The Darkest Day

In the course of a year, who among us goes through over three hundred days without any misfortune or trouble? All of us do, and sometimes, those troubles can try us to our souls, drive us to madness, and leave us staring in bewilderment at the complete darkness outside our filmy windows.

For all of us, then, winter solstice is a reminder that darkness comes to its greatest culmination—for exactly one day. On all the other days, there is a dynamic and precise proportion between dark and light. It is measurable, it is complete. It is, for any day, immutable. Yes, the darkness of solstice cannot be altered—but human beings can do what nature cannot: we can forbear and outlast it and live to see tomorrow.

The people of the past have left us many hints about what to do: families come back together, nourish themselves, give thanks to their ancestors, and in looking at the round balls of glutinous rice in their round bowls sitting at round tables, they reaffirm that all of life is a smooth cycle. The Taoists observe the day precisely, aligning themselves with the greater cosmic cycles of sunrise and sunset and the turning of the earth. They also celebrate the Three Pure Ones, reflecting on a religious level the worship of ancestors, and turning to faith at a time when the sky is dark and the cycles of life so profoundly change. They also choose this day to set their entire next year, for the winter solstice marks the time of transition for a lunar calendar that always centers around the eleventh month occuring during the winter solstice.

At any time of your life, you may find yourself in a winter, and you may feel that you are in the darkest of times. Think back to this day then and do what has been done for thousands of years: unite with your family, nourish yourself and others, fix your mind on the truth of cycles, forbear, and take refuge in reverence for the holy.

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