Winter solstice has come. A time symbolically used to celebrate the rise and fall of the sun. A time of year when we reflect on the past year and nurture hopes for the coming one. A time of year for reconnecting with friends around warm food and lights.
I turned the thermostat up a couple of notches and the white light effused a warm glow against the curtains. As I surveyed the house, I felt a surge of warmth course through me. Dear friends and family were visiting, and I was glowing from the companionship. The house had been through a deep clean: which is to say that the closets were stuffed and groaning. I warned guests to open any closet with care: a dozen things could tumble out at any moment, I said widening my eyes. The adults laughed, while the children nodded with sincerity, but an hour later I found them playing hide-and-seek, and finding a place to hide in those very closets. Oh well!
As time spun its way through the evening, strands of conversation were coming together too. Light-hearted topics were interspersed with hefty ones and laughter was sprinkled with wrinkled looks of concentration. It was beautiful to hear opinions changing ever so slightly; of course, it was not without the exasperation of trying to string complex thoughts into words that would convince someone of their perspective. I marveled at humanity once again.
“The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.”
― William Hazlitt, Selected Essays, 1778-1830
Can we get better? Absolutely. We lose sight of the marvelous gift we have of empathy and of trying to understand one another. Moments in which we bestow upon one another the inestimable gift of attentive listening are irreplaceable. Like the stuffed closets the children found a place to hide in, there is always room for our own mindsets to grow and expand.
With all the additional means of communication at our disposal these days – whether instant or otherwise, we are so intent on telling the world what we think that I fear we may slowly start losing the art of listening, weighing, offering our opinions without being attached to our own viewpoints, and allowing ourselves the beautiful vantage point of changing our minds.
The appreciation of merit from multiple viewpoints is an Art in itself.
It is a lesson that Nature herself teaches us in the simple act of the changing of the seasons. How wondrously we admire the same surroundings for different aspects during different parts of the year? The bursting of new life, and flowering trees in Spring; followed by the joyous long days of summer with their blooms of flowers; the beautiful fall foliage; and the cold rainy winters enabling us to reflect, change and poise ourselves for the cycle to begin again.
Each season brings with it a new physical aspect and a philosophical one.
I find winters winter a good time to look back on the year gone by; reflect on the grains that made up the texture of the preceding months, and those months layered upon years, like a tree, adding a ring to its makeup. A time for reflection of the past year and a time for hopes in the coming year.
Every year our hopes and aspirations for ourselves and our collective future differ. This year, given the state of political affairs in the US, and the deep divides that separate us, I hope we can strive towards truthful, honest dialogue. As we usher in the New Year, it becomes doubly important for us to remember that our strength lies in listening to each other respectfully; to engage in conversations sans ego so that we may learn to appreciate the beauty of human thinking and its many perspectives. That seems to be our only hope to collectively move towards a future that is filled with integrity and compassion.
As the French philosopher Simone Weil said in the early twentieth century, let’s bestow on each other the generosity of spirit so beautifully outlined in this quote.
Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity – Simone Weil
Now is the time to say thanks for all the small and big things in life. The time to appreciate friends and family. The time to appreciate the gifts of nature and of our place in it. The time for us to refocus our energies on what is possible and our duties towards society. I am looking forward to a new year informed by the past, yet open to the future.
Saumya writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com, and some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.