Winter Solstice: A Contemplation

I am learning to see in the dark. 

Every year my family helps run a Black family camp in the Mendocino Woodlands that has existed since the 1960s. My grandmother started it with her friends; my son is a fourth generation camper. We have been on hiatus for two years, but I have great hope for our reunification this summer. Growing up, a favorite activity was the night hike led by one of the nature educators that worked there. We would leave the Dining Hall after dinner and trek off into the woods, giggling and shining flashlights in each other’s eyes and jumping into each other’s arms at every night sound. At some point along the trail, we would make a circle in a clearing, and the educator would ask us to turn our flashlights off. We were scared, but we did it. Then she would tell us to wait. 

As our eyes adjusted, things went from pitch black to dim to dusky. We would begin to see the outlines of the trees and each other.  Scientifically, our irises were dilating our pupils to allow in what little light there was from the moon and the stars. Philosophically, we were learning patience and to trust that we could adapt to unknown conditions. 

I was learning to see in the dark. 

It is Winter Solstice where I live. The longest night, preceded by the shortest day. There are still a few more hours until sunrise. Yesterday, after our third attempt, my son received his first vaccination shot for COVID19. It turned out to be a harder mission than I thought and one that became filled with a lot of emotion for us as a family. Two years of trying to do everything “right” has been exhausting. There is still no exhale. The omicron variant is changing so much of what we had adjusted to already. My white flag is waving. I don’t feel lonely in this. As I scrolled through Instagram this morning, The All We Can Save Project had posted yet another bell hooks work I had never read (there are so many), this one section 43 from Appalachian Elegy

when the dawn

is still almost dark

I rise restless

watch the

morning come

sly slow

movement into light

from shadow play

an unveiling

inside this dark heart

a yearning to live

as nature lives

surrendering all

Photo by Pixabay on

As part of my winter solstice celebration, I am on a home retreat through Spirit Rock Meditation Center. A 2021 joy was committing to the Buddhist Path, and this is my first weeklong retreat. Spending long periods of time in study and silence is a big part of Buddhism and quite impractical for a teacher with a small child. I confess I am not great at home retreat. I am still writing, answering emails, ordering gifts, making cookies, riding the Peloton, and taking my son to get vaccinated (but MINDFULLY!). The noble silence is broken often. Nevertheless, I am learning to sit for longer periods of time, receiving powerful teachings from gentle and caring teachers, and creating space for all the heartbreak of these times. I am cultivating resilience and compassion through ancient practices in community with others who want to create a more just and loving world. 

I am learning to see in the dark.  

We cannot know what 2022 will bring. There will be joy. There will be loss. Everything will continue to change. And yet, we can believe. In our own innate goodness. In the innate goodness of others. In the opportunity for purposeful living and love that exists everyday. Oren Jay Sofer offered this quote at last night’s solstice ritual:

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”

Patrick Overton

As we settle into the season of winter and wait for dawn, I wish you light and peace and solid ground or flight. Ase.

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