Lessons from the Longest Night

recovery Dec 26, 2014

In my recovery, I've always looked to nature for insight and inspiration about how change and growth occur. Sometimes nature teaches that change occurs in grand sweeping gestures such as an ocean gale tearing a new gap in a coastline or a flood forever changing a river's course. But grand, sudden change is the exception rather than the rule.

Most change in nature is far more quiet, grace-filled and subtle. Most changes in nature are more evolution than revolution. I am sitting here writing this essay on the eve of the winter solstice.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. On the day of the winter solstice, I love to contemplate how something wonderful is happening all around me. It is happening quietly and without fanfare. In the midst of the holiday bustle, the solstice comes without bows or ribbons or any effort on our part. Yet, a change is taking place. It is a slow and imperceptible change.

In the days following the solstice, the daylight will grow longer, not by leaps and bounds, but by seconds and minutes. Each day will bring a slight increase in daylight so that by spring, our world will erupt into bloom and warmth and new life everywhere. But think about this: All of spring's possibility is right here, right now, in the very depths of the longest, darkest night of our year. Spring comes not as revolution but as evolution whose origins are in this longest night. When times are rough for me, I remember this lesson from nature and it sustains my recovery.

In closing, let me say that revolutionary, miraculous, overnight change can happen in our lives, but that's the exception rather than the rule. Nature teaches that most change is evolutionary. It takes time to change old habits and to begin new ones. It takes time to recover after a diagnosis of mental illness, and that's okay. What's important is that we start.

Change, most often, begins with very small, nearly imperceptible steps. But, just like the progression from the winter solstice into spring, the tiny steps add up. Something brand new awaits us in this year if we take that first step and then the next.