Winter solstice marks the peak of yin energy, which is an inward, reflective, quiet, dark, womb-like energy. It is the perfect time to explore or deepen a meditative practice.
Like many, I came to the practice of meditation at a difficult time in my life, when I knew my mind needed calming and spaciousness. My journey with meditation over the years has been profound and has proven to be life-shaping. And yet, I believe the power of meditation lies in its simplicity. I hear many people say ‘I can’t meditate’ as if it’s something they should be doing but know they do not have the capacity to do so. Underlying this avoidance of meditation is often fear – fear of what one’s mind will do when it’s not occupied, fear of boredom, fear of missing out on something while sitting in stillness. We live in a world where busyness is the norm and equated with success. And yet, I have heard from so many the relief they find when intentionally ‘unplugging’ or being in a place where their cell phone is out of range.
When we take a moment to quiet our mind and body, we may find ourselves agitated, restless and even irritated. This is expected as we are so accustomed to endless entertainment. If we allow ourselves to sit with the agitation, and even develop some curiosity towards it, we may find that it naturally settles. When we begin to tune into the quiet vastness of our underlying mind, many different experiences may arise. Some may feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar, others pleasant and euphoric. Emotions and memories may surface, and some may even come as a surprise to us. In meditation, we just allow whatever thoughts and emotions come to move through us, without habitually pushing them away or clinging to them. And when we inevitably do just that, we notice, and return to a sense of presence. Only in the present are we able to show up fully and honestly, to both ourselves and others.
Winter is a time when we naturally slow down and move internally, which makes it a great time to start or deepen a meditation practice. Like many of us have over the course of the pandemic, we can now spend time examining what matters most, what ways in which we are ready to transform and seed new ideas. This is challenging but rewarding work. In this time of profound outer change, we can take the time now to align ourselves and discover the ways in which our internal shift mirrors the external world.
May we let go into the mystery of the darkness and have faith that the light will return!
by David Whyte
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
I have been thinking a lot about the emotion of grief of late. In Chinese medicine, grief corresponds to the Lung. I find it intriguing and not coincidental that the world, with so much untended grief, is being hit with a pandemic that primarily affects the lung. We have inherited collective, untended grief and a society that regards grief as an unnecessary emotion, or at least a negative one. In my meditation practice, I have been working with and allowing space for grief – personal, collective and inherited grief. Grief comes to me in waves, very much like ocean waves, only not as predictable. I feel the upwelling of grief overcome me and at once I am consumed by it. And then, rhythmically, the swelling passes and I can sit in gratitude that my grieving connects me to others and fills me with compassion. In the moments between the waves, my heart is calm, open, connected, raw and vulnerable. This is what is means to be human and to love.
Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D., is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care. She is Founder, Abbot, and Head Teacher of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Roshi Joan says “grief can be seen as a natural human process giving rise to one’s basic humanity, yet it can also be a potential trap, a no-exit, a source of chronic suffering.” She defines grief as “love with no place to go.” She speaks to the importance of deep internal stillness in which we are able to glimpse the truth of impermanence and change in each moment; this stillness allows for insight that liberates us from the futility of the kind of grief that traps us and prevents our humanity from emerging. This understanding is particularly apt because we recently experienced a collective pause (with many of us going inward and experiencing more stillness and/or agitation than we would have allowed ourselves prior to the pandemic), during which we also allowed ourselves to feel into collective grief and pain.
In a 2017 interview with Krista Tippett, Roshi Joan offered the following practice for working with loss and grief:
“I would like to invite you to put down whatever might be in your hand and to find a position that’s comfortable and also that supports you. And listen to my words, and if they are resonant for you, if they are helpful, really let them enter into your experience. And bring your attention to the breath for just a moment. And let the breath sweep your mind, and notice whether it’s a deep breath or shallow. And recall for a moment now a loss or losses that have really touched you, or the anticipation of loss. And now I’ll offer some simple phrases:
May I be open to the pain of grief. (Notice whatever comes up, not rejecting it, not clinging to it.)
May I find the inner resources to really be present for my sorrow.
May I accept my sadness, knowing that I am not my sadness.
May I and all beings learn from and transform sorrow.”
Monday. Bronze sunlight
on the worn gray rug
in the dining room where Viva sits
playing her recorder. Pain-ripened sunlight
I nearly wrote, like the huge
my friend brought yesterday
from her garden, to add to our salad:
meaning what comes
in its time to its own
end, then breaks
off easily, needing no more
of some medieval dance
spill gracefully from the stream
of Viva’s breath. Something
that had been stopped
is beginning to move: a leaf
driven against rock
by a current
frees itself, finds its way again
through moving water. The angle of
is low, but still it fills
this space we’re in. What interrupts
is sometimes an abundance. My
which grew large through summer
feels to me this morning
as though if I touched it
where the thick dark stem
is joined to the root, it would release
whole, it would be something I could