Winter Solstice is here, and two poems come to mind to celebrate the longest night that gives way to lengthening days.  The first is called “Sweet Darkness,” by David Whyte.

This poem became my friend and guided me through personal periods of darkness, teaching me the beauty and depth to be found in the dark places where we cannot see with our eyes.

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

The next poem, “The Invitation,” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, was first read to me at the beginning of a canoe trip down the Petawawa River in Canada’s Algonquin Provincial Park.  Stars filled the night sky as we stood on the edge of the river listening to these words spread out across the landscape:

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk looking like a fool
for love,
for your dream,
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are 
squaring your moon.
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow,
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain,
mine or your own,
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy,
mine or your own,
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful,
to be realistic,
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty,
even when it is not pretty
every day, and if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure,
yours and mine,
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair,
weary and bruised to the bone,
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know 
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself,
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

Two different journeys began for me with these poems, and today as the sun begins its slow stretching of daylight, I invite you to celebrate this time of quiet and sit with what the Tao Te Ching calls “the darkness within darkness, the gateway to all understanding.”

What brings you alive?

What sustains you?

photo by Katie Spring
Sunset on the Petawawa, August 2006