(Modified from Sunya Kjolhede's article at Windhorse Zen Center.)
The Winter Solstice is one of the biggest events in the great cycling dance of sun and earth, marking the time when the northern hemisphere leans farthest away from the sun, and the sun makes its lowest and shortest arc across the sky. And it is a potent time to look at how we treat our bodies and learning to love them.
Most of us think of this day, our Midnight of the year, as the longest night and shortest day. It is the time of darkness, but it is also a time of hushed pause -- almost as though all of Nature is holding its breath.
For ancient peoples, the solstices were times to honor and bring into harmony the polarities of yin and yang, male and female energies–-for world rebalance and renewal. These times of ceremony and celebration were also occasion for the community to renew itself and its bonds with nature, themselves and each other. And so it can be for us as we are learning to love our bodies.
Today, under the powerful global influence of our indoor culture, the Solstice is barely a blip on the screen of awareness for most people. So many people are staring at screens as never before, and those screens don’t blip much for the solstices and equinoxes, instead they are feeding us unrealistic stories of perfection. They are selling us diets, exercise programs, and programs to somehow change or be better.
Perhaps one of the greatest losses we’ve incurred along the way of becoming more ‘civilized’ is the loss of any real connection with these cycles of the moon and sun and stars. Instead, of getting still and reconnected during this time of year, we rush around in a holiday frenzy, disconnecting us from our bodies, from Nature, from each other and from ourselves. Perhaps this disconnection is closely related to the mess we find ourselves in now, with all the violence and abuse and planetary destruction.
Every day we have a choice to choose between violence and friendliness, both towards others and towards ourselves. When looking at our bodies, many of us unconsciously and habitually choose violence. We focus on the flaws, punish our form for not being perfect, and feel shame when we don’t meet some unattainable standard of beauty.
A friend recently shared that she is feeling disgusting in her body, as she has been super busy so hasn’t had the time for self care. She has put on some weight, isn’t exercising and has been eating things she judges as bad. So, believing that her body is disgusting, she has hatched a total life overhaul where she promises to eats better, exercises more and gets back into her bodily perfection. Yet, even with this perfect plan, she feels so bad about herself, that she has yet to implement the program.
How many of us have been there? We make the New Year’s plan, but only follow through in fits and starts, or never really begin. And then we call ourselves failures or shame ourselves for not living up to our ideals. We stay stuck in a cycle of disconnected shame and violence towards our bodies.
Perhaps a life overhaul is the wrong approach. Perhaps instead of creating change from the outside in, we start from the inside out and extending what the Buddhists call “unconditional friendliness” to our bodies.
Instead of falling into the violence of our mind that tells us we are only worthy if we are a certain shape, size or fitness level, that we are only “good” if we eat clean and healthy, perhaps we can focus on holding our form in gentleness and compassion? To sit with the feeling of being in this body AS IT IS RIGHT NOW, and knowing that it is worthy of love, affection and appreciation in this very state.
What would that be like? Could we actually do it? Could we let our bodies be like the moon and reflect the brilliance of the sun no matter what it’s shape?
I’m telling you, whenever someone starts to love their body from the inside out, miraculous things happen. Sometimes their shape changes. Sometimes their experience of living in their body becomes more and embodied even without any external changes. Sometimes a simple change in attitude can start a cycle of self-care and nurturing that is more effortless and joyful, than any restrictive program.
I’m reminded of the native American story of the grandfather with his grandson. He tells the boy that there are two wolves fighting inside of him. One that connects to the brilliance and magic in the world, and one that creates division through cruelty and pain. The boy asks, “which wolf wins?” The grandfather responds, “the one you feed.”
So despite all the lies you may be hearing about your body as the holidays roll around and the new year’s resolution marketing begins, I encourage you to feed the wolf of friendliness and compassion toward your body. I promise you, it will bring more to your 2019 than any diet or exercise plan.
May the solstice serve you well as we move from the cycle of darkness to light.
Intro written by Sunya