Meaning in the Winter Solstice

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Possibility in the dark time of year

I’ve given myself a project: to write a blog and create a sound-piece to mark the Winter and Summer Solstices, and each of the four Celtic festivals. Altogether these comprise eight ‘moments’ in the calendar, once every six weeks:

  • Imbolc – 1st February
  • Spring (Vernal) Equinox – 21st March
  • Bealtane – 1st May
  • Summer Solstice – 21st June (longest day)
  • Lughnasagh – 1st August
  • Autumn Equinox – 21st September
  • Samhain – 1st November
  • Winter Solstice – 21st December

I’m finding parallels between the turning of the seasons and what yoga and music are teaching me about tuning in, listening, and responding to the present moment. I’m also sharing a little sound-sketch which I’ve created to convey how I’m responding to the darkness, the stillness, the quiet – and the potent magic – of this time of year.

atha – an auspicious ‘Now’

In  Sanskrit, the word for Now – an auspicious beginning, is atha. It feels like the right time to begin my bog project – an auspicious beginning: atha. Still, I’m a little unsure. This is new territory and I’m feeling my way… 

Setting myself a task like this works on different levels:

Firstly, it helps me to stay present to natural cycles and in contact with nature at this time when nature is being seriously challenged; it is a call to action and attention in my relationship with the planet and the cosmos.

Secondly, showing up on the page and in my tiny studio will give me a support for my creative work and help me stay present and awake in my life and practice. It helps my relationship within my own internal space.
Rippling out from there, is the sharing with the people who might read and listen to my offerings. I feel that the ripple effect is really urgent just now, when the planet is so fragile. The sense of urgency is giving me the courage to act – to make a move, to do something.

An abstract painting denoting 'atha' - an auspicious Now - finding meaning in the Winter Solstice

Atha - by Sheila Baker: 'an urgent dot at the start - into the unknown'

Winter Solstice – an auspicious moment

In the northern hemisphere, the period around shortest day, 21st December is the darkest time of the year; the turning-point when the days stop getting shorter and start to lengthen. People gather in beautiful places to watch the sun rise at around 8am. (In the southern hemisphere it’s the longest day – realising that allows for a fabulous global connection!)

My old yoga class used to meet up Killiney Hill and watch the sun come up over the sea. There was a sense of hush – the low, grey light- on this day of least light, the light seems precious, soft, secretive and full of possibility. I have the sense that all the energy of the year has been condensed into this one day – a sense of being suspended in time. In the moment. Now, atha. The possibility and potency of the winter solstice is alluring – seductive, as if everything hangs in the balance of this day of least light… a rebirth, the turning of the year. If I can be really present on the winter solstice, if I can harness the auspicious beginning that is atha, perhaps something can shift in me, light up – awaken?

atha - tuning into the Solstice and the moment

Lately, I’ve been tuning in more consciously to late autumn and early winter. I’ve been drawn by an urge to hibernate, to draw myself inwards and relish the dark and quiet. I began to tune in more consciously to the suspended days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and on to 6th January – a natural time to re-emerge, along with the snowdrops and hellebores. I feel this time as a soft, dark, velvet – I’m like a mole burrowing deep into rich soil. A comforting, warm space – but also an unknown, a darkness of underground passages to be followed, explored, trusted.

In 2019, I decided not to travel outside of Ireland between the end of October and mid-February. I felt a need to stay put, to hibernate a little and consciously tune into the quiet energy of late autumn and winter. This year, I’ve been enjoying lighting a candle in the early morning instead of using the electric light. I’m loving the sense of attunement to this dormant time of year until the sun rises each day.

Connecting to the Solstice through Yoga

I explored this idea with my weekly online yoga class. Our practice focused on staying in postures, finding support, strength and resilience to stay rooted through the autumn and winter storms. We worked with the Tree Pose, to connect with our roots, and, like the trees shedding their leaves, we allowed for a letting-go – a shedding of unwanted or unnecessary baggage. With the breath, we worked on extending the exhalation and allowing a longer pause after the out-breath to find this space of hibernation – to touch it and let it touch us – staying with it. This internal space is a place of rest and nourishment – allowing our senses to turn inwards to feed, to re-source.

In my own yoga practice, I was consciously exploring ways of trusting the ground, the earth. I was working to let the practice become a meditative space for me to explore depth and shadow – and to trust in the unknown.

Counter-posture

Tuning into the quiet potency of the Winter Solstice, even amidst the busyness, gives us moments of repose, access to a light inside – a counter-pose to the Christmas rush.

atha – Once upon a time…

atha is the first word of the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali – a wonderful, 2,000-year-old, timeless collection of jewel-like nuggets on who we are, how to cope, and how to realise our potential. atha marks the beginning of the yoga journey: ‘Now – begins the teachings of yoga’ (YS 1.1). It implies that we are ready to connect with the teachings of yoga, which have been handed down over time like a story. The time is right, potent. I like to translate it as:

‘Once upon a time there was, and always will be, the teachings of yoga’.

To be ready, means I have to be here, present – to give something of myself and allow myself to be touched profoundly. To enter into the unknown! atha is like the winter solstice – a propitious moment, a new light. Dawn. Birth.

Sounding atha

I made a sound-sketch for atha-solstice. It’s just a small beginning – a ‘ping’
of light in the darkening days before the winter solstice. Small sounds,
beginnings, spreading spontaneously and randomly, forming nodes or points of
connection with clear, bell-like moments of atha. Each moment rippling
out and connecting with another – across time and space. My friend and mentor
Sheila Baker agreed to create an image to go with my sounds. I am so grateful. For
both of us, it’s an important moment. When Sheila sent me her image on WhatsApp
she added a note: ‘atha urgent dot at the start into the unknown’.

Meaning – magic moment - of the winter solstice!

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