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 tonight. 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, “Yes.”
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?