Today is the day the sun stands still. For a brief moment, it will stand still over the Tropic of Capricorn before returning back to the north toward the Tropic of Cancer. It has not been there since June 21st of this year, and it will not reach this latitude again until June 20th of next year, the time of summer solstice.
Before you think I’ve completely lost my science marbles, let me clarify. The word solstice comes from the Latin solstitium, which translates as “a standing still of the sun”. For many thousands of years, it seemed to people as if the sun was standing still during each solstice. We now know, of course, that the solstice actually has to do with the tilt of the Earth on its axis. During the winter solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted at its maximum degree away from the sun. In essence, the Earth tilts on its axis as far as it will go, stands still for a moment, then begins to tilt back in the opposite direction again.
Signs of the Winter Solstice
For most us here in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice brings the shortest day of the entire year. If you keep an eye to the sky each day, you’ll notice that dawn comes late and dusk comes early. And when the sun is up, it moves along a low arc each day. In fact, if you take a look outside at noon, you’ll notice how low it sits in the sky. While you’re out sun-gazing, be sure to look down, too, to see the longest noontime shadow you will cast all year.
Some Lessons from the Winter Solstice
Trauma affects the mind, body, and spirit holistically. In children, it can arrest development in certain areas, and it can cause people to live in varying degrees of hypervigilance (which can look like anxiety or worry) and avoidance. The difficult work of trying to heal often goes through phases of darkness and light, dormancy and growth. Not everything can be addressed at once, and the work cannot be rushed. In this way, the winter and summer solstices give us an interesting way to conceptualize healing.
Longer and Lighter Days to Come
While winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year, it also means, from that day forward, the days will slowly get longer, bringing more and more light with each passing day, until the time of the summer solstice. This brings with it increasing warmth and life-giving properties.
In the darkness and cold of winter, there is time for reflection, quiet, and dormancy. Perhaps it is a time of preparation, or self-examination, or perhaps a time to settle into moments of quiet and stillness. It can also be a time to rest – a time to allow the mind and body to find the kind of healing that comes with rest. Many plants and animals hibernate, slow down, or become dormant, which can be crucial to survival and continued growth once spring arrives.
A Reminder of Nature’s Cycles
Nature’s cycles are enduring, steadfast, and predictable. The phases of the moon, the push and pull of the tides, the rising and setting of the sun, and the changing of the seasons with corresponding changes in the lives of animals and plants. Without these precious cycles and rhythms of nature, life would cease to exist. The gift of winter solstice is to remind us of the significance and wonder of nature’s cycles.
Tonight, in the quiet of the night, step outside, look up at the moon, the planets, and the stars.
It is the night the sun stands still.