Finding Light in Winter

December 26, 2023

Finding Light in Winter

May 29, 2023

I’m writing this on nearly the shortest and darkest day of the year. I’m at the hippy-dippy Orr Hot Springs with my friends Jon and Kathy. We’re “hot springs sluts.” We’ve traveled together around the world, experiencing the best Mother Earth has to offer in the form of her thermal veins. On the drive from San Francisco with Kathy, we almost exclusively spoke about hot springs for the two-and-a-half-hour trip. Kathy and I have been lucky enough to be partners of the Kabuki Springs & Spa for the past quarter century, so this isn’t just a passion; it’s a vocation.

Of course, given that I’m in the midst of my cancer radiation therapy, experiencing these rural hot springs is exactly what my body craves. Liz Gilbert would be proud: Eat, Bathe, Nap. 

It’s cold and wet in this shadowy valley filled with moss, the ideal weather for dipping. I’ve just finished reading Mary Pipher’s enlightening “Finding Light in Winter” op-ed for the New York Times (I saved it in anticipation of our trip as we have no wifi or cell service here). During this darkest time of year, she reminds us that the world is also overwhelmed with dark news.

It’s almost like we have a different form of S.A.D. (not Seasonal but Societal Affective Disorder). Bad news can feel amplified when we’re hibernating indoors. Mary writes,

 “I am in the last decades of life, and sometimes I feel that my country and our species are also nearing end times. The despair I feel about the world would ruin me if I did not know how to find light. This time of year, we must look for it. I am up for sunrise and outside for sunset. I watch the moon rise and traverse the sky. I light candles early in the evening and sit by the fire to read. And I walk outside under the blue-silver sky of the Nebraska winter. If there is snow, it sparkles, sometimes like a blanket of diamonds, other times reflecting the orange and lavender glow of a winter sunset.”

But, the light doesn’t have to be purely in outdoor nature. We see the light in human nature, too. I feel the sunlight, the warmth of being with Jon and Kathy, sipping our leek, pumpkin, potato, and coconut milk soup with hunks of fresh bread. We wake up before dawn to bathe our naked bodies in the sulfur springs—a divine form of intoxication. Despite a world on fire and my pelvis radiating from my unrelenting cancer treatment, there is a shaft of light being with my close friends in this darkness while reading Pema Chodron and Angeles Arrien. 

As I took my final shower in the public baths, I noticed a sign below—a fixture always present yet seldom noticed, blending into the background, especially during my baths in the dim light. Even in darkness, Joy stands resolute. It doesn’t hide away; it's just not always easily seen. Sometimes, particularly in challenging times, you have to squint to discern Joy. Of course, that's precisely what friends are for. They help you squint, focus, and perceive the Joy that's always present, yet not always seen.


Mary Pipher closes her piece with this lovely paragraph, 

“No matter how dark the days, we can find light in our own hearts, and we can be one another’s light. We can beam light out to everyone we meet. We can let others know we are present for them, that we will try to understand. We cannot stop all the destruction, but we can light candles for one another.”

Highly recommend you hang out by the fire with Katherine May’s “Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times.” 

-Chip

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