(Kerry Parry’s creative non-fiction book about her search for spirituality, Conversations With the Faithful, was published by WiDo in 2017. She posts on all things philosophical, spiritual, thoughtful and creative on her website, kerryparry.com. Her post, “Winter Solstice–Finding Balance” was originally published on her website and appears here with the author’s permission.)
One of my favorite days of the year is approaching. No, it’s not Christmas day. That arbitrary date to acknowledge the miracle of Jesus’ birth has long since been hijacked by the overwhelming pressures of consumerism for me to truly enjoy. The day I really appreciate is the Winter Solstice, which comes and goes almost without notice during the days before Christmas. I can feel my sense of balance returning on this quiet day before the big holiday.
On the solstice, we reach the tipping point between dark and light when day and night are equally in balance. Technically, December 21, 2017 is the longest night of the year. It’s also the first day of Winter, which could be depressing, but I find comfort in knowing that from my spot on the planet (in the Northern hemisphere) the days will get incrementally longer. I find great promise in that.
Maybe I feel the stirrings of my Pagan DNA rebelling against the way in which we now celebrate Yuletide. Although if anyone should be cranky about how the season plays out, it should be Jesus. The feasting and the gift giving and the general merry-making traditions were absorbed into Christian traditions, but their origins came from generations before Christ’s birth. They were a means of holding fast during the dark nights and welcoming the sun.
For me, it’s a quiet time to recognize my many blessings and to be awestruck at the magnificence of the heavens. Reflecting on the balance and symmetry in nature, I wonder why humans struggle so much with the concept. We labor against the push and pull of polar opposites, gravitating to one extreme or the other as if balance is not something that comes naturally.
Ask a child to select what they like at an all you can eat buffet and they’ll likely skip the healthy stuff and return with a plate full of goodies. Ask a young person to allot time for study or play and most will choose more fun than work.
I wonder though if parents didn’t interfere with kids, would they choose sweets some days? Then on others choose healthier alternatives as they learn to listen to their natural cravings? And if kids could learn exclusively through their play, as is often the case, would they have to choose between the two? I’m not prescribing a plan of letting our children do what they please without parental guidance. But I’m guessing, had we learned as kids to make choices about balance on our own, the skill would more naturally be instilled in us as adults.
How often do we choose work over fun out of some sense duty or obligation? We eliminate “bad” foods from our diet until we get a cheat day or find ourselves with overwhelming cravings. Is that balance? Discipline rules our heart now like our parents did in enforcing naptime. Would the world swing wildly out of balance if we allowed the heart to make more of our choices? Maybe a better question is, can we find a balance between our wants and our needs?
Balance is not easy in this world of dichotomy. We swing wildly from one extreme to the other. We point fingers at the other side without learning the value of balance and compromise.
On a deeper level, kids seem to know the importance of balance in the form of justice and fairness. Several early childhood studies conducted with unfair distributions of candy show kids will choose no candy for anyone over an unequal distribution. So maybe we do have an innate sense of balance.
I believe that most of us, given some time to find our center, would find a balanced approach to living. Ideally, we want to find that sweet spot between the two complementary forces of effort and ease; not so much ease that we become bored and not so much effort that life is a continual battle. We want the perfect state of grace where everything just flows.
I like Rumi’s take on it,
“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.”
So as Christmas approaches and the nights get longer, I will welcome the tipping point that is the Solstice and reflect on Rumi’s wisdom as I seek my own coordination and allow my wings to unfurl.