Dark Winter Solstice

embracingthedark wintersolstice wintersolsticewisdom Dec 23, 2022

“Every beginning is a promise,

born in light and dying in dark”

Brendan Kennelly

On this Winter Solstice and on the cusp of the new decade, I believe we humans are at a collective crucible moment. A moment when we are invited to face the darkness of these times together and allow it to transform us.


When I was a child I was so afraid of the dark. Lying in bed I was scared to put my feet out on the ground in case the boogie monster that I knew was under my bed would grab me and pull me into his dark abyss. Other nights I was afraid that the devil would appear at the end of my bed and take me into his hell realms.

 A couple of decades on from that little girl, the boogie monster and the devil, some mornings I  wake up with a sense of darkness around me; a low grade dread and anxiety. It’s a darkness filled with the shadowy figures of my negatively wired mind.

 I also often hit moments, sometime days, when it feels like nothing is working and my mind cascades into catastrophic “what’s-the-point” thinking. On those days I walk around with the heavy weight of some darkness hovering around my heart and I immediately try to busy it away.

But most people don’t see that. They see someone on Instagram and Facebook who’s got a thriving online business; a yoga teacher, a mindfulness teacher and make assumptions that I have life worked out.  

Let’s just say, I’m working it out.

 One thing I have worked out is that life is messy and really tough at times. It’s part of this being human and to live into my potential, fully alive, I will have to live into all of it - the darkness and light.

 That’s why I practice meditation every morning, to meet the shadowy figures that arise in my mind and weigh down my heart at times.  I sit to attend to their uncomfortable presence and welcome them.

 Over the years  I have learned to look these shadowy parts straight in the eye with care and kindness. I have learned to soften towards them rather than harden against them. Then, in the words of Harvard professor Robert Keegan,  I “have them” and they no longer “have me”. 

POOF, the shadowy parts seem to fade out. I become lighter in myself.

 Not always of course, and not always as quickly as I’d like but these days when I feel any kind of contraction, or darkness arise I know it’s signal. It’s time to stop, get quiet and turn toward the disturbance.

 Then the alchemy happens. The light of my awareness and mercy penetrates the darkness. I like to think of it as a personal inner winter solstice moment.

 Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”



I have also worked out that I’m not the only one who has moments, sometimes days, of dark shadows.  I see it everywhere in my work.  So many of us are feeling challenged in our lives and because of  the crazy time we are living in.

 Behind the closed doors, decorated with bright Christmas wreaths, people are having a hard time, struggling with themselves, their loved ones and their lives. It’s just not spoken about because, in the mythology of the dominant culture, darkness must be hidden.  

 Busy, brighter, better, bigger has been the story we have lived into for a very long time in the Western world.  The mythology of our time is a fairy tale based on perfection, not wholeness; on science without the Mystery, on rational linear thinking without the wisdom of cycles.   

 In perfection, everything is not included.

In perfection, darkness is aggressively excluded.

In the mythology of our times, we have been conditioned to reject many forms of darkness that are a natural part of being alive. There are three that come to my mind immediately:

  1.   We reject the darkness that naturally arises when things fall apart. Loss, death, and failure are part of life, part of the creative cycle. They come to each one of us.  In any loss, death or failure  we experience grief, uncertainty, disruption and not knowing. The ground goes from beneath us and we become disorientated, often trying to cling onto something that is gone. But we are urged to “pull ourselves together” and “get on with it”. So we blame others, turn the aggression in on ourselves or numb out.
  2.   We reject parts of ourselves that we don’t like, the parts we deny in ourselves and the parts we don’t want others to see. They become what Jung called our shadowOur jealousy, envy, anger,  our flaws, unworthiness, vulnerability, aloneness or depression have not been welcome in the stories of success that our culture weaves around us. We have learnt from early childhood that it is best to keep our darkness in the dark.

So these “imperfect” parts of us go into the shadow and they become the darkness and the monsters in that darkness that we are afraid to look at.

We push them away, send them underground, under the stairs, back into the shadows where we can pretend that they don’t exist while we pursue perfection – the perfect career, perfect children, perfect homes, perfect Christmas, perfect body and on and on.

  1.   We reject the essential fallow times of darkness that, like winter, are natural times of renewal in any cycle. So, we don’t value pausing, resting, reflection, non-doing, the rhythm of slow or contemplation in our lives.  Instead, we work hard and play hard. We are always on, speedy, chasing the elusive perfection of constant high performance and self-improvement without renewal.  Our focus becomes outward and external. We forget how to stop. We lose connection to our inner values and soul. We squander our sovereignty deferring our authority to other people and external sources.

 In our attempt to conquer, reject, hide and avoid all this darkness we are left burned out and broken, addicted and armoured up.  We end up creating more darkness to run away from.

Welcome to the 21st century and the crisis we are facing.

The game is up. The myth of perfection isn’t working.

It’s time to “fall out of that story”, as the great mystic John Moriarty once put it.

It’s time to welcome the darkness as our ancestors did.  


For our indigenous Celtic and pre-Celtic ancestors, the darkness was revered.  The weeks leading up to the Winter Solstice was a harsh and fearful time of seemingly endless darkness. How could they be certain that the light would ever return?

 Perhaps the earth can teach us

as when everything seems dead

and later proves to be alive.

Pablo Neruda

 They had different ways of knowing. They trusted the cycle and honoured the dance of light and darkness. The year was divided into the light half (Samos) and the dark half (Giamos). In Celtic mythology darkness, often represented by a woman, held a transformative power.

 They believed that like the womb everything started in the darkness. They recognised that at the winter solstice the summer Solstice is born, when the darkness is penetrated by the light, Spring and Summer will return.

 This is the archetypal journey of transformation we all face at times in our lives. A spiralling descent into the darkness to face loss, uncertainty and our shadow only to be reborn like the winter sun with fresh self-awareness, a renewed faith that everything is ok and the possibility of a new beginning. The crucible moment.

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer”

Albert Camus

In the moment of the Winter Solstice the light returns and we know that everything will be alright. Nature teaches us in the Winter Solstice that when we face the dark we will find ourselves in a crucible moment and we will be transformed and renewed.  

 We are so afraid to let things fall apart but sometimes things fall apart so that something new will be born. This is evolution. This is  true liberation.

What if in this next decade we have the courage to meet the darkness within ourselves and in others with mercy and kindness ? What if we face the darkness of not knowing we are all experiencing in the climate crisis, the political crisis and meaning crisis? What if we practice slowing down in the knowledge that  wise solutions arise in quiet times?

Maybe it is through welcoming the unknown, the imperfect, the flawed and the fallow that we can begin to live into a new story and create a new mythology from 2020 onwards.

Though we live in a world that dreams of ending

that always seems about to give in

something that will not acknowledge conclusion

insists that we forever begin

Brendan Kennelly


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