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