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Esteemed Reader: February 2012 

"Wanting to understand the whole pattern of a process more deeply is an impulse worth cultivating."

—Steffan Soule

Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

"Is it another dreary winter day?" my five-year-old asked when I woke him up to get ready for school. He didn't seem to mind—his was more of a dispassionate observation than a complaint. But it was true. The late January day was misty and overcast, with a deep, saturated gray enveloping everything.

This is the character of every winter here in the Northeast, which has real results for our persons. There is even a designated illness for the time of year—Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The notion that our depression has an environmental cause, and we are not alone suffering with it, is a small antidote to the malaise.

But more than rational remedies are needed to reconcile the impact of the darkness. In my home it is the hearth—a Danish wood stove with a glass front and bright flames leaping and dancing inside. When the autumn chill sets in, the center of gravity of everyone in the house shifts toward the fire.

The stove is situated in front of the couch where one might expect a television, and we sometimes sit for hours on the couch, talking and gazing upon the flames. We hang our damp hats and mittens by the stove after hours of sledding. We stand in front of it, but facing out, warming our buns. It becomes a second sun.

Others, who find the Northeast winter unbearable, can move to San Diego, where it's 77 degrees and sunny every day of the year. But many of us live here because we enjoy the intensity of our seasons, painful as they may be. We crave variety, and love rhythm.

But, isn't it odd how the loss of light, as summer becomes fall, is felt less poignantly than phases of increasing illumination. We barely notice the loss. But in this phase we inwardly push the river, hankering for spring, though the duration of daily light is steadily increasing from the first day of winter. The quality of each phase of a cycle evokes a unique response, if we allow ourselves to engage it.

It is futile to resist the darkness, however our screen-driven synthetic reality attempts to homogenize the seasons (and I don't mean shopping seasons—I mean the actual seasons). For when there is light, darkness will follow (and light will return again), as surely as night follows day, and death follows life. Each phase represents and calls forth a different quality.

Herein lies the opportunity presented by this phase in the rhythm of Great Nature—to relax into the darkness, to go inward; to feel the presence of psychic seeds that may germinate and sprout as warmth and light return. The question remains—how to inhabit the darkness, which may feel like depression, or listlessness, or even despair. Can I make it my own; can I make it the loam out of which something fresh may grow?

Coincidentally it is a cold, dark time in more ways than just this season, which makes it a particularly poignant winter. In human life it is winter in a longer cycle of seasons, in which there seems to be a darkness and an ignorance covering everything.

Indeed a murkiness covers every area of human life—the world economy is crumbling, revealed as a massive Ponzi scheme where the richest win at the expense of the poor; the religions are shown to be rotten with mundane agendas; "democratic" processes are sold to the highest bidder; civil liberties are so far gone that the US can rightly be called a police state; "education" is laid bare as an anachronism—a vestige from a time when accumulated data was still helpful; close relationships are mediated by screens and platforms. Accelerated degeneration is in every sphere, like a fetid swamp (though they too eventually become healthy wetlands).

One can see our place in the cyclic rise and fall of empires, though never in history does it appear that the institutional towers have been built so high, with so far to fall.

Consciousness is largely dormant now, in the life of humanity, though strangely there are signs of spring. I say this because, like ice on a frozen river, the institutions are beginning to crack and give. We hear a strange and ominous rumbling, as though somewhere not so far upstream an ice-dam is breaking, and a momentous wave is rushing down.

Speaking of Seasons, winter

  • Jason Stern reflects on the coldest of seasons.

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