Every year, for seventeen minutes at dawn on the Winter Solstice, the 5,000-year-old Passage Tomb at Newgrange in Ireland is illuminated by a single beam of sunlight that pours into the cavern through a shaft over the entrance. For this brief moment in time, the entire chamber is brilliantly lit before being plunged back into darkness for the year. For centuries, the ancients regarded this phenomenon as proof of a participatory universe—and it remains a momentous spiritual event.
Years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the prehistoric site—of descending into the chamber, feeling its profound wisdom and energy with every step. And now, with the Winter Solstice upon us—at the end of a remarkable year, to say the least—I find myself remembering the experience, and ruminating on its symbolism.
Understanding the Darkness
The ancients believed that humans had a powerful interactive and reciprocal relationship with nature—that we could influence the elements’ behavior, as they influence ours. Each year, on the Winter Solstice, they participated in rituals designed to encourage the sun to return from the dark nights. If you’ve heard of a rain dance, this shouldn’t seem too strange to you—and, in fact, the theory of quantum physics agrees that our consciousness and where we place our attention does play a determining role in our experience with the world around us.
Accepting the idea that our relationship with nature is reciprocal leads us to see darkness as a necessary component, rather than something to fear or ward off. Rather than denying the darkness of life—however it appears in these troubling times of global pandemic, political and financial instability, fractured relationships and personal crises—we must trust that these dark nights of the soul serve a purpose, and ultimately lead us to the break of a new dawn. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even when we can’t see it. The yang does not exist without the yin.
Embracing the Darkness
Darkness does not merely exist as a counterbalance to light, but is itself the source of new life. All seeds germinate in darkness. We are all born from the darkness of the womb. Darkness is, more often than not, a source of strength—where roots descend to keep trees from toppling, and from where to source nourishment. In our everyday lives, we need darkness to rest and replenish ourselves—and also to dream. It is only when our eyes are closed that we are able to block out the light, lest it interfere with our imagination or concentration. So then why do we still see darkness as something scary?
Sometimes, when we are overwhelmed by struggle—when we are weighted down by loss or frustration or impatience—we lose sight of the fact that dark precedes the dawn. This simple truth is easy to forget when we’re in the thick of all that darkness can bring before it brings the creation of something new.
There is perhaps no better reminder of darkness’ true purpose than the Winter Solstice—the universal turning point for when the days get longer and the nights get shorter. Now is the time to accept and even embrace the darkness for what it brings, and direct our conscious awareness toward bringing in the light.
What is it that you want to bring to light right now? What new ideas, perspectives or behaviors would you like to give birth to, to better facilitate the journey you are on? What would illuminate your life at this point in time, at the end of this dark year?
On this Winter Solstice, the longest night of 2020, we will all face a turning point both physical and metaphorical. This is the perfect time to place your attention on how you want to light up your life as the nights grow shorter, eventually bringing us to the dawn of a new season.
This December 21, invite the light into the darkness. Bring it on! Celebrate this monumental transition, and what it is you are ready to bring into being.
What are you plans for the Winter Solstice? I would love to hear from you!
Thank you for this hopeful and meaningful article. I really needed to hear this :).
Thank you. This is beautiful and restorative. Precisely the message needed for this moment.