Winter Solstice at Mesa Arch, UT, photo by Monika Chace. Learn more about Monika and see all contributors to Planet Project here.
In the northern hemisphere December brings short days and long nights as the path of the sun slips ever-lower in the southern sky. For nature-based people long ago, this descent into darkness was terrifying, and the return of the sun – what we now call the Winter Solstice – meant the victory of light over darkness, and renewed life. For us moderns, though we may lament darkness at dinnertime, we can always turn on the lights, turn up the heat, and stream a movie. But along with such on-demand comforts we have lost touch with the cycles of nature, to our own detriment.
As the solstice approaches, life goes into dormancy: animals hibernate, trees lose their leaves, and the tall grasses turn golden in the oblique sunlight. The faint gurgling of the frozen creek calls us to turn inward. It’s a time to reflect on life, to recognize our blessings, to confront what we’d like to change and make that New Year’s resolution, and to appreciate the miracle of being alive on this paradise called Earth.
Turning inward is difficult for many of us because all the action seems to be “out there” in the “real world” where we accomplish tasks, set goals, strive for “success”, and seek approval. Inside is the relentless chatter of monkey-mind, fueled by fears of what if… It may seem better to keep busy, to fill silence with words, to do what we’re supposed to be doing, and try to be what we’re supposed to be. But hold on! Who made all this up? And do I have to go along with it?
The only way to push back on all these voices out there telling us how to live and how to be is to turn inward and hear our own inner voice. This is more difficult when we are endlessly bombarded with powerful messages coming through our screens showing us how we should dress and talk, telling us what’s trending, and, most importantly, what we must buy to fit in and be popular. Turning inward does not mean we have to sit with eyes closed for twenty minutes. It’s a conscious practice that can be cultivated and used with eyes wide open. Start by simply asking, does this feel right? The answer will come from your heart.
The solstice season is a perfect time to step back from thinking and analyzing and pop culture, and discover the wisdom of our own heart. Decades of research at HeartMath Institute has shown that the heart is much more than a pump – about 60% of its cells are neurons that function like those in the brain. We tend to think of the brain as the master controller of everything, but the vagus nerve connecting the heart and brain actually carries more information from the heart to the brain than from the brain to the heart. The heart knows first, and the brain follows – unless our overdeveloped brains override the wisdom of the heart. Pre-modern cultures have long known that the heart is the source and receiver of love and beauty, the seat of intuition and gratitude, and the detector of truth. The heart also connects us with other people and animals and nature – dogs these days do more to open peoples’ hearts than just about anything! And it’s the heart that tells us what feels right. But we have to turn down the volume of our thinking and start listening to what our heart is telling us.
Just how do we turn down that volume, that constant chatter inside our heads that runs us ragged? It’s not easy for most of us, but we can start by putting away our screens and earbuds, finding a quiet place, closing our eyes, and following our breath, slowly in and out. Yes, this is meditation, and there are many forms of meditation (see our Resource page). In whatever form, meditation is inner exercise because it strengthens our attention and calms our restless mind. We begin to see thoughts arise and then float away like clouds in the sky. We begin to experience the sky, not just the clouds, and realize that there is more to being a human than thinking.
Our digital technologies with the many rings, dings, alerts, and notifications have literally obliterated many peoples’ ability to focus attention on one thing for more than a few seconds. The practice of following your breath is difficult at first, and most of us will tangent off in thought after just 2 or 3 breaths. But simply let those thoughts drift away and return your attention to your breath – and don’t worry about it! If you commit to 5 minutes of breath practice every day you will find it gets easier and your ability to focus attention will improve. You’ll probably begin to look forward to your inner exercise, and you may also find you don’t want to stop after only 5 minutes. Fair warning.
The goal of the Planet Project is to help all of us shift from our outward material perspective to the Planetary perspective based on the interconnectedness of everything. But interconnectedness is not just a theory or an intellectual idea – it’s a feeling, something you know without thinking. By turning inward, taming our thinking, and opening our hearts we naturally move from it’s all about me to we’re all in this together. And that’s a much better feeling!
We hope you’ll take time in this solstice season to turn inward in your own way. For more ideas and maybe some inspiration visit our Resource page. And Happy Solstice from all of us at the Planet Project!