The Darkest Time of the Year

The sunny days are over. It is cold and rainy. The weather is not conducive for photography today. But this afternoon holds a special treat for us: the annual, international creche exhibit at the local monastery. There will be dozens of nativity scenes from all around the world on display in a festive candlelight setting.

This reminds me of the approaching holidays and, particularly of the darkest time of the year. Christmas has lost its meaning for me over the past few years. It’s the time where our annual consumption of goods and food reaches its climax. Like so many others, I am disenchanted by Christmas, and I don’t like the whole concept of Santa Claus. When I grew up, it was the Christ Child that came down from heaven at Christmas, not Santa Claus from the North Pole. It is well known that Jesus was not born on the 25th of December, but we follow the churches calendar anyhow. However, Christmas does not have to be a time of material over-indulgence. We have other choices.

To get us back on track, we can always learn from nature. In the natural rhythm of nature, winter is a time to turn inward. This is a simple truth, independent of any religion, and can be easily observed. Trees are stripped of their leaves and store their energy for new growth in spring. Animals withdraw from their active lives and hibernate. Seeds of fruit and vegetables lay dormant in the ground waiting for long, sunny days and the right conditions to sprout. The year’s darkest time has arrived.

At this time of the year, it is also natural for human beings to turn inward. We intuitively feel this, but let ourselves be distracted by the noise and hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. In fact, the more we consume, the more we become estranged from the spiritual. However, when we turn inward, we can search the depth of our souls for the Mystery behind the physical world.

The darkest time of the year, which surrounds Christmas, is an especially suitable time to remember the old sages and pray to or meditate with them. We can let ourselves be guided by Jesus, Lao Tzu, Guanyin, Buddha, or any other sages we feel drawn to that are not mentioned here. If we surrender ourselves to them, they will help us turn our focus around from the outer world to the inner one.

This time of the year is a holy time. It is a time of increasing yin energy. The outer darkness wants to lead us to our inner light. It is almost as if nature wants to take away from us anything that may distract us. All external activities we typically take pleasure in, such as sunbathing, boat rides, picnics in the park, playing ball, walks, etc. seem to be less or not at all pleasurable on winter’s cold and short days. Nature forces us to shift our focus. It commands of us to turn inward and take a walk through our inner landscape.

With or without our being fully conscious of it, we all do natural inner work at various degrees during the darkest time of the year. Each year, this inner work expresses itself outwardly soon after the 21st of December, the pivotal point where the darkest time of the year has reached its zenith. It is the time when we find ourselves making New Year’s resolutions. We have celebrated, contemplated, prayed, and meditated. We have taken stock of our inner and outer accomplishments of the past year. Usually, we come to the conclusion that we are not entirely on the right track.

There are always problem areas in our lives that need improvement. Something always seems to be missing. What could be the causes of our dissatisfaction and how can we remedy them? What is it that would make us happier? What do we need to do to further develop ourselves? Thus, we decide to use the occasion of the start of a new year as an opportunity to make a new start in our lives. We specify goals whose achievement shall make us happier. We determine the steps necessary to reach these goals.

This is what we do every year. Sometimes we yield moderate results. Often we find ourselves as unhappy as ever before. The results of our efforts will be only as good as the resolutions themselves. The resolutions will depend on our inner work and the depth of our knowing gained by it. If our inner work was superficial, the resolutions will be superficial, and so will be the results.

During the darkest and inward-turning time of the year, we search for the Truth and our role in it. We find it a little easier to slightly let go of the sensual and material world, which takes our focus away from the Truth. If we penetrate sufficiently deep into our interior, our knowing increases, our resolutions will be informed by it, and our goals will be solid. Whatever our new goals are, they will ensure that our internal flame keeps growing and our hunger for the Truth will not go unnourished.

When Yang-energy increases again and spring arrives, we meet it with more clarity. Despite all of its temptations to lose ourselves in the sensual and material world again, we stay balanced. In all that we do and enjoy in the physical world, we never lose sight of the spiritual. The knowing gained through our inner work during the darkest time of the year still lingers and informs us. All we have to do is stay focused and follow our new goals.

Though, the best thing is that we can pray, meditate, turn inward, be guided by the sages, and seek the Mystery at any time of the year. We do not have to wait for cold, short days and wintry, dark nights, or the season of Christmas. The Mystery is always present. We can always tap into it and let ourselves be informed and guided by it. All we have to do is look inside of ourselves.

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