December Blog: Winter Solstice
December 21 is a turning point. In the Northern Hemisphere, the darkest time of the year starts to have more light. As we pass the winter Solstice, we count on the nights to get shorter and the days to get longer.
Yet for many, we are burdened with a different kind of darkness, the heavy weight of knowing that some of the suffering in our world won’t automatically get lighter with time.
To bring light to this darkness, it’s important to start where we are at. We can be feeling rage, despair, heartbreak, collapse, fear, grief, guilt, shame, blame, numbness, and not wanting to know. When we are within our window of tolerance, we can have all of these feelings while having a sense of safety in our own body, and some capacity to be aware of our feelings and respond to them.
When we can’t metabolize the suffering, our nervous system compensates. One way is that we can get outside of our window of tolerance. When this happens, the normal range of feelings then becomes exacerbated by being less able to track and respond to them. One of the first things that goes offline when we are outside of our window of tolerance is our capacity to make skillful choices and see things in perspective. We can feel on edge, startle at unexpected noises, have volatile emotions, or be numb.
When I notice this is going on, I recognize it. When I’m agitated, I prioritize calming down and restoring the feeling of safety in my body. Simple things like rocking, humming, nature time, singing, and spending time with loved ones help me. Once inside my window of tolerance, I have different choices in how I respond to the kaleidoscope of feelings that I may be feeling.
When I feel rage, I honor the force coming through and recognize it as a response to harm and violation. I distill and funnel the raw energy into doing what I can to stand for justice, protection, and safety.
Let me take you back to a moment that still impacts me decades after it happened. Picture this: 20,000 Cambodian refugees gathering illegally to hear the revered monk Mahagosananda. He didn’t say a single word. Instead, he began chanting a well-known verse from the Buddha: “Hatred never ceases by hatred but by non-hatred alone does it cease.” Over and over, he kept chanting it, and slowly but surely, the crowd joined in. In the aftermath of their unspeakable suffering, they realized that revenge and hatred weren’t the paths to healing.
When questioning the impact of my actions, I hold onto this truth: even the tiniest light can dispel the darkness. Whether it’s simply bearing witness, standing in solidarity with those in pain, holding others accountable, or offering a small act of kindness—every single one of these actions holds significance and matters.
When I feel despair at how humans can do unspeakable things to each other, it helps me to remember the shadow of monastic life. Even for people who are committed to non-harm, awakening, and have liberating teachings and a lifestyle to support them realizing it, the trauma that isn’t cleared out of a human nervous system perpetuates more trauma.
When I feel numb, I know that as I have more capacity, I will again be able to feel and respond.
When I feel guilty for not doing enough, I have to reconcile the reality of what it takes to keep a roof over my head, food on the table, and stay healthy enough to function. Then I check if the guilt is an old voice that I am not good enough or an accurate assessment that I could be doing more.
Love can touch what is unloved, in ourselves and the world. Love makes it possible to accept our humanness, the joy and sorrow we feel, and focus attention on what we value. We become a beacon of light when love speaks through what we do,
In small and large ways, I’m grateful to be part of this community with you, in this human vehicle during this remarkable time to be alive. I’m grateful for your support, and the Awakening Truth community.
With you by our side, we can continue to offer trauma-informed courses and programs that help us return to our window of tolerance and have more choices in how we respond to what is going on.
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