The Light Still Shining

by | Dec 22, 2019

Today marks the winter solstice. From this time of deep darkness our attention is naturally drawn to the glittering guidance of whatever scattered light there is. All the while beneath ground, teeming activity is underway to fortify and prepare root systems of giant Fir trees, of the tiniest of crocus bulbs. It’s cold, it’s dark, and it’s the season of the year that, generation after generation, calls forward reflection. Inquiry into what is good, what is true, what is beautiful. Inquiry filtered always by the particular promises and challenges of the moment.

These days we know, sometimes too near, the real and growing challenges of climate breakdown. Ours are troubles and complications that we’ll do well to engage with the healthiest of inquiry. Here on the solstice, it helps to consider our own root systems.

Take the time you’re reading these words to reassess – to remember that nature itself made you a highly self-reflective, intelligent being. Check to notice how you really do have all you need to first understand, and then create meaningful action from what inquiry reveals. It seems important to note that we’re not suggesting you fall back into doing impressions of Descartes; the insight and passion you’ll need in the coming years will not come by declaring yourself the “subject” and detaching yourself from the outer world. What you seek aren’t unitary facts, isolated pieces of information, ends in themselves. Instead, pull one of the loose threads of that way of knowing. Intentionally unravel a few of your separation stories. The reward will be seeing more clearly just what you’ve been expecting all this time from your relationships – with people or otherwise. With that understanding comes the chance to choose something else. Something far more essentially true. A reality that’s been playing out on the planet for millions of years.

As your exploration continues, it will help to keep the following questions in mind.

  1. Who am I? Is my life really contained by the edges of my skin?
  2. What are the relationships that sustain me? Both those that support my physical wellbeing, and also the ones that help me know who I am?
  3. What’s getting in the way of my innate inclination to care for those relationships?

On first glance such questions may seem like another round of navel gazing; way too self-focused. But the fact is that the doorways to truth inside you are the same ones that will lead you back out into the world again, better able to support that which sustains us all.

There’s actually a fourth question worth keeping in mind as part of your inquiry, and it’s slightly different from the three listed above. It’s simply this:

What things right now – in your life, in the life of your culture and even the planet – are actually working?

The fact of the matter is, the individual lives and natural systems we’re all concerned about, while clearly starting to teeter, are still unfolding in this moment on a working stage. Right this minute if there weren’t more things functioning than malfunctioning, we simply wouldn’t be around. For us to be able to just go through the day takes a considerable measure of infrastructure; that engineered by humans over centuries, and that natural to the planet from its birth. The former, of course, impossible without the latter. These are the things we easily take for granted.

Keep watching. How easily do your responses to the world default to cynicism and worry? How quickly do you go to the “yeah but” of what isn’t working? Of course, you may be exactly right about what’s not working, but it’s a limited, and finally quite limiting, perspective. It’s true that our days are littered with the fallout of pollution and rampant consumerism.  Centuries-old institutionalized systems of oppression still persist based on race, gender, religion, physical ability, income level – and on who we love and how we speak. On too many days these systems gain energy, leading to even greater harassment and discrimination.

Yet at the very same moment, right in the middle of contemporary upheaval – perhaps because of it – there’s more public voice than ever calling out these destructive social patterns for what they are. Public dialogue is happening. Admitting the extent and harm of these systems is a strong and sure part of what’s working. And things are working. Things of chemistry, of physics, of biology. Even much of theology these days is increasingly informed by the needs of our ecologies. Check for yourself – in your community, your family and your friendships. These are the glittering lights of winter solstice. They light the way back to the natural stage from which a renewed and more sustainable act of humanity can unfold.

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