by Eric Stewart

At the end of 1994, I found myself living in Oberlin for the first time since graduating from high school. I had no job. I was at the end of a relationship, and also struggling to recover from a month-old cough that did not want to let go.  Overall, the ending of the old year and the coming of the new one felt bleak.

Gathering with my family in that time was a refuge. I was able to find my bearings and start over.

On the other hand, I remember years where the circumstances of my health, work and relationships were sunny, yet the period of shortest days and longest nights revealed a shadow: fear, unease, or an awareness that things were not all that they seemed.

Whatever a person’s circumstances, the waning weeks of the year are reflective.  Essential parts of the life that’s being lived are amplified.  This can feel intense.

Not to say that intense emotions only arise in December.  Yet certain qualities embedded in the end of the year increase the likelihood that the discomforts a person feels will be more uncomfortable, and the joys more joyous.

Most obvious is that family and friends gather often in the period between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Also, whether a person celebrates Christmas or not, it’s impossible to avoid the fact that huge swaths of the culture are focused on this time as the biggest shopping event of the year.

However there are deeper elements to the season that have a profound effect on how people feel.  There are influences that are at once more vast and more quiet than all the marketing glitter.

These forces are astronomical and environmental, and it’s easy for any awareness of this part of the world to get drowned out by the layers of busyness and distraction.

The days are shorter.  The northern hemisphere of the earth is turned farther away from the sun.  Plants store energy in their roots.  Animals hunker down for the winter.

As much as society is at a remove from such rhythms, they do affect people. And it can be confusing to figure out what is going on if the rhythms can’t be heard.

The solstice has been marked all over the world for thousands of years.  Much of the purpose of recognizing it has been to acknowledge the truth of impermanence, the reality of endings, and also the reality of renewal.  What’s more, the solstice reveals the essential, inseparable connection between ending and renewal.

If you feel a desire to find more connection with the rhythms outside and in the sky, walking is a great practice.  Pay attention to where the sun is in the sky.  Notice the buds on trees.  Look for animals.

The physical state of your body has a deep connection with what’s going on outside.  Yoga is a great practice for learning to feel and listen to what the season has to say.