The wheel of the year has turned to the position we call winter; we recognize the year’s shortest day with the solstice and the “sun’s rebirth” as days begin to lengthen again. The daily round is marked with celebrations and traditions honoring sacred understandings of light-in-darkness. Winter offers invitations to explore one’s interior yearning, healing, and relationships, so we may go forth again in spring renewed, centered, and focused upon our unique forms of service and connections to our outer relationships and communities.
The word “hibernate” is derived from the Latin word for winter (hiberno: I winter) and generates the wonderful noun “hibernaculum,” which, zoologically, is the place where an animal winters, and, botanically, is the protective bud or covering a plant uses to survive the challenges of dormancy. I love that the letters of the word “hibernate” form the anagram “breathe in,” for winter is my time for assessing, deepening, and strengthening my meditation practice and more earnestly tending my dreams.
My “hibernaculum” is a small meditation room with a futon, my piano, lovely artwork created by friends, and a beautiful cabinet made my Phillip. I use it to store books, candles, discernment cards, CD’s, and a small TV for viewing the excellent Spirituality and Practice DVD series, Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life as a prelude to meditation. This room is a sanctuary I value; I suppose it’s the feminine spiritual equivalent of a “man cave.” It’s where I go to consciously “breathe in.”
Coleman Barks, the wonderful translator of the Sufi mystic Rumi’s poetry, tells of a meeting with a spiritual master who asked him, “Will you meet me on the inside or on the outside?”
Barks recalls that he answered “with English-teacherly evasiveness,” saying, “Isn’t it always both?” Reviewing his response years later, he regrets this attempt at sophisticated cleverness and writes, “I should have bowed and said, Inside.” (From The Drowned Book: Ecstatic and Earthly Reflections of Bahauddin the Father of Rumi, by Coleman Barks and John Moyne.)
This is a time when we gather to celebrate and mark festivities of light with gift-giving. Often the gifts are mere gestures, empty of true, heartfelt meaning. How lovely if we could daily gift ourselves with times of stillness and inner peace, and encourage others to do so as well. Twenty minutes in the morning and the evening are possible; more than that, I have learned, they are necessary, wholly holy, and healing moments of the day, when I may retreat, meditate, and again meet myself “on the inside.”
At no point in the year’s turning are we more generously invited to be with our authentic selves this way: to sift through blessings, losses, lessons, hopes, realignment, and redirection. Winter speaks to my beloved inner hermit and beckons her to explore and honor the wisdom yielded by another year on the path.
It can be helpful during the time of the solstice to create a timeline of the closing year and note the patterns danced by my spirit. When was I most strongly true to myself and where did my spirit waver? Are there any opportunities to ask for or grant forgiveness and so strengthen relationships in the life I’m creating? What learning do I most desire in the year to come? What do my senses crave; what colors, smells, imagery and totems are calling; what paths are opening? What relationships need mending, tending—or ending? What gifts have been neglected or over-extended? What parts of me need regeneration and where can greater balance be restored?
I truly and happily anticipate this retreat, this time of hibernation and restoration, this annual opportunity to deeply “breathe in,” to bow to Spirit, to greet myself and therefore others with true Namaste. (“My Source/Spirit recognizes, acknowledges, and bows to yours.”)
I sometimes wonder if those who proclaim their dislike of winter are really denying–or fearing–the naked encounter with the self that calls to and from the heart during this season, and if that is the case, I’m sad for their unconscious fear of what, for me, has always been a loving boon and gentle way to welcome a new year. As counter-cultural as stillness and darkness are, entering them openly and with a candle lit by self-compassion can steady and deepen one’s orientation towards, and connection to, the Mystery that is the stillpoint at the center of our existence. Now is always the time, but certainly the winter solstice (when the sun stands still) gentles the spirit inward to gaze on the Love at its center more sweetly than any other time of the year.
May the peace, wisdom, love, and joy of the season be yours.
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