As it is often said this time of year, “‘Tis the season,” but for what? That is where the debate begins, which for most of us is contained by a sense of inclusion and tolerance, allowing each our own varied beliefs and expressions of glad tidings. For others who subscribe to the paranoid delusion of the great “War on Christmas,” this season is probably much like the rest of their year: wrapped in anger toward, and suspicion of, those unlike themselves. Regardless of such dispositions, however, the holidays are, once again, being faithfully celebrated according to our particular ritualized mysticisms and traditions whose origins are often unknown or forgotten, but always pursued with a genuine spirit of conviction.
In spite of our different interpretations and traditions, everyone in the northern hemisphere can enjoy the slow walk toward the light; that turn on the 21st day of December when the days reverse their slide into darkness and emerge, once again, to light. It is the day when our southern neighbors send the sun back our way; no doubt reluctantly, but with the certainty of the universe providing every assurance that the cold days will continue for now, but that spring will arrive once again. This is our distinct advantage: we get to ring in the New Year with a sense of promise accompanied by the ascent of light, rather than a slide toward darkness.
Over the millennia the relationship of the sun to the earth has provided its own spiritual compass. In the history of upright humans it is easy to argue that more have worshipped the sun than have worshipped modern gods and icons. And, notwithstanding the recurring invocation of certain apocalyptic endings tied to the winter solstice by modern Biblical soothsayers (as we observed in 2012 with the prediction of such finality on December 21), the planetary/solar marriage has served its true believers well. This marriage once guided whole civilizations and, perhaps because of the sun’s reliable behavior (save a few threatening eclipses), observances of the sun and other planets found humans in a relatively peaceful toil without nearly as much judgment, condemnation, or violence as modern religions have spawned.
And so this we northern-earthers share in late December: a turn toward the light (lower case “l” intended). Whether our chosen spiritual leaders teach us to believe in one god or many, whether we light candles or believe a fat guy with a beard makes it down our chimney, none of our practices can affect the long shadow cast by the sun and the power it holds over our lives. Everything else is a matter of reason and faith formed in the pathways of education, experience, socialization, and indoctrination, which as resolute as they can be are no match for the earth and the sun and their durable dance. There is, however, one more thing you can count on as this solstice heralds the beginning of a new year: yourself.
Once the trappings of celebration and traditions find their way back to their boxes and closets, you will be left with that person staring back at you in the mirror. Society has taught us to dislike what we see, so that we might respond to the deluge of resolution-based advertisements and advice vendors and endeavor to change who we are to fit today’s idealized version of humankind. There is, however, another choice: start 2014 by liking that person in the mirror. After all, you have to live with you whether you like you or not—why not like yourself? Then, seek mastery over your life on your own terms while limiting your engagements to those that allow you a sense of humility, peace, and grace. Do not pretend. I promise you that this practice will serve you well. Its own spirit is captured in my favorite poem, penned in 1875 by the British poet William Ernest Henley.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Best wishes to all in the New Year.