Here we are, in the midst of the holidays, be that Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights; Christmas, the birth of Christ; Bodhi Day, the Day of Enlightenment, celebrating the day that the historical Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) experienced enlightenment; and the start of the New Year.
Another holiday that has been considered by anthropologists as one of the oldest known holidays in human history is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, officially marking the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere.
The word, SOLSTICE means to STAND STILL…there is a transition in going from dark to light.
The American poet, TS Eliot speaks of standing still in this way:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is…
TS Eliot was a contemplative poet, and suggests that it is in the present moment, with no clinging nor rejecting, with no restless desire to be in another place or another time that we can truly experience the ‘dance’ or still point.
In the past, the still point and this transition in going from the dark to (gradually, more) light was connected to the mystery of rebirth. With rebirth, we are stopping, finding renewal, and returning to our present experience with a deeper perspective, that holds wisdom and compassion.
And, in our meditation practice, MINDFULNESS is that renewal that allows us to stop, remember, & ask ourselves:
Am I aware? What am I aware of?
What is here now…in the body…at the sense doors…in feeling tones…with thoughts and perceptions?
What is here now…in the HEART? Is the heart open/ closed? hard/ soft? Steady/ shaky?
Essentially, Mindfulness teaches us how to look carefully at our experience; how to sustain attention; and most importantly, how to generate a kinder presence to WHAT’S HERE because that allows us to STAY with what IS here, moment to moment.
The Buddha taught that the real miracle is the miracle of AWAKENING…of seeing the miracle of what is already here. And taking time for stillness in a culture that’s forgotten stillness, and perpetuates multi-tasking at increasingly fast speeds can be a challenging thing to do, especially on a daily basis.
Alan Wallace, an author, and expert on Tibetan Buddhism puts it this way:
“It is often the case that whatever we are doing, be it sitting, walking, standing, or lying down, the mind is frequently disengaged from the immediate reality and is instead absorbed in compulsive conceptualization about the future or the past. While we are walking, we think about arriving, and when we arrive, we think about leaving. When we are eating, we think about the dishes and as we do the dishes, we think about watching television. This is a weird way to run a mind. We are not connected with the present situation, but we are always thinking about something else. Too often, we are consumed with anxiety and cravings, regrets about the past and anticipation for the future, completely missing the crisp simplicity of the moment.”
So the million dollar question might be: What helps us to connect with the still point? What helps us AWAKEN to the present moment in daily life?
We’re urged to keep COMING BACK to beginner’s mind…an openness…a PRESENCE. It’s HERE. It’s who we essentially are, a living awareness, a loving awareness.
Take a moment and really look closely at your hand. Look closely at another person’s hand. Think of all of the things that this hand does: the consciousness that moves it; the people and things that it has touched; the food that it’s cooked; the words that it has written; maybe the things that it has WANTED to write…all of the work that has been done by this hand.
And now imagine that connected to this hand is a living being with joys and sorrows; amazement and fears; hopes and dreams. There is a life force that animates this hand.
This is a moment of awakening. This is the HUMAN SOLSTICE that allows each of us to STAND STILL so that we can awaken to this consciousness of what is here now, moment to moment.
The light comes when we can see EACH OTHER as part of our human family. And whatever is present in this moment…a tenderness, a fear or worry; an attachment; stress; confusion; the beating of your heart; the moving sensation of the breath, itself…allow ALL OF IT.
When we can stay open to what is arising and passing within ourselves, we begin to bear witness to the growing light within the dark. The external solstice becomes an internal possibility as well.