the new year begins
The picture above is of a place in Ireland called Newgrange, it was built around 3200 B.C. and has a tunnel facing the sunrise that runs to a main chamber where a small window bathes the chamber in solstice light for 17 minutes a year. This is an example of how important solstice was to humans who once lived in alignment with nature. The structure has 97 enormous stones and covers an acre of countryside. It is mind boggling to imagine the amount of effort such a structure would entail even with modern equipment.
If I had to pick only one holiday to celebrate a year, it would probably be the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of light for the year in the Northern Hemisphere. I love it because it marks the time in nature when the days that follow bear more light, the greatest darkness has passed.
It is not only the traditional belief system of the Asian cultures that hold Nature at the center of their life-promoting cosmology, though that is what attracted me to becoming a scholar and practitioner of its medicine. All of the traditional cultures and traditions of the world people are rooted in living in harmony with nature and its cycles. The ancient Indo-European people known as the Celts, for example, share roots of the celebrations we observe around our modern holidays in the United States. Celtic philosophy holds that all life begins in darkness where the quiet, nourished potential takes fortification. Central to this concept is the foundational importance of dormancy.
Nature is my medicine and source of wisdom – – for it to come through me well, wholly, safely, I have to practice what I believe. I feel compelled to do experiments on myself before I suggest them to you. So I have set out to explore the world nature traditions that explain the Yuletide and see if I might find a way to integrate the life-bearing principle of dormancy into a modern world. The Celtic tradition says the vitality of life propagates only where we are able to be like the seed, honoring the necessary dormancy for the beginning of our annual cycle where we nourish and rest before we attend to the outward actions. Nature tells us to pull our energy into the roots and consolidate all efforts – – to focus and see the essential, the elemental. This makes me think of yet another value of meditation – – to practice dormancy daily inside a world where it seems the common philosophy is that we exist to race, always.
Nature is a force more powerful than civilization and when our wise people were still able to be heard over the cacophony of our psychologically adolescent culture, the winter holidays were times to be mellow and relaxed together, tucked into safe places where we could pool our resources, share fire heat and light. It was a communal time of deep spirituality and heartfelt desires for comfort through the cold and dark that can threaten the survival of a seed before it reaches that time when the darkest soil warms and signals it to take action and start reaching for its goal, the sun.
The foundational philosophy of my medicine rests on the principles necessary to produce longevity. How can we live not only long, but well? The philosophy states that we do not need to deteriorate physically or mentally as we age. We must practice, more consistently, the deepening and fortifications of our root, then ‘there is no reason to fear the wind.’
This is an activity. It IS “doing” something. This is the season to nourish our roots through calm, sane, quiet, contemplation, rest, conservation of resources, mindfulness and spiritually enriching activities. One of my favorite teachers would simply say, “calm down.”
This season I hope you will begin anew in a way that will let you thrive. I hope you will put to your fire whatever it is that you are ready to release in order to make room for the vital. I hope you will choose a way to create a sane welcome to the new year. May you be able to rest. Just rest. This is a secret to the mystery of longevity. I will be practicing this secret this season. If you would like to engage in your own dormancy experiment, please feel free to utilize my blog commentary that is to come regarding powerful root medicine (under a separate category called ‘root medicine’ where I will post herbal home care, food, lifestyle tools and books that fortify (and hopefully inspire) for wintertime dormancy.
May you be rich in health and love!