As we approach the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, we are reminded of connection to the seasons, to change, to death and rebirth, to darkness and light. The more I pay attention to the seasons, the more rooted I have become. The more I have embraced the seasonal darkness, the more I have welcomed the inner darkness. Solstice is a journey from the outer world to the inner world, and then after a season of darkness, we can transition outward and toward the light. What we learn internally can help us reflect on the work that is being asked to be done as a community and a country.
In the darkness, we are confronted with our fears. In confronting our fears, we learn and can be liberated, we can be reborn. Anyone who does Jungian shadow work is familiar with this. In the “Power of Vulnerability” a talk by Brene Brown, she says that we have to sit with fear as if it were a professor and learn from it. Buddhist philosophy asks us to invite it for tea. Many would agree that this past year with a pandemic and a divisive political climate has been quite dark. Many would also agree we have grown in this darkness. A seed needs darkness to sprout. A perennial needs winter to rest so it can return in the spring.
Having grown up in northern California, I considered myself a light seeker. Moving to Vermont almost a decade ago confronted me with seasons, winter, and darkness. In my first very hard winters here, an older fellow Californian told me it would take me seven winters. That felt long but oddly it was true! I remember reading somewhere that our body fully regenerates every seven years. Seven has always been a powerful number to me, as it is for many. I hadn’t understood my seventh-generation Vermonter husband’s love of winter and the seasonal shifts. They always felt hard for me. Yet somehow in my seventh winter, something clicked. It was a curious journey with a lot of exploration and support, but I got there. I discovered ways to enjoy winter, like a massive tea collection and the ritual of lighting our wood stove. I found hot baths with oil soothing. I also learned mindfulness practices and lots of vitamins that support seasonal affective disorder. I found ways to acknowledge depression and learn from it through therapy. As I cultivated wellness within, I found more energy to cultivate wellness in my family and in my community. Seasonal death guided me to internal death and rebirth.
My work at the college focuses on developing sustainability programs and cultivating wellbeing in people, places, and the planet. I think about sustainability as an interconnected system where everything and everyone matters. I heard a lecture once where a man said that wellness is at the core of social justice work. The field of sustainability used to only be focused on the environment. My work in particular is interested in the sustainability of self. How do we cultivate wellbeing within, mind, body, soul? How do we hold space for people to do that work? As a college student at Middlebury College, I wanted to “save the world”. As I got older I realized I had to save myself to save the world. So that has become my daily practice. How do I live in alignment with my soul? After that, I ask how am I living in alignment with my husband, my children, my community/my earth. It’s all a ripple effect and if I’m not okay, the rest cannot be okay. We are an undeniably interconnected system. I clearly acknowledge the privilege that comes with this. Therefore, I also continuously ask how do we create more access and more inclusion?
On this cold dark November morning, as I write about the continued darkness and the coming light, I wonder what my future self would say to me. What will life look like in 7 years? Will our country come together? Will we grow with the seasons changing? I believe that we are learning from our collective darkness. Our country is doing its shadow work. We are addressing the injustices that this country was built on. We are going through deaths and rebirths. As a Coop and board that is actively doing anti-racism work, I believe that we are working toward a more just society. It’s messy, and we will make mistakes, but we will keep doing the work. The new era is just beginning, and many folks are waking up and remembering we are stronger together. Seeds of justice and hope are being planted and cultivated in the darkness. For someone who used to fear the darkness, I now say please come in for tea and let me listen and learn.
Sophie Esser Calvi is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member