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  • Brittany Kleinschnitz

winter solstice retreat

[Originally Published at www.yournec.org/winter-solstice-retreat for EcoNews]

The days are growing shorter and darker as we move closer to the Winter Solstice, the meeting place between day and night when the light begins to slowly creep back in. This time of year has, for millennia, been a time of going inward, celebrating the darkness, and coming close together by firelight as we wait for the Sun to return. Cultures around the world have recognized this time as pivotal for prayer, ceremony and ritual, social gathering, and agricultural planning. There was dancing, storytelling, feasting, and burning of fires in honor of the Solstice.


So many of us have forgotten the ways of our Earth-based ancestors, and now we resist the cold dark of the season. We feel fear, anxiety, loneliness, and depression surge as we are made to be indoors in the dark for much of the day, and we too resist feeling the depth of these emotions. The social systems we live within do not foster connectivity and celebration with our communities, and what does exist at this time of year revolves around consumerism. Yet, if we become open and receptive to the living world around us and the ways of our ancestors, we can remember some of our instinctual patterns of being with the Winter and reengage with the importance and symbolism of this time of year.


As Winter builds we watch the trees shed their leaves in an effort to conserve energy and vital nutrients, becoming dormant and drawing inward. Their mycelium friends perform the same dance of dormancy if temperatures drop low enough. Foliage and fronds curl, crisp, and brown, and fall to the ground. Once dead and down, passers-by trample them or insects digest them into rich mulch for next season’s leafing out. Even our houseplants take a break from their daily draw toward the Sun, halting new growth and laying low, dreaming of temperate days and their next repotting.


Black bears in the colder reaches are full of berries, grubs, and vegetation from their fall time gorging; they move into hibernation and rest in their cozy subterranean dens, nurturing the next generation into existence. Bulbs and seeds remain still and cold in the soil as they await warming sunlight and the chance to emerge into Spring, bright and green and new. California myotis and silver-haired bats, two species known to overwinter in the Pacific Northwest, hang side by side with their families in lazy torpor as their breath slows and metabolism rests.


The greatest lessons we can learn from our more-than-human kin in Winter are Introspection and Deep Rest. This type of rest requires moving slowly, peering inward, and cozying up to our families and communities. For some of us, it means rest as a form of sitting with heavy emotions and intensity. These emotions can be related to personal pain and shadows, depression, and grief and anxiety regarding climate collapse and social injustice. Living in a capitalist system makes it difficult, if not impossible, to move intuitively with what the season asks of us. Many of us cannot fully “rest” when we are constantly working to pay bills, feed our families, and stay healthy. Because of this, we must reconsider what rest looks like. Rest might look like taking a deep breath within the chaos of it all. Rest might look like allowing yourself to take a sick day. Rest might look like laying in your child’s bed at night and letting them read you a story instead.


How can we be with Winter in a way that creates space for resting, digesting, and processing? How can we sit with one another in the cold dark and make plans for what we are bringing to fruition in the Spring? What are you plotting in the dark corners, what art are you making, what forms of resistance are you dreaming up?


“Out of this darkness a new world can arise, not to be constructed by our minds so much as to emerge from our dreams. Even though we cannot see clearly how it’s going to turn out, we are still called to let the future into our imagination. We will never be able to build what we have not first cherished in our hearts.

– Joanna Macy

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