Winter Solstice – Finding Balance

One of my favorite days of the year is here. 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 21st 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.  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.

A Time To Be Awestruck

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?

So Much More Than One Side Or Another

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.

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Here’s To A Non-Grinchy, Non-Scroogy, Christmas

My son, just home from college, asked if I was excited for Christmas. It was a reasonable question as I was in the middle of addressing Christmas cards. I thought for a minute, wanting to be honest without sounding Grinchy. The truth is my favorite day of the year is December 26; my personal “Hallelujah, it’s over” day. I reply, “I’m working on it.”

He raised one eyebrow – a genetic gift passed down from previous generations. Neither his father nor I have the ability to move our eyebrows independently.

I take a deep breath and respond to his one eyebrow question. “I’m really trying to be excited. I want to love Christmas, but it’s a struggle.” This makes me sound like I’ve suffered some personal tragedy; the holidays being difficult because of grief. That’s not the case. Although, now that I think of people who are legitimately struggling for those reasons, I get even more depressed and Christmas joy moves further from my grasp.

I add, “It’s just that Christmastime has become the epitome of what I hate about our overly commercial culture.” Images of our newly elected leader, the king of capitalism, flit through my head. Grumpily, I continue. “Everything is about buy, buy, buy. People have ridiculous expectations.” I flung my arm in the direction of the TV indicating an ad I’d seen. “We’re supposed to run out and get a Mercedes with a big red bow on it for Christ’s sake. When is enough, enough?”

My Ebenezer is Showing

My son smirked taking a sip of his hot chocolate. “So, Scrooge was right?”

I sigh, “No. It’s just that I feel like in order to get the warm fuzzy parts of Christmas, it should be more about spirituality and less about superficial stuff you know? I mean, If Jesus came down and walked around a mall for ten minutes he would say, ‘WTF?'”

Can you imagine what the man, who above all else, wanted us to love one another, would think about our rushing past a homeless guy in order to buy a chia pet for someone on our gift list? Then, we tell him we are doing it in celebration of his birth. Which, by the way, was in September. But, no one remembers the actual date, so December seems as good a time as any.

Jesus would want to throw his hands in the air and say, “I give up. These people are idiots.”

Luckily, I believe Jesus, or God, or the Universe, or whoever you like to think of when you need to believe there’s hope for humanity, forgives us for our many faults. I turn my internal rant down a notch and look at my son. He is genuinely looking forward to all the holiday traditions that I helped create. My Grinchy heart softens a bit. I look at him and say,

“I just want Christmas to be more about love and less about love of stuff. You know what I mean?”

He nods.

I return to the Christmas cards. I think about my image of the mall-cruising Jesus and his frustration over our methods of celebration. What would he have me do? He’d probably tell me to chill out, maybe take a sip of wine and reflect for a moment.

Checking My List Twice

I gaze at my never-ending list of things to do before December 25. Why am I doing all this? It’s not like someone put a gun to my head and said I had to do it. This is a list of my own making. I created it out of love; love for the people in my life and my desire to show them how much I care about them.

Mall Jesus looks at my list and says, “Do it or don’t do it. Your people won’t love you any more or less for having done it. But please, don’t do it on my account.”

its_a_wonderful_life_everytime_a_bell_rings_an_angel_gets_his_wings-clarenceSomething shifts within me. I notice my son grabbing a chocolate out of the advent calendar hanging on the wall. He held up the candy and said, “Only twelve more days.”

I remember buying the decorative countdown piece to help my kids manage their gleeful anticipation of Christmas. It had become a ticking time bomb to me. But now, seeing my grinning son, I see it for what it is; a holiday decoration filled with wonderful memories.

I look at my list with new appreciation. It doesn’t seem quite as unmanageable. I say a silent prayer to the heavens and thank Jesus for opening my Grinchy, Scroogy, heart. I breathe into the newfound openness. And, to my surprise, I feel a slight buzzing sensation. It’s the buzz of excitement, for Christmas; joyful, gleeful anticipation, not dread, for Christmas. I might even have time to watch a holiday favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.

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