Hello, and welcome to another episode of Mindfulness+. I'm your host, Thomas McConkie. Thanks so much for listening. I am aware that by the time you're listening to this episode, we will have just passed the winter solstice. Winter solstice this year is Tuesday, December 21st. The solstice, depending on where in the world we're from, what traditions we're from, it can mean a lot, or it can mean a little, but I'll speak from my own embodied experience that we are just under a huge blanket of snow in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the days are getting very short and very dark. And I find it helpful in a disembodied age, a mechanicalized age, where we're kind of abstracted away from nature, who has brought us forth, to like tune back into the cycles and the solstice, the solstices. In this case, the winter solstice. It's a good opportunity that we get a couple times a year to do this. As I started to reflect on the winter solstice, well, first, you know, it's getting dark here in the Northern Hemisphere, and I wanted to actually reflect on a friend of mine who passed away recently. When I thought to talk about the solstice for an episode on Mindfulness+, I thought of my friend Terry Patten, who died not two months ago. Terry was a mystic. He was a scholar. He was a lover. He was a social activist. He was a man of great depth and great joy, and had a really beautiful influence in my life and continues to, which we'll get to. But Terry is a beautiful writer. And I remembered when I thought of solstice, I thought of Terry Patten's writings on the solstice. So I wanna start off the episode by just sharing a phrase, an excerpt from one of Terry's pieces on the solstice. Terry Patten writes, "Winter solstice is the natural cycle "closest to the end of the year, a time to cherish "and nurture the inherent goodness "that always survives every diminishment, "every tight squeeze, even the dying of the light. "Winter solstice is the natural cycle closest "to the end of the year, a time to cherish "and nurture the inherent goodness "that always survives every diminishment, "every tight squeeze, even the dying of the light." So Terry had such a gift for language. He was one of the most articulate people I ever met and such a sharp thinker. So I want to explore a little bit in this episode, inherent goodness and diminishment, dying of light and the birth of light. And, you know, we're in the Western world here, at least where we're recording the podcast, and in the Western world, the Judeo-Christian cosmology worldview is very pervasive. Some people still feel quite connected to it. Other people find it to be quite irrelevant, but I find it powerful as we're reflecting on solstice and just a physical darkening, an endarkenment in the Northern Hemisphere that the Christian season of Christmas commemorates this in its own powerful way. There's the crucifixion, there's the darkness that sets in. And there are, you know, the days following the crucifixion that lead to the rebirth, right? So it's significant to me. We commemorate this in the Eastern festival Pascal, but from a Christmas point of view, planetarily, astronomically, astrologically, you have the solstice where it's the darkest moment, symbolic we could save death, of the squeeze, the dying of light that Terry Patten writes about. And then what do we have three days later? We have Christmas. We have the birth of the Christ Child. We have the return of light to the earth. So, you know, we commemorate this in our own Western culture in this way as well. And that's a meaningful way for me to connect the birth of Christ to the inherent goodness that somehow survives every diminishment and the dying of the light, which reminds me of a little story, a little experience I had. So, you know, I think I mentioned ad nauseam that I'm a new parent and it's a really meaningful experience to me. And last week, so I was in New York, I got to attend my first meditation retreat in the last, I hadn't been somewhere to attend a retreat in probably over two years. And, you know, COVID set in. My wife and I have just been her hermetically sealed with this little baby, incubating him, pouring love into him. And I felt like, you know, maybe it's time to break the seal. I'm gonna throw a bag on my back and go do what I used to do before I was a dad and go do some work in a monastery. So I was in a little, I was in a Christian monastery for five days up in the Hudson Valley. And that was its own experience, being away from my family like that. But at a certain point in the silence, in the darkness, you could say, and this is the best thing, to me one of the most things about giving ourselves stillness and silence is outta nowhere these images come up to us and they're so imbued with meaning and power and you can't plan it. You just, you get insight into what you really care about in life and what really matters when you're in the stillness. And I just, out of nowhere, deep into the darkness and the stillness of my retreat, I just had this image flash across my mind's eye of my son just kind of wiping peanut butter off his mouth. And you know, when he eats oatmeal in the morning and we put some peanut butter in it sometimes, and you know, this image comes from a time in his life where he's just like learning that he has a mouth and he's just learning that he has hands. And I think the moment, it arrested me because it was like the first time I'd ever seen my son like actually try and clean the mess off his face. You know, kids, they go through this phase where they don't even know they have a face. So why would they think to clean it up? But Joon his name's Joon he was at this like developmental stage where he was starting to discover he had a face and he had a mouth and he had hands that he could wipe food off his mouth with. And he did it. Like I saw a human being. I witnessed a human being wipe food from his mouth for the first time. And he did it so slowly and he did it so delicately. And he did it with like, kind of a sense of wonder. So I'm in a monastery up in the Hudson Valley, and I just see this image. Of all the images I could have had, of all of all the things that could be precious to me, what a strange thing to see my son wiping peanut butter from his mouth. So why am I saying this? What does this have to do with solstice? For me, it was extremely poignant because I felt my career squeezed the last two years. Like, I didn't know what it would mean to be a parent. I don't think any of us who crossed that threshold can know. And I've gone through a kind of mourning process the last couple of years, where I love what I do and anything that gets in the way of me and my work can, you know, potentially become an irritation to me. So it really created some dissonance when that potential irritation is this being who I love more than I thought I could love. So here I am like feeling the squeeze of the diminishment of my capacity to do all the work I used to do before I became a parent. And yet this inherent goodness like what survived that diminishment, for me, in that moment intuitively it was the love of my son and just witnessing one of the countless precious moments of life. For me, it was like watching a human being clean peanut butter off his mouth and the rest of the week after I saw that image, I just kept coming back to it. And every time I'd come back to it, it felt like my heart was gonna burst 'cause it was so simple and it was so beautiful. And my point is, every single moment of life is a diminishment. Something in us is being taken. We're losing something. We're losing this moment. The moment, this moment now that's so full and rich, it's gone, it's passed. And if we recognize, if we observe solstice, it's maybe an even more dramatic of the diminishment of that which is going out of life, and it can be experienced, it is experienced as loss, as pain, as grief, as death. And we can fixate on that loss and that grief. And if we fixate on it, if we pay attention to it, that's what we end up kind of paying attention to. And we have more moments in a day where I just feel grief. What is so beautiful about this observance of solstice, this metaphor of noticing what can't be diminished is it trains our attention to watch like what's being born. What is the light that emerges from the darkness? What is the light that cannot be conquered by darkness? This is I think the great insight of the Christian tradition, that there is a light that cannot be consumed by the darkness. So in this moment, as I'm just offering you my own meditation on solstice, I'm aware of Terry Patten, and death does not diminish him. The inherent goodness that he is is not diminished by the darkness. He speaks through my heart right now when I share his words with you, and me mourning the loss of that career I had before I became a frantic, stressed-out, divided, busy parent, like I'm not diminished by that. I'm feeling this greater measure of love pouring through my heart as I actually attend to what can't be overcome by darkness. And that's the opportunity we have at solstice. These are the key words I wanna focus on as we move into practice, that there is, we could say, there's inherent goodness. There is light. There is love. There is life. These three words I come back to so often in this show, and we feel contraction in life. We feel loss, and we can also train ourself to become more sensitive to the corresponding magnification. So I put the question to you, where do you feel the squeeze right now? And if you're in the Southern Hemisphere listening to Mindfulness+ you can pay attention to the expansion of light. Come to the contraction later, but we'll stay with the solstice theme. This question we can always ask ourselves, and solstice reminds us to ask it more deeply, and you can start to close your eyes for this, or, you know, move into a more contemplative space. What is it in your life that's being squeezed? What is it in you that feels diminished? A capacity you used to have that you no longer have. It might be your health. Your health might be diminished. Maybe your career, your earning power, your market shares. It could be your reputation. It could be your own sense of confidence. Maybe your faith is feeling diminished, faith in whatever you put faith in. Just to acknowledge that there's always a diminishment. The darkness of the season can make that even more poignant, but it's not unique to the dark days of the year. It's always. So you feel this diminishment, and you feel this squeeze, and we hate this. We hate to be squeezed. We hate to be negated. We hate the word no from the universe when we want to be a yes. For me, it was a career that felt diminished. I had less time, less energy to put into it. I struggle with that still. Where are you struggling? Something's leaving you in life that you don't want to leave. Something's contracting that you don't want to contract. Yeah, and you're just invited to bring this in really close. Usually the opposite of what we like to do when there's something this difficult. We like to hold it at arm's length, maybe be in denial or struggle against it. But what if you just bring this diminishment in very close to you? Something in you just relaxes, coming out of denial and just acknowledging, this is what it is. This is what life has given me. And as you stay with this, not in denial of darkness, of diminishment, of contraction, of being squeezed, not in denial at all, in full recognition that this is life ebbing and flowing. I invite you to touch into, to intuit the inherent goodness that's expanding. Something unexpected, precious even, born out of the darkness, the diminishment. And I want to be clear. You're not doing anything special. I'm not asking you to produce some special meditative state. It's more an invitation to just see what is already here, always here. It's this deep intuition we have access to as human beings, that there's a light that is undiminished by the dark. A love that is stronger than death. You can just connect to this now. What goodness is born out of you in this solstice, the solstice that is every single microsecond of every moment in a human life. Connect to this inherent goodness and feel gratitude for the incredible gift it is, the darkness. We actually need the darkness to render this joy, this goodness, more transparent to itself, to magnify it, to ennoble it. In every moment, in every diminishment, something even more precious takes form. And when we open the eye of the heart, we see it and we know it. Thank you. Mm, I'm feeling all the feels for Terry Patten, my son, Joon right now, and just basic goodness. And I'm coming back to Terry's words that the solstice is a time to cherish and nurture the inherent goodness that always survives every diminishment, every tight squeeze, even the dying of the light. So whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever the circumstances of your life right now, I'd invite you to really hold the preciousness of what's being born through you in your heart. Even as the days grow shorter up here in the north and maybe life is asking us to let go of things that we weren't ready to let go of. Okay, that's my ode to the solstice. May this offering be worthy. May it be accepted. I hope you enjoy it. I hope you got to feel into a part of yourself that maybe we don't visit as often as we could or should in today's episode. And always a shout out to Skylight. Thank you for all the love and support. Thank you, Mindfulness Plussers all your people out there who, you know, I really feel and believe that the world hangs on your practice, that every moment you sanctify with your awareness is a bit of yeast to leaven the loaf for humanity and the planet. So keep doing what you're doing, and thanks for letting me walk with you. We'll see you next week.
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