Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the day when the North Pole is tilted farthest from the sun. Ancient people observed this day, watching the stars and the shortening days, patiently abiding and taking note until one day…it changed. They learned that the darkest day is followed by a little more light.
Left to it’s own devices, the thinking mind tends towards pessimism. The light will never return, it tells us; it is always darkest before it is pitch black, this kind of grim prediction. We are desperate to think of a solution, to speed up the process, to turn on a light. And yet another possibility is to wait peacefully in the darkness.
“The true light never hides the darkness but is born out of the very center of it, transforming and redeeming,” writes Jungian author Helen M. Luke. “So to the darkness we must return, each of us individually accepting his ignorance and loneliness, his sin and weakness, and most difficult of all consenting to wait in the darkness and even to love the waiting.”
In Newgrange, in the east of Ireland, there is a mysterious Neolithic monument, a huge circular mound with a passageway and interior chambers. Tests reveal that it was built in 3200 B.C.E., which makes it older than the pyramids in Giza and older than Stonehenge. No one can say exactly what it is for, a tomb perhaps, or a place of rituals. But this is what is extraordinary: it was built so that the light of the rising sun on the winter solstice, on December 21, floods the chamber. Just as the sun rises, sunlight pours through an opening above the main entrance, shining along the passage and illuminating a carving of a triple spiral on the front wall.
Today, there is a decades’ long waiting list to witness this marvel. But imagine the impact it must have had five thousand years ago. Imagine how dark it must have been in a world lit only by fire. Imagine being gathered in the dark chamber with others…and then the light. Also imagine the effort and skill this project required, and register, again, that it was undertaken five thousand years ago, in what we call prehistoric times.
A Buddhist definition of faith is the ability to keep the heart open in the darkness of the unknown. And remember there is no hard and fast distinction between heart and mind. Can we admit the possibility that new light may come? Notice that this subtle act of admission, of consenting to open the door of the mind (heart mind) lets new life and light enter. Maybe it’s not a blaze, maybe it’s just our eyes adjusting to darkness, but we breathe easier, find our feet, and begin to see.