I absolutely love the energy at this time of the year. It is always intense. It’s an energy of clearance, of paring down, of anticipation, of opening up to something new and unknown – yet, possibly, very familiar. It’s an energy which sears away the irrelevant and unnecessary, and which reveals what is real and essential.
Many people in our bright and shiny Western culture hate winter. They complain about the cold, the dark, the wet. They winge about Christmas and how they’re not ready for it, fret about all the presents they haven’t bought yet, worry that their cards won’t catch the last post, buy into the commercialism of the season and then proclaim how much they despise it. They seem to forget they have a choice.
This season relentlessly saturates us with its strange and magical energy, regardless of our particular perspective. Whether we attempt to disguise, sentimentalise or ignore it, the sharp poignancy of the approaching Solstice refuses to go away. It always feels to me as if it has a message to deliver and it will complete that mission whatever.
In the ancient Chinese calendar, the turning of the year was always understood in terms of energies. Each season has its own ‘flavour’, an energy resonating with one of the five elements – or, more accurately, the five rhythms. Rather than interpreting the elements of fire, earth, water, wood and metal as static components, the Chinese interpretation emphasises the essential movement of the natural world. The seasons roll on, one following another, as well as roll through, each exploring a journey from start to finish.
What often speaks to me about this very different way of experiencing the world is that the original map of the year included the four seasons we recognise in our own culture along with a transitional one, to which the natural world returned as each of the other four finished and the next began. This fifth season, then, occurs four times a year – hovering for a week or thereabouts, either side of an equinox or solstice.
What I find so beautiful about this scheme is the way it elevates the apparently chaotic state of change into a time of real value – a period when we can safely let go of where we’ve been for a while, and welcome the next place we are to inhabit. Each visit to this season opens the door to personal reflection but each time it happens, the focus of that reflection will be subtly different.
The joy of the Winter Solstice for me – within the Chinese pattern of things – is the invitation it offers to honour the need to let go, clear out and dispose of what’s no longer pertinent (the energy of Autumn) before embracing the still, quietness of embryonic possibility (the energy of Winter).
I can sense new things urging themselves to come in. (I’ve already seen bulbs pushing their way up through the earth.) But they won’t make it successfully to fruition next year if I don’t release what is currently filling their space. And that will mean, for a short while, sitting with an emptiness.
And emptiness is something which scares the bejeebers out of our culture.
That, I think, might be the real reason why people find winter so difficult – because it means acknowledging the nothingness left by things passing and the vital importance of holding a sacred space into which an unbelievable miracle can incarnate.
The stunningly beautiful weather of the last few days – the deep, biting frosts, the soft, enclothing snowfalls, the pristine blue and golden skies, the blinding, all-illuminating light – is surely reminding us of the essential message of this transitional season:
Love is what is left when you let go of everything you don’t need