“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” -Joseph Campbell
We are approaching the threshold of Winter, and these days that come before that elemental edge are known as Advent, a sacred time of the year when rituals attune ourselves to the growing darkness and when hope is kindled by the coming of light.
But before the light is the darkness—a darkness that is the deep color of sunless earth. All life is being drawn into the depths of soil, a migration of descent that is both a lull and a longing. Life is slowing down, quieting, and entering caves and underground caverns wherein sleepy darkness will be the only thing that will satiate this elemental pull.
And yet isn’t it ironic that the farther the Western mind moves from celebrating this season and the upcoming solstice for its earthen guidance and wisdom, the brighter the holiday lights become; the louder the market cries for over-consumption; the more frenetic the pace and demand of over-worked holiday cheer? This is a way that is contrary to the descent the more-than-human world engages as they wait for the light.
Every Advent I see new methods, books, and calendars that aim to connect ourselves to the meaning of this season. These seem to exist at the margins, hardly able to compete with the trumpeting chaos of holiday calendars and over-played carols. And while I admittedly do attempt to engage these new titles or traditions as a way to center and slow down the pace, I find that rarely do the intentions last as there is little grounding and rooting into the reality of what my body longs to do—this longing to go inwards and follow the others with fur and four-feet, to find the kind and nourishing dark within my inner-self.
Truly, the light that breaks with promise on the heels of the Winter Solstice only has power because of the darkness through which we have just come. But how can we truly know the Light if we’ve been kept from going into the Dark?
This Advent I want to do something different, or more aptly, something deeper. I want to look to what Nature is doing, how the wild is behaving, how Earth is quieting and model something of a spiritual practice of it. Instead of buying another book to guide my Advent season, I want those with rhizomes and heartwood, those whose voices rise to moon-howl, those who curl confidently within their fur to counsel my quest for holy days that leave me with a renewed sense of faith, hope, and love. I want Nature to be my scout this season towards an ancient nativity, showing me how to rest like roots; when to withdraw like wolves; and when need for warmth demands a festive fire with family and friends.
These days before the brink of Winter will be ones where I lean into and look deeper into the principles of biomimicry, an idea that by imitating models, systems and elements of nature we might discover ways to solve complex human problems. Frankly, there is no way anyone can engage the news and social media and not see the human and ecological grief and suffering that is happening all over this world. And I believe that Albert Einstein was absolutely correct when he said:
We can't solve problems by using the same thinking we used to create them.
Our anthropocentric attempts to solve our human-engineered problems need to be reoriented—rewilded to the rest of the whole from which biotic life is bound. If the Winter Dark is the time when the natural world renews itself for the regenerative life-burst of Spring, how do we expect to do the same if our Winter looks no different than the frenetic force that pressures the Western world to be lit year round?
We know we are intimately connected to earth-systems. Our bodies get sick when our planet is sick. Our ability to flourish is fastened to the potential for all life to thrive. We have awoken to this reality in the eleventh hour of climate chaos. Janine M. Benyus, author of the profound and popular book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature (1997) says this, “We are awake now, and the question is how do we stay awake to the living world?” I would say, it will take practice—disciplined regular and repeated rhythms or patterns of behavior that bring about this awoken state of perception. Following are the nine basic principles of biomimicry that come from Janine M. Benyus’ work:
Nature runs on sunlight
Nature uses only the energy it needs
Nature fits form to function
Nature recycles everything
Nature rewards cooperation
Nature banks on diversity
Nature demands local expertise
Nature curbs excesses from within
Nature taps the power of limits
How different are these than the common consumptive energy of this season? And how different would the holidays be if we engaged them from a spiritual practice of biomimicry? My sense is that we would be incredibly awake to the sacred and wild world in ways that would transform how we experience these threshold days of this season. We would come to find that we have enough. We are enough. And from this place, we will be able to open up and sink deep into this beautiful dark and rooted place.
Instead of spiritual practices that that lead us away from the dark, demanding a journey towards the light as if it wasn’t already within us, let’s re-engage rituals that place us here, that designate the dark earth as holy ground, sacred soil within which we rediscover the life that has always been within and with-out all things. Over the course of Advent, engage each of the nine elements as an invitation into a personal and spiritual practice.
Take 2-3 days to reflect and respond to each principle and imagine ways in which you can bring that principle into practice. Begin by simply reframing each principle with the personal pronoun, “I.” For example, “I run on sunlight.” “I use only the energy I need,” etc.
How does this statement feel to you? Is it true? Does it invite a response of longing or desire for a different way of being? How does this challenge you in this season? It becomes very interesting to think of these principles through the lens of holiday gift-giving, and even holiday activities and festivities; these foundational aspects of the natural world don’t work within a world of capitalistic consumerism, over-consumption, and narrow religious views.
Let’s take this reframing into our inner-world, our soulscape. Are you able to restate the basic principles of biomimicry as a spiritual or soulful practice? Does your spiritual tradition or practice reward cooperation? Does it demand local expertise? If yes, how? If not, how are you being invited to a biomimetic lens of your faith?
What rituals can be created to honor the sacred rhythms within the principles of biomimicry? Perhaps you bring in a cup full of dark humus earth into your home and create an Advent altar with it, pairing it with a candle. Do you already have an Advent wreath for your family table? Place the cup of earth at the center! This creates an earthen awareness for darkness and connects to the question: “What do I need to stay grounded through this season?” In our family we gradually begin turning off electric lamps or lights in our house and replace them with candlelight so that our eyes can begin to re-sensitize to the dark; by the time we are at the Winter Solstice we have only candle light within our home and boy can you feel the dark! This is a dark that is hard to come by in the city as light shines year round in the night from street lights, cars, businesses, exterior house and condo lights, etc. I also like this move towards the candle light as I find that we move more slowly in the house when only candles are lit. This honors what our bodies want to do naturally in this season, instead of the push to rush towards the coming light.
“Seeds grow in the dark—so do we.
Let’s stop making such a virtue out of the light.
Let's turn toward what’s in the shadows and breathe it in,
breathe it here, meeting it face-to-face until we realize
with more than mind that what we are seeing
is none other than us in endarkened disguise.
Seeds grow in the dark—so do we.
Let’s not be blinded by light
Let’s unwrap the night
Building a faith too deep to be spoken
A recognition too central to be broken
Until even the darkest of days can light our way.”
― Robert Augustus Masters