Category Archives: Yin

Midwinter – Midsummer

Primordial Yin and Yang

Where I live, today is the shortest day. The winter solstice. The deepest, most yin point of the year, where shortening pivots to lengthening, contracting to expanding, closing to opening. Our prehistoric ancestors were well aware of this movement in the seasons, building stone circles to measure and celebrate the changes.

Just 10 days ago I was in Scotland in the northern hemisphere where our winter solstice is mirrored by their summer solstice, the polar opposite of our experience. It is difficult in the midst of winter to remember what it is like to be in the midst of summer. Travelling quickly between the two has given me some direct experience of the difference.

This annual passage from winter to summer and back is a profound illustration of the concept of yin and yang, a fundamental principle which underpins Chinese medicine. It is like watching the Earth breathe. In and out. Once a year. Breathing in, the Earth rises to the midsummer; breathing out, it falls to the midwinter. A rhythm whose mirror image plays out in the antipodes. A planetary pas de deux.

We humans are witness to this breath of the Earth but a few score times in our lifespan. Our Neolithic ancestors had even fewer views. Midwinter and midsummer rituals in their stone calendars expressed their awe of this rhythm.

We too can gain much from the observing and marking of these pivots in the year. The cycle of the year provides a template for other cycles in our lives, other movements between yin and yang. Shorter cycles of  month, day and hour; and longer cycles, of life stages and of generations. Being aware and present to these cycles within cycles provides us with guideposts in life. They remind us that change is constant. And at a deeper level, these cycles of time provide the context within which we experience each moment. After all, this moment which we are currently experiencing is all we really have. It is all we really are.

Photo: Maeshowe, neolithic burial chamber, Orkney. The entrance to the tomb is aligned to the midwinter sunrise

Deep Water – The Midwinter Solstice

deep waterToday marks the Winter Solstice in the southern hemisphere. It is the shortest day of the year; how short depends on how far you are from the Equator. Where I live near Adelaide there are 9 hours 48 minutes of daylight and 14 hours 12 minutes of darkness. From tomorrow the days begin to get longer and the nights shorter.

In the northern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice coincides with the celebration of Christmas which became conflated with previous pagan festivals that commemorated the depths of winter. Ancient stone circles such as Stonehenge were aligned to mark the winter and summer solstices, indicating the profound significance of these days. And in the Scandinavian and Germanic cultures the midwinter festival of Yule honoured the gods in order to protect the people from starvation through the depth of winter to come.

These days there are few at risk of starvation, but the observance of the deep winter continues strongly in the northern hemisphere where Christmastide contains within it the Yuletide of old. There is a celebration of the light within the darkness in the Yule log and  Christmas tree lights. There is an echo of the winter slaughter of animals and brewing of ale in the form of Christmas feasting. And there is the tribute to the power of the tribe in the gathering of friends and family on Christmas Day.

Yet here in the Australia, we are bereft of a celebration of winter. Our Christmas Day comes at the opposite end of the year, when the days are long and the temperatures high. How can we celebrate the depth of winter? Some people have inaugurated their own ‘Christmas in July’ as a way of reconnecting to this winter spirit.

In the Five Element model, the Winter Solstice is the seasonal manifestation of the Water Element. Water represents the deepest yin: dark, cold, moist, withdrawing, self-reflective. If we can align ourselves with these qualities at this time of year, we connect with the power of yin. The more we can go to these deep places within, the more we have access the gifts of Water: Knowing, Potential, Power, Stillness, Trust, Wisdom and Will.

Our culture is not very supportive of yin. And here in the southern hemisphere we don’t have a festival to celebrate the aspects of yin. So we need to create or own personal commemoration of the Winter Solstice. Over the next days, I invite you to spend more time resting, meditating, contemplating. Sit quietly by the fire; light the  room with candles; take solitary walks in nature; tuck up in bed early. Plumb the depths of your own Water within. Cultivating your yin qualities at this time of year will provide you with the resources and the resilience to sustain you through the yang half of the year which begins in spring.

winter solstice