Winter: Water Immersion Day 2007

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Winter: Water Immersion Day 12/06

by Thea Elijah

We’re drawing out the connections and making explicit what it is that winter teaches us about human nature, and I’d like to spend a little time just on that before we go to the specific lessons of winter. Let’s just stick with: what is winter like? and give ourselves us a chance to state some of the obvious, and after that some of the less obvious, and after that perhaps even less obvious. This is because when we say winter, we are speaking not only of nature but of human nature. How would we recognize winter happening? What happens in winter that does not happen at any other time. Would somebody just name something about winter that doesn’t happen at any other time?

“Dark” yeah, so lack of light. The whole issue of darkness. No accident that I’m wearing the dark colors, and in winter many people having a tendency to wear more dark colors in harmonization with the seasons. Times when it is dark, these are winter times. Times when it is not from the outside that we will get our source of light. Times when, if we want to see something at the end of the tunnel, it ain’t gonna be out there. Especially at this time of year when we have not yet reached solstice, the times in life where, frankly, it’s more dark than light, and you know what? it looks like its getting darker—every day. Not lighter—every day.

This is one of the things that happens and what a mercy, in a sense, that it happens every single year: we go through a period of time where it’s darker than it is light and every day it gets darker. This is a practical training ground for learning, “oh, what do I do when it’s dark and getting darker?” and work with it on the level of challenge. The challenge is, “You know what, I am going to have to find the light inside now; where is that exactly?” It’s a turn of focus from outer light to inner light, which, if we are dependent on outer light only—if we are looking for the light to come from the outside, the sustaining light only from outside—then we are going to have a very hard time in winter.

Because we do need a sustaining light. There is an old blues song that asks over and over again, what is the soul of a man (or woman), and it goes through several verses trying to answer this question, and finally answers it with “nothing but a burning light”. If we’re looking outwards for that sustaining light of the soul, that’s fine in summer. We can get away with it. HOWEVER it’s gonna’ leave us might depressed in winter if it’s only out there that we can connect with light.

So one of the challenges, one of the tasks of especially early winter, where it’s getting darker all of the time, is a training for all those time in life where it appears to be getting darker all the time and we need to say “All right—Where’s that pilot light of my soul?” I may not even have known I had one. I may never have thought about it before. That so long as I’m alive, a living being, there’s a fire burning in here. I may never have taken the time to note that. And this period of time, the challenge of it, is to turn and say I need to look for that burning light, that sustaining light, inside. Where is it? It’s inside me. It might be an unfamiliar move to even say: if I were to feel in my body, is there something inside my body that feels alive? And that feeling, when I find it, generally is very irrational. The will to live is completely irrational, and that is a very, very important thing, especially when times are dark and getting darker, that we have something in us that just says, “live”. Finding that in my body, the irrational thing that just says, “live. I’m alive. Live.”

This is the thing that will keep us walking through the darkest times. Find that place in the low pelvis. This is exactly the time for NOT looking to the outside for my light; finding this is what keeps me walking when there isn’t something outside saying “oh yes, it’s about to get much better, just in another moment.” Because we don’t get that all the time in life, and what a blessing to have a season that gives us an external cue to find that place on the inside, every year whether we need it or not, so that should winter hit at some other time we know inside where to find this.

Allow yourself to feel this very basic, primordial “I live. I live. I live. I live.” What does it matter if it is dark outside. Sometimes it is dark outside. I live. I live. We live. We live. And we do not depend on an outward sign of life. Let the whole world hibernate and grow dark; there are these burning lights in the night. Inside we hold this. I hold this single flame inside myself, this pilot light, and inside every living being I meet there is a pilot light, burning. We do not need the outer light. We carry the light.

So this is the challenge aspect of the loss of light, and the continuing loss of light.

The blessing aspect of the loss of light on the outside is the opportunity to say, well, I can’t really see what’s going on out there. It’s too dark. I guess it’s time to do less out there. Never mind light for work out there. There’s a great deal to be done that is done without light. Like going inward. Like rest. Like hibernation. The deep, deep renewal of winter, and the invitation into the unbelievably deep renewal of darkness. Of silence. Of not being busy scurrying, fighting. In winter, two things happen at the same time that are opposite, which is that some living beings hibernate, and some living beings don’t. Those that don’t, they learn the challenge of the diminishment of light, of keeping this light burning on the inside, and this is an important learning of winter.

It is just as important a lesson of winter to learn from those who do hibernate, and to allow ourselves to go with that invitation, and to say, “What if I were to become very very quiet. What if I were to become very still. What if I were not to strive and strive and strive in the dark; what if I were to just say yes, I’m going to bed. I’m going to go and I’m going to sleep for a long time.”

And then maybe do it again the next day. Go to sleep at 7 and do that until, when I go to bed at 7, I’m so well slept that I lie there instead in the dark and do an even darker kind of rest. Rest of the spirit, and rest of the mind, which is very often hard to do when our bodies are underslept, when we’re physically tired. The body demands its rest first, if we’re exhausted physically. Have you noticed how sometimes when you’re exhausted physically your mind is like: aaaaaahhhhh….. it can’t actually rest, because you’re like ohmygod my body is falling apart, I’m really, really tired I better survive somehow I better stay alert. I gotta stay alert I gotta stay alert….It’s not a very high quality alertness.

But after the body is rested, after we’ve taken the winter invitation to get a ridiculous amount of sleep, an un-American amount of sleep, sleeping until we are incapable of further sleep… Give that a try. See what happens. What if you sleep? What if you make a project between now and the solstice to sleep until your body lets you know that you are incapable of further sleep, and then get into that bed anyway, turn that light off, and see what happens.

I’ll tell you one thing that usually happens to a lot of people, to shift metaphors slightly, and to bring in something from western physiology. We have the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic is all about doing. Fight, flight, response to the outer world, outer world action. And we have the parasympathetic. When we go into our parasympathetic dominance, our parasympathetic state, this is the state of rest. This is the state of “never mind the outside world.” And when we switch over to this state, the resting state, we feel inactive because we are not doing outer-directed activity. But don’t kid yourself. When we are at rest, there is a lot that goes on. Huge amounts of things happen while we are at rest. It is a different kind of activity. Why else would it be that you could go to sleep and wake up feeling very different. Right? If there is something you can do for eight hours and feel completely transformed at the end of it, that is not inactivity. Something’s happening. Something unbelievably profound is happening. Something without which we could not survive even with all the willpower in the world. Things take place. On a physical level, tissue repair. Healing. Healing does not happen through activity. Healing is a rest state response. The call of the dark. The blessing of the dark allows for activity that happens that is not willed activity. That which happens when we rest is activity, but it is not willed activity.

When we take a moment to be quiet and allow a bit of silence to gather on the inside, especially when we are physically rested, what do you know but suddenly usually these scurrying little nocturnal animals start coming out, right there, things inside of us that are just waiting for us to rest. The nocturnal animals come out when we turn off the light. Go to bed, turn off the light, all of a sudden (fast speed sound effects), especially if we go to bed no longer exhausted. If we go to bed only exhausted, we turn off the light, we hit the pillow, we’re out. When we are no longer physically exhausted now we move to other levels of the mind and the spirit needing the same kind of down time. And boy, if we haven’t had it in awhile, it’s like triage-level nocturnal animal activity. All kinds of nocturnal animals that have needed to scurry around, get a drink of water, a little bit of food, they start running around and we have a choice in this moment. We can either say, oh yes I need to take care of duhduhduhduhdudh, and get re-engaged in the thought process and begin will-directed activity again, lying there in bed doing will-directed activity: oh yes, I should plan my speech, I should duhduuduhduhduh. Or we can accept the blessing of darkness and say, I am not turning on the light. This is a time of dark. An increase of dark. The light stays off. I lie here and let those nocturnal animals, which are frantic sometimes, do what they need to do without interference of my will.

I must say, sometimes we don’t have to be fully physically rested in order to have this nocturnal animal triage-level zooming around as soon as we turn off the light and accept the invitation of darkness. Sometimes we just need be a little more physically rested than mentally rested. I would say that 90% of the insomnia that I treat is the kind of insomnia where the person’s body, tired as it is, is not nearly so tired as the person’s mind and spirit. And so the person lies there in bed, unable to go to sleep, with thoughts and feelings whizzing around inside. Why? Because they had no waking time to do it in. There was no time during their busy day when they could just go: Wow. Huh. Mmm. Sit by a brook. Or even watch the traffic go by. Even during their lunch break they’re busy working. They didn’t even have time then to just kind of… be, and let the nocturnal animals, let the scurrying, let the rest activity, the non will-directed activity take place.

Or there’s this other kind of insomnia where the person is genuinely more physically tired than mentally or emotionally in need of repair when they go to bed, and so they hit the bed, they’re out cold after a little bit of last scurrying down into darkness. Their body just says “I gotta get out of here. I need repair now.” And then 2 am, 3 am, maybe 5, whenever it is, their body gets past that triage level of having accepted the invitation of darkness. OK, I got just enough rest physically. Now my mind and spirit are saying, “I can’t wait anymore. I need it now.”

Now I need to lie awake and think about how I felt when my boss said that. Now I need to lie awake and think of things to say to my girlfriend I wish I’d said. Now I need to lie awake and go “baabababaaabab”. Whatever levels it is, I need to take invitation of winter and darkness and not turning on the light and just be here and let this whole parasympathetic non willed-directed activity take place. I can’t tell you how many people’s insomnia has resolved when I’ve said “doctor’s orders: at least one hour a day, do nothing productive.” Don’t turn on the TV. All right, if you really need some help getting into this space, maybe some music. Peaceful music. But something that will not engage your will. Just move around and be unproductive. Because the healing of the mind and psyche takes place during the winter. During the down time.

Do you want to heal your mind and your spirit? We are given winter for this purpose: to stop being outwardly active and go in and have first seemingly petty things come up. Usually at first, why are we thinking about this? Well, because it’s still there in our nervous system and we didn’t have time to discharge it because the next event happened right on the heels of the last one and there wasn’t time to finish the last process before the next process began and so we are literally going (sound of effect of tape running fast). All right. Don’t get impatient with it. Go ahead and watch and wait and let the darkness deepen. Because if we allow it, eventually the chatter settles. And there’s this incredible feeling of quiet inside that usually lasts, oh it’s different for everybody, but not as long as you think, before the next level of nocturnal animals comes out. Right? Some deeper stuff starts floating up because there’s this whole level of night beings, quiet beings, beings that only come out when it’s clear that no one is going to be flicking the light on any minute. There are places we can go on the inside when we have a quiet moment, but they are places we’re not going until we’re sure that somebody is not about to call, or about to say, you know, anything, that is going to draw us back up and out again. We’re waiting for the safety of true dark, of deep dark, of extended dark. Extended silence.

So we have this blessing of this time of year that gives us longer stretches of darkness and silence. This is a deeper land, this place of the deeper nocturnal animals. They say, is it safe for me to come out yet? Is there time for me to feel this thing that I didn’t have time to feel before? Who knows what will come up? We notice what comes up, and we let the healing happen. We let things crescendo and resolve. We let connections be made that might not have been made if we hadn’t had the time. And then once again, these things too resolve into silence. And it’s such a satisfying silence. The silence of having moved through some things held in abeyance. Allowed to heal. Allowed to truly finish.

And lo, that lasts for a little while. Maybe a long while but then indeed comes the next layer. The things that we haven’t thought about in a long time start to come up. Maybe things that haven’t come up since we were snow-bound six years ago and got bored out of our skull and finished cleaning everything and did every project we could think of doing. And in that space, things may rise up from very long ago. It could be that the last time you had this kind of space was when you were seven and your family drove back from New Hampshire to New Jersey and you were only seven and got bored out of your mind and went really deep. The things that happen when we have time of true rest are things that we can’t make happen. We can’t deliberately cause revelation, intuition, the making of connections between seemingly disparate events in our life that now we say, my God! That’s what was going on and I’ve done that for thirty years. And I never noticed. This is the blessing of the diminution of light: to go into the dark and stay there for long enough for that which we cannot do with our will to take place inside.

I would say that on this break, be aware of the power of silence, and be aware of—I’m not going to tell you not to speak—but I am going to tell you, be aware of the power of speaking or not speaking. Be aware of what disappears when we speak, if we are not aware of the silence which is there at the same time—because for instance I am speaking right now, but I am speaking with great awareness of the silence; and when I speak aware of the silence then I can speak without breaking the silence. The silence is still here around my voice. Winter knows how to do this. There’s nothing you can you say; it doesn’t matter how loud you get; you can’t drown out the silence. It’s a mighty silence. We might try practicing, during this break, speaking and living in such a way that we are not drowning out the silence even as we exchange sound—so that we keep the blessing going, of this quiet dropping inward.

(back from break, we played the theme from ‘Jaws’ and when it ended we could hear the music from the aerobics class downstairs)

I would say that both the theme from “Jaws,” and the theme from downstairs, both are examples of how there are life situations which can make us challenged in matter of finding the silence. This, too, is part of what winter’s gift of the coming of the darkness, of the inwardness, teaches us to find inside. There’s a season of the year where it happens, where we can learn what silence is, what darkness its, what its duration is, and align with it; so that we can speak while being with silence, and even be in a situation where there is noise and feel the silence beneath the noise.

There’s a way of being in constant fight with sound. “I want some silence. How come I can’t get any quiet around here? This is driving me crazy. It’s never quiet around here.” Around where exactly? And when one is in this state it can be anywhere; basically you can be in a cabin, in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, but something is humming somewhere. If we are not able to find the silence there will always be something to blame our lack of silence on; and our inability—or is that a refusal—to go inward… But you could bring a boom box playing Madonna into a redwood forest, and those redwoods would go on generating silence no matter what else was happening.

Just so, externally we need to be able to find and learn the blessing of silence, darkness, inwardness, so that we can hold our own, keeping the silence, as winter within when we need it. Ah, here we are, here is the silence. The silence is here. Even if there’s also noise here, the silence wins. We need to be able to do that in our own bodies as well. Because sometimes it’s “don dan, don dan,” that feeling of Jaws being somewhere in our life. (to the tune of Jaws): Mortgage, mortgage, mortgage. Payment, payment, payment…right? This is the music playing in our endocrine system. And just as we need to be able to find winter, take the winter’s blessing of being able to find the silence beneath the noise. Same in our own bodies. Sometimes it’s mighty noisy in our bodies. Can we ride the slope—the pre-solstice downward slope in our own bodies and say o.k. I hear the ruckus of my own body. I hear the ruckus of my own fears, of my own Jaws swimming around somewhere in my life and can I say yes, that’s happening there and yes this is happening here, and find the place that’s so quiet that it does not have to assert itself.

All too often when we need quiet we go into willfulness and there’s “I NEED QUIET!” Does it work? I mean it never works. Then you storm around the house and it is quiet because they finally they did turn off the music but you’re still not in the quiet, because you’re in the post-having-insisted-that-they-turn-the-music-off. It’s not quiet.

This is one of the tasks that we learn, that winter gives us a free introductory offer to. How do I come down and in and learn about silence, and then having learned it, as with the pilot light, it becomes something we are able to share with others also. People will come in to see us like their house is on fire, like their nervous system’s on fire, like they’re drowning in the tidal waves, like there’s a shark swimming around in their endocrine system. And what they need more than anything else is some of winter’s blessing. Is there any place of peace in here at all? Can I find it in my body without having to calm down any of the ruckus in my body because frankly it’s never going to be quiet. Never. My heart will still be beating. My blood will still be flowing. My intestines will still be gurgling. There is no silence of that nature to be found in life. But can I, before I’m quiet, find the quiet and hold the quiet for someone else to find quiet, bring it forward again, to each other to find it.

Can I keep the silence? Can I keep it for you? So that when you speak to me, having lost your silence, I can help you find your winter night again. I think I learned this most profoundly back in acupuncture school. My classmates lovingly presented me with a roll of adhesive tape for use over my mouth. It was one of the most amazing gifts I’ve ever been given because it gave me the gift of finding my silence again. I would spend sometimes days with a piece of adhesive tape over my mouth all day in class because I had lost my inner silence. I was living completely in that ready-to-speak place, always right here on the surface, and there’s a lot of world in here that one can’t get to if living always out here. The tape on my mouth made it so that my default was NOT speaking; and when my default became not speaking, a whole level of reality opened up—because I had silence and I had inwardness and there was an inner space in here.

I needed to be forced into it, and most people do at first. We need winter to say it’s dark, be quiet. Worlds opened up. And yes, I did speak sometimes, but it was wonderful to have the question of, Is this comment worth ripping a piece of tape off my face for? And if so, let it be so. If not, perhaps the silence is more precious. Perhaps I listened more deeply, learned more from the silence. This is part of the blessing of the winter time, the waning and continued wane of the light.

There’s a poem by Wendell Berry called “The Cold”, that says something, I paraphrase and ask his spirit to forgive me, that says something to the effect of how good it is to know myself in solitude of winter, to be poised as though suspended, seeing you, too, in your solitude, your life gathered within, and to go among the trees so cleanly divided, their life in their own safe keeping, and having known fully the goodness of this, it will be good also to melt.

That there is some deep self-knowing that comes in winter, that is a holding of the warmth on the inside, and part of what is so good about this holding of one’s warmth on the inside, is the memory of summer, and that summer will return; and the very careful and precious nature of exchange of warmth. This is a precious thing, not be taken lightly, the exchange of warmth.

One of the things I love about New England is that if you and one other person are the only two people on the street when it’s thirty below, you definitely smile at each other. You are so happy to see this other person. However, the heart exchanges in this very careful way in winter. It’s not like a summer greeting. It’s a very different greeting, that thirty below kind of greeting. It’s pared down. Talk about love in the cold times. There’s that deep winter from-one-living-being-to-another affirmation. Ah, you live. I live. That’s so powerful.

In summer it’s like yeah, you’re alive, I’m alive, ha ha. I mean it’s great, love in the summer, easy in a way. But the holding of this deep winter ‘I live,’ the holding of this deep warmth, and the incredible specialness of how much it means in winter, to be able to greet from that place.

Try it for a moment. First be summer. Just be out and about in the room. Yeah, see the whole room changes. Here we are and we’re together and that’s fine. It’s not as special to be sharing warmth in summer.

Now draw yourself in. Figure it’s cold and it’s going to be cold for awhile and on some level every single one of us is on our own, because it’s our survival that either will or will not happen in the cold. And then having taken responsibility for that, that paring down, saying o.k., each and every one us, our life in our own safekeeping… it’s not entirely pleasant to feel but I promise, it is salutary. I promise I’m taking you some place that is a health-promoting place. Bear with me, let yourself feel where I’m taking you.

I need to protect my survival and that’s up to me. It’s a cold world. It’s a cold world and I need to protect my survival. And my survival’s mine and I need to hold to this; I am in here. Now each of us having taken responsibility for this light that’s mine, then to look around the room at other lights and say, all right, we can build something together. If your car is stuck I’ll help you. If you need wood. I’ve taken care of mine. I’m alert to my survival. I’m already prepared for mine. I’ve already put in my stores and now I look to the rest of the people, one of whom might have a little bit more wood, one of whom might have a little more food, to feel that very different quality of being ‘in it together’ than the summer way of being in it together.

You feel this in New Englanders in a way that you don’t feel it in Florida folk. This quality of kind of checking each other out as we make alliance with somebody, from a winter mentality. You got any wood put away, buddy? Do you know it’s cold? Or are you just some summer person who doesn’t know about that? Do you know about cold? Are you aware of the coming dark? Do you know about winter? Do you know how cold it can get?

There’s a way in which that’s who we want to know in our community. Don’t you want neighbors who also have their own wood stacked up, because they know winter is coming and they know what winter is about and they’re preparing, too? Yes. We are allies: all of us who know about the cold and have prepared. Now I’m ready to be your friend. There’s a wariness. My survival is at stake. I’ll stake it with you if you know my survival is at stake. And your survival is at stake. And yes, I’m willing to pull together, but it’s a very different feeling. It’s not Southern hospitality, because you don’t have to heat down there.

Cold teaches us this responsibility, this awareness. I want to make sure that I’m saying this in a way that really gets across the virtue—there’s the contrast between the whole Southern hospitality thing, and the more Northern quality of wise friendship. We want a friend who knows what winter is, don’t we? We want friends who understand that it can be very cold for a long time. And that’s whose eye you want to meet. The eye with the kind of love that knows that it isn’t necessarily easy. I want to be around people who know that it’s going to snow and they’re going to have to shovel it. This changes a person’s consciousness and it changes the nature of a person’s connections. Cold teaches about conservation of vital resource, what it means to share warmth and share resources when resources are not plentiful, when the sharing of resources is a matter of survival. Is everybody equally aware of that? It matters.

What else happens in the winter? Christmas. Yes, there’s the spirit of Christmas and the other spirit of Christmas. The American spirit of Christmas does seem in a way like almost a perfect grotesque. I think what was aimed at, however, is a celebration in the spirit of just-after-the-solstice. After the solstice is in fact a time when we’ve already worked on that self-sufficient aspect, and we’ve said o.k. I can survive this winter with my light and my warmth in my own keeping. Now that I know for sure that the light is beginning to return, I can burn another extra log, o.k.

You know how, until a certain point in the winter, you’re thinking, I have to make sure I have enough wood… And then the tide begins to turn and you’re thinking o.k., I have more than half of the amount of wood, and there’s less than half of the winter left. That doesn’t tend to be exactly the case at Christmas time in New England. The timing is a little bit funny but there is still that natural sense of o.k., the day is beginning to lengthen. Because of this we are able to be a little more generous with our warmth post-solstice than we were pre-solstice.

Pre-solstice, it’s really an inward movement. Post-solstice I can begin to overcome stinginess. And so the spirit of post-solstice and the spirit of Christmas is, Can I in the midst of hardship and winter overcome stinginess and not let this energy of condensation and survival go too far, to the point where it isolates me from exchange with my fellow humans? This is important. If we’re using the Christmas spirit, the post-solstice spirit correctly, we are not running like frantic people all over the place but we are saying: even in the midst of darkness and winter I’m not going to become stingy, isolated, or think I’m a total loner. I’m just self-responsible and I can put on an extra Yule log. I can burn a little bit more.

In this culture we generally haven’t done our pre-solstice work very thoroughly, which is why Christmas comes as such a bizarrity, because we’re celebrating the post-solstice without having really first done the pre-solstice work. The holiday season post-solstice makes a lot more sense as a celebration of not needing to be stingy and staying in touch with loved ones and saying yes neighbor, yes neighbor, yes neighbor, yes we are in touch even in this dark time.

Winter really is all about that fine line balance between darkness and light, and clarity about the importance of the light. It’s got to be very very clear or there will not be survival. But it’s not clarity of light like summer, where there’s light all over the place. It’s clarity about light why? Because we are surrounded by dark.

Winter and what it gives to the human soul has a lot to do with the quality of faith. And faith is specifically “I hold certain things certain. Because of what I hold certain, I am comfortable in the presence of what I don’t know.” Healthy faith is because of my deep certainty that there is such a thing as Tao or that there is a light at the heart of the Universe or that there is a purpose to love. Because I am certain of this, I am comfortable in the presence of having no idea where this relationship is going. No idea where my life is going. No idea what the town planning board is going to do. Why? Because of what I hold certain, I am comfortable with the uncertain. This is important in winter because winter is more about darkness than about light. There is more uncertainty than certainty in winter, and winter doesn’t always happen in winter. There are times in our lives when uncertainty outnumbers certainty so heavily you’re praying praying praying for a solstice to come in your life but it ain’t come yet. Where is the light? Where is the certainty? What do I hold certain?

This is huge, huge winter medicine, to say where is the light? Not everywhere. Not most of where. It’s not summer. Certainty is not abounding. A whole lot is not clear. Because of how much is not clear in my life right now, because of how much mystery there is, how do I dwell in this much mystery? This much unknown? This much uncertainty? It starts to get whoooaaaa—the ocean—it’s so huge. It’s so dark. All right. Where is the light? What do I know?

My husband Tom Gentile is a constitutional winter representative. One of the things I think makes him such a good teacher for beginners is his constant awareness of the vastness and infinity of the unknown. He has this thing he says: What you don’t know is infinite; and what you don’t know will always be infinite. Stand in what you know, open to what you don’t know.

Because that’s some place to stand. There’s something I know. Sometimes it isn’t much but it doesn’t have to be much. All it takes is a small light. Sometimes all I know is that I’m here. Sometimes it gets as bad as that, that nothing else is certain except that I’m alive right now and I don’t know what will happen. I don’t what the results of the biopsy are going to say, if I will come out from anesthesia. I don’t know. Sometimes the uncertainties are really tremendous. Then that winter paring down to the very few certainties—I am and I love—that’s not such a bad place to begin my stand.

All right, let’s stay with that. “I am.” Can I stay with “I am?” Am I sure of that? Stand there. “I am. I love.” All right. I love. What else? Can we take further stock? What’s on the wood pile? What’s in the cupboard? What have I got? What are the certainties? I have a shovel. That’s a good thing to have. What am I going to do? I don’t know. I don’t need to know. What I need to know is what I’m certain of and stand there fully.

What you don’t know, you don’t know. It’s not a bad thing; it’s an unknown thing. The unknown contains as much that may benefit you as may harm you. Could be that the next thing that happens is the sudden check for $500. We don’t know what is. We don’t know what will be. We must stand in what we do know. We must stand in the light in such a way that we are not chasing away the darkness. This is very important. Healthy faith does not diminish the mystery. Healthy knowledge does not destroy our beginner’s mind. To be a knower and to be so filled with certainty—I KNOW! I KNOW THIS AND I KNOW THAT AND I KNOW THIS—this is a problem. This is unhealthy winter. Oh I know, I know, I know. I’m certain. Everything is going to be fine.

You’re out of touch. You’re out of touch. You need to be in the place, we all need to be, especially in winter and the winter of our lives, in touch with the mystery, or we are not listening to that which directly impacts on our survival. The wrong kind of certainty is a pathology. We know that our certainties are healthy certainties if they allow us to remain in touch with what we don’t know, and remain aware that there is a lot that we don’t know. Our knowledge is healthy and useful knowledge if our knowledge does not get in the way of beginner’s mind, does not get in the way of being able to feel, perceive, and listen to the unknown.

In balancing mystery and certainty, too much certainty is a problem. You will not get to know what else is going on here, the good as well as the difficult. Yet also too much uncertainty is frightening, is paralyzing, overwhelming and terrifying. Too much night, too much darkness. The mystery is wonderful and fills us with awe if we also have a little bit of certainty; if there’s a little bit of light. There’s goodness in this world. There are times when we say at the moment it’s hard to find, I’m scared, I’m upset, things are overwhelming, there’s difficulties, there’s trouble brewing, the Bush dynasty has been a difficult time.

O.K. and how different is it, and again this is sort of the spirit of Christmas, how different is it to say, in troubled times, surrounded by darkness, I may not even be aware of exactly where the good is; but I know it’s around here somewhere. And then the next thing you know your neighbor does something. Things come that are heartening. Single small lights in the dark come when we are resonating with: I don’t actually know what the good is but I know there is some, and I’m gonna hold the faith. Certainty allows me to be in the presence of the uncertain. I don’t know who you are. You’re human. You’re alive. You have a heart. There’s good in you. I don’t know what we’re going to meet, where we’re gonna go as we go down the path of relationship and getting to know each other. But I’m going to hold fast, through the whole journey, to the light.

Can you speak to me about death?

Speaking about death in winter. It’s a big deal.

When other people are dying we deal with it through the metal element. If you’re dying, I’m going to be in my metal element because I’m going to be grieving and in sorrow; I’m in autumn and watching the passing. If I’m the one dying I’m in water. I’m terrified. I’m either terrified or coming into peace or whatever, but I’m working through more of a water issue if it’s my death than if I’m working through issues of somebody else’s death where I’m going to be left behind.

Winter is the period of time through which you’re either going to live or die, and annuals die. Perennials do their best and if they do their best, and only if they do their best, they don’t. So there is that great divider. Perennials go dormant, so they go into something that is death-like. It is true for us also that if we don’t intend to die, we’re going to accomplish that by doing something that is very very close, very similar to death. If I’m going to continue to survive and keep going, the first I need to do is sleep at night. I need to rest. It’s paradoxical. You want to go forward? Stop. You want to persevere? Relax. How do you survive the winter, and how do we get through hard times? By going gggrrrr? No. The secret of survival includes being able to relax so in some sense in order to live we have to die. We need a certain amount of dying to stay alive. We need the renewal of sleep. We need the renewal of saying, I’m just going to let myself lose it, I mean lose it completely because I need to let go, to surrender to rest to survive.

Rest is a skill. Some of us are better at it than others, and it is a wise skill to cultivate because it is a survival skill. It is the wellspring of life itself, to be able to rest. Check it out—let’s have a two minute resting contest. Let’s take two minutes and see just how rested you can get in two minutes. On your mark! The pressure is on! Hurry up! Get set! Now—rest!