(Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 38 seconds)
The shortest day of the year, known in ancient times as the Sun’s return – bringing hope for renewed life.
Cultures across the world have revered the Sun and held sacred its life-giving energy. When people lived much closer to nature, they were more fully conscious of the Sun’s importance for growing sustenance and surviving the harshness of shorter days and longer nights. Even in our modern culture, not having enough daytime hours often feels somehow less energizing when trying to complete daily tasks.
As we approach the longest night of the year, our bodies naturally desire a quieting, a looking inward, an acknowledgement of the shadow side of our psyche. Darkness is often equated with fear, or avoidance of what may be lurking. In reality, taking in the energies of this darkening (less day, more night) is to open to new awareness of what we may be holding back, or failing to fully recognize.
Spiritually, the Sun can be seen as opening to higher consciousness, connecting to a higher force or guidance, and feeling the energetic connection to new ideas and revelations. As such, we can look to the shadow side and ask our higher self to illuminate what we need to see, so that we may set flame to the old and step into the new. Through this self-exploration, we can seek to discover how we can be more loving, kind, respectful, and skillful towards others and ourselves.
The Sun brings greater energy to achieving goals, and digesting the food we eat, but also thoughts, ideas, and actions. In the Hindu tradition, Surya, the sun god, is a catalyst to new thought and achievements, as well as to physical health and wellbeing. Agni, the fire god of which the Sun is made, is said to govern our digestion, as well as guiding our own physical health, especially when we are more in tune with the rhythms of nature.
As the Winter Solstice signifies the return of the Sun, after the longest night of the year, there are many cultural rituals and ancient practices: gazing into the flames of the Yule log of Celtic traditions, the Native American ritual of smoking the peace pipe around the blazing fire, or observing Pancha Ganesha* – the 5 days of bringing back the Sun in Hindu mythology – these are significant practices to re-align us to our future goals, and reconnect us with our loved ones.
Pancha Ganesha*, is a newer ritual, wherein each of the five days of observance from December 21 through December 25 holds special significance:
Day 1: Reconnecting with Family and finding forgiveness;
Day 2: Reconnecting with Friends and Neighbors;
Day 3: Reconnecting with the Public at large as well as Business Associates;
Day 4: Bringing in the joy of music, movement and art;
Day 5: Finding and sharing deep inspiration as well as an outpouring of love and tranquility
Take time on this wonderful Winter Solstice to create an altar to bring in the energy of clearing the path ahead. This may be symbolized by a statue or picture of Ganesha*, or other symbols that feel more engaging to you.
What’s most important is to take time to reflect on the past year, and set goals to clarify a vision, an affirmation, for the coming year and the return of the Sun. In this reflection, say “hello” to your shadow side, acknowledge those places from which you may want to hide, but which in many ways define some of who you are. Illuminate this darkened area, sweeping away shame and misgiving; instead seeking peace and transformation. From this reflection and acknowledgement, over time, our innate brilliance and goodness can shine forth.
Take time as well this Winter Solstice to find connection with loved ones, make new connection with those you meet on your daily errands, and stay open to the miracles that can occur when our intentions become seeds of a healthy future.
Lead me from darkness to light…
My favorite chants/prayers for the Winter Solstice:
Gayatri Mantra – A prayer of praise, thought to be the oldest prayer on the planet, derived from the ancient Vedas, also known as the Savitri Mantra (chant to the Sun), as the Sun represents the source and the inspiration of the Universe. The Vedas state: To chant the Gayatri Mantra purifies the chanter. To listen to the Gayatri Mantra purifies the listener.
I love Ralph Blum’s simple translation: You who are the source of all power, whose rays illuminate the World, illuminate also my heart so that it too can do your work. (The Book of Runes).
Take time to read these words out loud, to chant them to yourself, or with others, and even to listen to them from other sources (I love Deva Premal’s rendition https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zh7hDZy_kM4):
OM BUHR, BHUVA, SWAHA
OM TAT SAVITUR VARENYAM
BHARGO DEVASYA DHEEMAHI
DHIYO YONAHA PRACHODAYAT
While enjoying this chant, visualize the rays of the Sun’s light bathing you in healing energy, entering your sacred heart space, and in this reception, allow the same rays to reach out to the world, connecting all hearts, all minds, all spirits.
Another wonderful Vedic chant to read out loud, to yourself, to chant or to share with others, Asato Ma (Peace Chant)
Om Asato Ma Sad Gamaya
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
Lead us from untruth to truth
From darkness to light
From death to immortality
Om Peace Peace Peace
*The deity, Ganesha, is seen as a great symbol of clearing away obstacles, and playfully setting our sites to clarity ahead