At Solstice, time appears to stand still, and the sun goes away long enough for us to perfect the art of longing for more light and offers us a chance to rest for a while in the dark corners of life. We love to mark this Solstice night by adorning our little Christmas tree with shiny family treasures and real candles. We think of her as the tree of life. She stands for all the trees on the planet without whom breath would become thinner. She stands for the ancestral tree from whose branches we grew and she stands for the trees within our bodies: trunks and branches of nerves and blood vessels and the lightning trees of thought and emotion and she stands for community of people far and wide.
Solstice Tree Tradition
Each year, family and friends gather around our little tree for a special ceremony. Each person takes a turn to light one of the many beeswax candles on our solstice tree and names a special life event or a significant person in the past year. With each candle the tree’s ornaments multiply the flames and by the time everyone has spoken, the tree sparkles like the starry sky. Some years we sing a song or two and we turn on every light in the house. We behold one another, our faces bathed in light, eyes reflecting the tree of life.
Then, one by one, each person blows out their candle while they speak words of gratitude. One by one the candles extinguish and the aroma of beeswax smoke fills the atmosphere. When all candles are dark, we extinguish every light in the house and, in the unlit space, our prayers rest like seeds in the ground and candle smoke carries our prayers to the gods. We ring the tree with our arms around each other and listen to the sounds from the forest outside and the wind of human breath inside. We linger in the dark for a while refraining from the habit of commentary and speech. In this micro hibernation, this suspension of time our thoughts emerge without distraction. Together we can sense the common field of thought and in the pause between light and dark and light again we ponder the mystery of the night.
The Dark Mystery
A long time ago when I was a young child I looked with awe and wonder upon our festive tree and my father said: “If you listen carefully to the black Solstice night you might hear and understand the language of animals, the trees and the wind”. I remember listening ever so carefully to the sounds of dark silence with a deep longing to understand the language of nature.
Now, in my adult way, within me I find resistance at first, an unease, and want the light to come back, I squirm like a child in the silent darkness and each year I opt to wait. In the unlit house I sense my companions , I hear their breath and resonate with their small movements. In the dark I taste the sweetness of life in good company. Within us, among us and around us I sense a hint of the sublime mystery and the presence of beings invisible to our human eye. A peaceful and warm softness showers us here in our home. I want to linger in the dark mystery and no longer crave the light, but the children’s impatience signals the next step of our little ritual.
One by one the candles light up again and each person speaks to a dream they might have for the coming days. “May this dream and prayer be carried by the light”. Soon the house shines again. Sometimes, here on our island by the Salish Sea, we are gifted with a power outage. Without electricity it is easy to imagine the days before electrical lights lit up what should be dark and without the constant back ground hum of electricity, the silence is truly profound. On a rainless Solstice night we walk outside into the ebony garden and gather by a fire in our back yard. Each person has brought something they want to offer to the flames for transformation. We witness each other as we let go and make room for more life. The fire warms our bones and we watch as the children roast marshmallows and giggle. A new year begins with the turning of the sun and slowly the days will lengthen, the light returns and gifts us with another opportunity to Iive with gratitude in good company .
We Are All Connected
This year Gary and I will stand before our tree without family and friends for the first time in many years. We will deepen our effort to connect with our beloveds via the strings of the Heart. We will practice the art of longing and grieving. We surrender to the present day as we, and everyone else, dance the dance of a worldwide Pandemic and its paradoxical gifts.
We hope that each of you will join us in your home and light your solstice candles and send your loving out into the world. Begin by breathing in your own light, then let it go with an exhale. Sit for spell in the dark and listen to your darkness and honour what emerges from the depths. In a while light your candle again and breathe your blessings toward those you love. Stretch your heart and send a blessing to your enemies. Include the nonhuman world and your ancestors in your awareness and save your mightiest prayers to ask for mercy for the next generation.
About the Authors
Elfi Dillon-Shaw DipC is a massage practitioner, bodyworker and educator with 20 years’ experience fostering experiences of pleasure and well-being. She teaches programs on sexuality, body practices and stress management, including Sexual Intelligence, Stirring the Cauldron, and Eros and Intimacy (with her husband Gary Dillon). She has worked at The Haven since 1983.
Gary Dillon MA has studied psychology, theology, and movement therapy, with an emphasis on Esalen massage and Hawaiian shamanic bodywork. He has wide experience in Taoist and Western esoteric transformations of Eros and offers a renewed and modern vision of sexuality and spirituality moving together. He co-leads Eros and Intimacy, Sex and Spirit for Couples with his wife Elfi Dillon-Shaw, and teaches internationally.