Winter Solstice is upon us, and with it, themes of the returning light, of the glimmer of hope endured after hardship, and the general goodwill of humankind. I have always loved this time of year, and associate it with Return of the King-type sentiments. An epic journey completed, with the fruits of a long struggle at last beginning to shine through the darkness.
Of course, for us in California, this is kind of a joke. By the time we reach Winter Solstice, our epic journey through the darkness has been going on for all of 6 weeks. Oh the horror! The rain has barely gotten started by Solstice, if we get any at all.
For this California girl, the Return of the Sun is something felt more as an internal process than as something that ties me to nature. It has always been more about the bleakness in the human soul, and the hope of return to a better life. This internal bleakness, I am sorry to say, is something we have a plentiful supply of.
My world has been seeming mighty bleak of late. I don’t know if events of the world are worse than usual or if it is just easier than ever to access a wide variety of news. Whatever the case, the human struggle has been hitting me pretty hard these past several weeks.
The woes of the world touch us all at different times, and different events trigger different people. Regardless of the what or when, we all know this feeling of bleakness, when it seems that no light touches us, but only a never-ending, grinding cruelty.
A cruelty that threatens to overwhelm us.
Many times over the last year, I have seen people plaintively express feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and overwhelm. They want to do some good in the world, but they don’t know where to begin. They don’t know how they can possibly make a difference when so much is going wrong all at once. Or they feel crushed under the weight of their own burdens, with scarcely enough money or time to handle the immediacy of their own lives.
I have felt this way myself, many times, and recently.
What helps me through my own periods of hopelessness is to take action. Even a small action. It doesn’t have to be some epic “Save the word in one fell swoop” action. Just a little something. The act of taking one small step toward the world you want to live in has the power to move incredible amounts of energy. Energy that will shift the paralysis of overwhelm.
Too often we think our gestures have to be grand, or they are worthless. By judging what we can do as “Not enough”, we shame ourselves into doing nothing. In our frozenness, we shut down and close out the world. And thus, we cut ourselves off from a sense of connection to and belonging in the world.
No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
This little saying has helped me immensely. We don’t have to build a non-profit from scratch. We can donate $10 to one. We can volunteer one day a month. Even if we have neither time nor money, we can devote an hour a week to learning about a situation that troubles us. Education is often the first step in figuring out how to be part of a solution.
How do we pick something, in a sea of troubles so numerous that the very thought of narrowing them down triggers overwhelm?
I always start with this question:
What is breaking my heart?
Usually one thing will flood to the surface above the others. Take the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t second guess it. It may not be “The One True Thing Forever and Ever”. It doesn’t need to be. You can support another thing down the road.
Hell, you can write different things down on paper and draw one out of a hat. It doesn’t matter what you pick, only that you pick, and then take a small action in support of that choice. Whatever you pick, I guarantee you will feel so much better investing a part of yourself into its healing.
Once I have chosen something, I look for organizations local to me that I can donate to or work with. Keeping it local makes the most sense for me, because that is the community I am invested in. (My pick for year’s end donations this year is Planting Justice, an organization that combines several of my interests at once into their mission. Check ’em out!).
By participating, however small, in solving a problem that breaks our heart, we become part of that solution. We become part of the light of the world. It is so easy to think that our offerings are small and unworthy, and therefore not worth doing. But real change is made from a thousand small gestures. We really don’t need to ride in on a white horse with capes billowing, and save the day. This world will be changed not by the mighty heroes, but by the small gestures of all of us, woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. The changes that can be realistically sustained over time by regular folks are the ones that will endure.
We are the light. We must never forget this. A thin sliver shining through a crack in a dark room is light nonetheless. We are the Strengthening Sun. We are the Return of the King. The Solstice season reminds us yet again to take stock of what truly matters to us, and to shine our light on it.
And when we do? We light a fuse that burns away the darkness. We renew hope, not only in ourselves, but in all those we touch. We become the light.
Pick something. Some small gesture. Commit to it. Own what breaks your heart, and let yourself crack open. And then feed it your care, your commitment, your compassion.
Become the Light. And Shine.