Light In The Dark: St. Lucia, The Winter Solstice, And Equanimity
Since I’ve been old enough to balance a crown of (battery-operated) candles on my head and carry a tea ring pastry, I’ve celebrated St. Lucia Day. The holiday, and St. Lucy, are revered in Swedish culture, and though my Swedish heritage comes from my Dad’s side, my Mom, and our Lutheran Church, instilled these traditions in me.
Beyond the white dresses, red sashes, baked goods and candles, the meaning of St. Lucia Day continues to evolve for me personally, and remains just as important in our modern world.
St. Lucia was a martyr, executed for her Christian beliefs after angering a male suitor… a tale that remains uncomfortably familiar. But over the centuries, she has come to be associated with light. The feast in her honor, on December 13th, falls a week away from the winter solstice, and especially in Scandinavia, where winters are long and dark, St. Lucia is a reminder of the hope that comes from a light in the darkness.
The winter solstice is also a celebration of light and dark. That darkest, shortest day of the year is a turning point… from then on, each day will become a little longer until June. But the winter solstice is not just about the seasons. It’s an important time to shine a light on and embrace our inner darkness.
One of my favorite quotes sums up the request that the winter solstice asks from all of us. Brene Brown wrote, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
What is our inner darkness? Is it our shadow? Is it our shame? Yes, sure, it’s that AND it’s any part of ourselves that we deny.
Why is it important to explore our inner darkness? Because when we deny our truths, as imperfect as they may be, we deny our fullest selves from showing up in life. When we deny ourselves from showing up, we’ll deny others from showing up fully, too.
The Buddhist author Pema Chodron describes the traditional image of the word “equanimity” as a “banquet to which everyone is invited”. In other words, that space and openness is created for the existence of every person, regardless of their beliefs, their current or past actions, or whatever it is about “them” that keeps them separate from “us”.
But this equanimity can also be applied within ourselves. By shining a light on the parts of us we’d like to keep hidden, like the residual effects of past trauma, our own fear-based beliefs, our shame, we have an opportunity to invite and welcome those things to the table of our lives. This doesn’t mean those things take over control. It means we can live our lives in awareness instead of denial. And that if we can have compassion for those things in ourselves, we can find more compassion for others.
One of my teachers, Fleet Maull, describes the work of a meditation and mindfulness teacher as holding up a light in the darkness of an increasingly chaotic world. That simply by holding this light – this light of love, of peace, of acceptance, of grace, of equanimity – others can find you in their darkness.
And it is here we find St. Lucia carrying through the dark her candles and food to share with others. Because the thing about the light in the dark is that the light does not discriminate. It doesn’t light up only the people that agree with you, and leave the others in darkness. It will light up whatever is present. It will light up whoever is present.
In this seemingly darkening world, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to tap into the powerful energy of this upcoming week, to grow your inner flame of self-acceptance, and to shine the light of love and acceptance out onto others.
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