Caring for a parent, Self-care

A Solstice Pause

I think we can all agree these are challenging times. This country and the world are coming unglued as we allow our differences to divide us. Natural- and human-caused tragedies fill the headlines and the news broadcasts. Our inboxes are stuffed with sensationalized subject lines begging money to fight the latest inconceivable goings on from Capitol Hill. It’s time for a pause.

When we take a deep cleansing inhale, without intending it we notice that the breath pauses at the top before beginning the emptying exhale. Without intending it, we notice a pause at the bottom before taking the next filling inhale.

That pause is the solstice. The suspension between spring and summer, autumn and winter.

Pause: stop, cessation, break, halt, interruption, check, lull, respite, breathing space, discontinuation, hiatus, gap, interlude; adjournment, suspension, rest, wait, hesitation.

Our slow exhale at the summer solstice led us down into the emptying darkness. We pause for this short day between, and tomorrow we begin our deep inhale and the travel back toward the light and the fullness of spring.

Every inhale is followed by an exhale. Every exhale is followed by an inhale. It is the cycle of the sun, the cycle of life. There is darkness followed by light; light followed by dark.

Last night I sat in candlelight with 60 other yogis, our mats so close together I could hear my neighbors’ breath as if it were my own. We omed first as one and later at the pace of our own heart and breath, our deep soul sounds weaving our own response to the world. Perhaps we don’t agree politically or theologically, but we all inhale and exhale. For two hours we put a pause on our differences and joined in love with the strangers in the room.


Accompanied by the soul vibration of the singing bowl and the heartbeat of the drum, we chanted “Om Namah Shivaya” over and over and over. Om Namah Shivaya is the sound of the inner being. When you chant—or sing—it, you are most connected to yourself and your higher being. You are lighting the fire within.

A friend wrote on her beautiful handmade Christmas card: “Be the light.” She sent one to my sightless mother with a handwritten note: “If you can’t see the light, be the light.” My mother says, “It’s my new motto.” (You can find her greeting cards for sale here.)


My dear friend Joanna Powell Colbert, writes in her blog this morning the words of cross-cultural anthropologist Dr. Angeles Arrien:

“Whenever you’re disheartened or dispirited or depressed in indigenous cultures, they may ask you one of four questions:

When in your life did you stop singing?
When in your life did you stop dancing?
When in your life did you stop being enchanted by stories, particularly your own life story?
When in your life did you start being uncomfortable with the sweet territory of silence?”

She goes on to say in her classic book The Fourfold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary: “it has long been recognized that these healing salves [singing, dancing, story, silence] reawaken and sustain the divine child within us and return to us the qualities of wonder, hope, and awe.”

As we take a pause for silence on the shortest day following the long night, ask yourself how you can be the light. Those of us who are caregivers of a loved one who spends more than their share of time in some kind of darkness, have the opportunity to be light. And it’s hard to sustain. Find the places at the top and the bottom of your breath where you can pause and recenter. Then return to the song, to the dance, to the story.

Om Namah Shivaya. May you find peace and joy in your heart and sanctity in your soul today and every day. And now, out of the darkness, come the light.

The alpha (above) and the omega (below) of the solstice sunrise.


4 thoughts on “A Solstice Pause”

  1. I love the language of inhales and exhales, light and pauses. I could picture that full room with candles and beating hearts. Really beautiful. And thank you for sharing the story of your Mom. It made this whole stressful season worth it to know that those words resonated with her. I know she can’t really see my cards, but we have been pitched forward, into this new season, as two of a few million points of light. We have both seen what is important: The path. 

    Be the light, Stellajoe.

    Happy Solstice, my friend. Thank you for the gift that is this story.


  2. Inspiring, Gretchen. Just when I think your writing can’t get any better, you come up with this beautiful essay. Thank you. (I think “inspiring” is the right word; root origin related to “breathe.”
    Huh. See what surfaces from the subconscious!)


  3. So wonderful! Here’s something I love about breathing intentionally in a room with others: Every time I inhale, I take into my body molecules of air that have been inside another person’s body. Every time I exhale, I give what has been inside my body to another.

    Liked by 1 person

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