Up here in the northern hemisphere, we’re approaching the winter solstice. Marking the start of the winter season, December 21 will be the shortest day and the longest, darkest night of the year.
After the solstice, our days will lengthen. In a sense, our world will be reborn. And so, too, can we be.
We can sync our inner lives with these seasonal changes. No matter where we reside, we can use winter for rest, for reflection, for turning toward the light and the promise of new life, come spring. We can let it be a symbolic time of letting go of all that binds our spirits.
Here are “five great releases” to include in our wintering “soul work.” (It isn’t an exhaustive list. Perhaps you’d like to add some of your own.)
1. Letting go of our need for the past to have been other than what it was. This is actually the best definition of forgiveness I’ve ever heard, but I can’t remember the source. I first came across it decades ago.
The past matters; it will always inform our life. But if it’s a burden rather than a boon, weighing us down rather than propelling us forward, embittering rather than empowering, let’s choose to lay it down.
We release the past by transmuting its energy into blessing, using every tool at our disposal. We journal. We pray or meditate. We engage in gratitude or mindfulness practice. We seek counseling. We study. We create. We experiment with new ways of being. We step into community service. The list of possibilities in endless. When we’re at our lowest, it might start with just getting out of bed.
Always, we work at paying attention. Whenever we notice that we’re feeding the beast of our own negativity (often by reciting stories of our woundedness), we take a deep breath and gently, consciously turn our thoughts from the past to the present.
2. Letting go of what we think we know. Often, this great release also involves surrendering our certainty and our self-righteousness. Not only do we usually think we know what’s what, and why, but we’re convinced that we’re right and therefore on the moral high ground.
But what if we don’t know everything? And what if our moral high ground is actually lowland?
Acknowledging that we don’t—and can’t—know everything can shift the world, helping to make the impossible possible.
3. Letting go of personal grievance. We don’t have to take the details of our lives as personally as we usually do. What happens to us, and how it happens, matters. But it isn’t all that matters. It isn’t even most of what matters. Not by a long shot.
Let’s not reduce ourselves to our perception of how we’ve been wronged, or to the significance we attach to the injury. Instead, let’s zoom out to the big picture, as if we’re looking back on this tiny, blue marble of a planet floating in the infinite black of space. From that vantage point, as astronaut Edward Gibson once said, “You see how diminutive your life and concerns are compared to other things In the universe…. The result is that you enjoy the life that is before you…. It allows you to have inner peace.”
4. Letting go of the need to control. Want to control your cat? The conversation? The creative process? The weather? Other people’s lives, choices, beliefs, and bodies? The country? The future? Death?
Simply put, we aren’t in charge. Neither is the daily news. Neither is any politician, billionaire, boss, or general.
What’s in charge is Mystery, and that Mystery lives in us. It invites us every day to do our humble yet appreciable part in its unfolding (as well as our own).
5. Letting go of the outcome of our actions. Of course, we will still harbor hopes: for resolution of a conflict; for betterment of a situation; for success in an undertaking; for happy endings of all sorts.
But hoping that something might happen is a different energy from needing it to happen. Hope opens; need constricts. Hope empowers; need clamps down. Hope frees; need possesses.
Perhaps we start
tonight—on a Wednesday.
Thursday works, too. Or Friday.
Doesn’t much matter the day.
All that matters is the choice
to meet this moment exactly
as it is, with no dream of being
anyone else but our flawed
and fabulous very self—
and then, wholly present,
bringing this self to the world,
touching again and again what is true.
What if we do? …. What if we did it together—
opened all those closed doors inside
us? What if we let the opening do
what opening does?