Winter Solstice 2013: Letting Go

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Winter Solstice

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Winter Solstice

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. –Havelock Ellis

Today the sun stands still (sol-stice means sun-stopped) at the southernmost point of its journey—the Tropic of Capricorn—before heading northward again. For a refresher on the astronomical details, check out this post.

Of the four seasons I regularly observe in this blog—the two equinoxes and two solstices—the winter solstice feels most like a time of conclusions, a time of letting go. No doubt that’s because it heralds the onset of winter, the season of cold long nights, of winding down, of hibernation, and of death (consider for instance the annuals in the plant world, which live a year or less).

But not all is gloom and doom. Since the winter solstice and new year’s are symbolically fitting times to let things go, aren’t there some things you’re eager to send on their way, never to return? Maybe there’s junk in the house you’ve been meaning to get rid of forever, or maybe there’s some psychic garbage you’d like to release, whether it’s a regret, guilt, an old grudge, or a bad habit you’d like to ditch. What comes to mind when you ask yourself, What is in my life that I’d like to have out of it? This is a question of psychic hygiene.

One ritual I like is to take time to reflect on those things that you’d like to let pass out of your life. Write each down on a separate slip of paper. Then build a fire and toss them into the flames, one by one, committing them to oblivion. By letting them go, you’ll be lightening your psychic load and making space for whatever new things may come your way. 

Temporarily, at least. Some years ago we were part of a wonderful new year’s gathering of friends out on a remote part of the Washington coast. As the clock struck midnight, we all stepped out of the cozy cabin into the wintry night, then walked down the beach to the surf and tossed our slips of paper into the sea.

The sea, for her part, showed her appreciation of the true psychic complexity involved in letting go by washing many of those slips back onto the shore.  Some things we have to let go of many times before they’re gone for good.

That’s true, but there’s no less cause for celebration. (Every solstice and equinox should, I think, be a cause for celebration.) So, even if the junk, the guilt, the grudge, the bad habit, don’t disappear over night; even if you find that the sea, in her infinite wisdom and cruel sense of irony, has washed that old difficulty up onto the beach for you to find on your new year’s day beach walk; nevertheless, there’s cause for celebration. You took the time to see and to articulate what you want to let go of, and you practiced letting it go. Thus you’re practicing the fine art of living well, which consists “in a mingling of letting go and holding on.”

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