean in and warm themselves at the fire.)
If we do not understand that what we see is largely a product of which direction we look, the growing darkness is frightening. At some point in human development, when language and thought were new and the world seemed completely capricious, people must have noticed that the world was getting colder and darker with each passing day and wondered if the light was going to go away completely until all ended in cold and darkness.
But perhaps they also wondered, on the other side of the year, if the dark was going to go away completely until all ended in fire and light. It is a cycle of yin and yang, always together.
A bright central fire surrounded by cool darkness, whether it is a campfire or or the sun, is a lovely example of how yin and yang transform into each other. The fire is yang and the cool dark is yin; but also, that which is external is yang and that which is internal is yin. So as we move inward, in the direction of yin, we find the bright warm yang of the fire.
So too it is with us. In the yin time of the year, in the cool and the dark, we naturally turn inward to our intimate communities, of family or close friends. And there, as we gather around the Yule log or around the bright Christmas tree or around the candles of the menorah, we find the yang light and fire.
And also in this time of year, we turn inward to our own hearts — and perhaps find there more brightness then we knew. Consider the stories of the Grinch and Scrooge.
This Yule season, may you remember Bukowski’s words:
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight