In the dark and cold of the winter season, we naturally seek out points of light. Across our diverse cultures and for centuries – this is how humanity has consistently responded. We turn our eyes and then our hearts, toward the warm glow of the candle, the lamp, the fire, the skies. We find comfort and reassurance in the solstice promise of the returning sun, faith in the enduring lamp oil, direction from a guiding star, promise and power in ritual flames.
And this remains true, perhaps even more important, amid the challenging social time we are experiencing – rife with political division; acts of aggression and violence; polarization, hatred and fear. Either we succumb to, or are engulfed by, the cold and bitter cultural messages, or we turn, intentionally, toward brighter points of light.
Where do you find hope and sustenance? What uplifts you … feeds you … sparks your sense of peace, and love, and kindness?
It is normal, of course, to feel the weight of winter – just as it is perfectly normal to feel the weight of division, a fear of extremes, or a vulnerability to a harsh climate. For each of these, planning, preparation and support will make all the difference.
We would never leave the house in minus 40 wearing only shorts and flip flops. Instead, we bundle up with layers of warmth, barriers to the barrage of wind and snow, giving ourselves the reassurance we need to face the cold. We prepare for the climate, with garments that are soft, next to our skin; then strong, to hold in heat; then resistant, to keep out wind and water.
In the same way, it helps to wrap and insulate ourselves with layers of spiritual strength and protection. When we encircle ourselves with inspiration and wisdom that guides us steadily, then even when the path is icy – and we know it will get icy – then we will have surety of foot. We strengthen ourselves with principles that have the power to shape our character, and bring strength against the gale. And more than just a thin layer of belief or knowledge, we need to reinforce our supports by building them up, strengthening them, adding layers of understanding that we can count on during challenging times.
Do you have a sustaining practice? Something that consistently, regularly, calls you to centre? Within our many traditions, there are countless paths that lead to deeper focus and, over time, become great sources of inner strength. Meditation, yoga and prayer are the most commonly known, but any activity you do with regularity and intention – recognizing its power to bring focus and well-being – could become your sustaining practice. Running, journal writing, gardening, music, an art form or craft that you regularly turn to … any of these could become an excellent tool to centre your being, to help you find the strength to carry forward, to fuel your resistance toward injustice, and to bring more light into the world. Like a candle may be used to focus meditation, a daily practice draws you in to places where you may see more clearly, where your sense of purpose is engaged. Whether your religious or personal philosophy includes a higher power, a spiritual expression, or a more secular understanding, a sustaining practice can still be a limitless, power-filled tool.
And then we have each other. Relationships, of course, are one of the most meaningful comforts against the cold, breaking isolation, and bringing a reassuring warmth. A hot drink, friendly conversation, squeezing a hand, or holding a door – these moments of connection can brighten a day. Whether you are offering the kindness, receiving it, or both, this is how we thaw a hostile environment, turning it into a haven instead. Can you be someone’s shelter from the cold? Even for a moment? It will warm your experience, as much or more than theirs. You may be their beacon of safety, that contradiction to an otherwise icy climate, that restores another person’s fragile sense of hope. And if it is you, who is feeling fragile – then allowing someone to help, even in small ways, may be the spot of light that you are in need of.
It is no coincidence, the thousands of lights springing up around the city. It is no accident, the hunger we feel for the sun, in this season of short, cold days and long, lonely nights. The answer has always been ‘to build a fire’ – to warm our aching muscles … to brighten our flagging spirits … to set a beacon on the horizon, for all who might need hope. Now is no different. It is essential that we be these points of light, one to the other, refusing to succumb to the weight of the season or the press of intolerance and hate.
It has always been our experience – that there are seasons of differing light, differing weather, differing understanding and differing belief. All around us is evidence of this. In response, we are called to rise, with the strength and truth we possess, lifting the brightest beacon we are able to muster, and add our personal points of light to the sky. At the heart of it, there is often ample evidence for any argument: for connection or for isolation; for kindness or for hatred; for compassion or for apathy; for life or for destruction. What matters most, then, is where we decide to shine our light … which climate we will commit to and work towards.
Centuries of winter have not deterred the sun from returning, from growing brighter each day, in defiance of the cold and wind and snow. Generations of our ancestors have countered harsh weather and adversity with celebration and song, community and fiery feasts. This is the season of resilience … resistance … connection … and most especially love. This year is no exception. May we all be blessed with communal warmth, wisdom, courage and peace, as we create the new year together.