01/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Feb 08, 2012

The Shortest Day of the Year: Musings on the Winter Solstice

Last night while driving down Sunset Blvd. in the dark and in the rain, I heard this line come out of my radio -- "When there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire." My breath sucked back into my heart, and my soul felt as if it had been hit by the Zen master's stick of awakening.

I am now in my sixth month of grieving for my father, and more than ever I understand what is meant by those words, "there is nothing left to burn." On June 22nd I woke up with one version of a life, and by the time I went to bed that same day, another version had moved in. Most of what were "me" and "my life" seems to have burned away since then. Yes, yes, I am still here, with my personality and talents and predilections and hopes and dreams, but so much is not here too. So much of who I thought I was and what my life is about is gone now too. Death brings about not only annihilation of the one who is dead, but it is an apocalypse of all structures that we have so carefully built our lives on -- especially when the dead is a parent.

After my mom's death 11 years ago, I began to study Buddhism because I realized how afraid of death I was -- mine, others, the whole shebang. What I learned was that most of my ordinary waking life was spent avoiding thinking, feeling and coming to terms with this ultimate ending. I lived most of my days in fear of this annihilation, and most of my suffering came from this dance of avoidance.

Today is the Winter Solstice (December 21, 2008 at 7 :04 AM EST if you want to be exact about it), and I want to use it as an opportunity to commune with all that has left my life, and all that is being born anew. I like sitting in contemplation of the winter solstice because I get to sit with the concept of death and rebirth, the archetypes if you will, without all the other terrifying and shitty stuff that comes with them. I find it sacred (I believe that anything that helps one consciously sit with the big "what the fuck is this all about?" questions in life is sacred).

In the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter, this time of year is when Demeter is still wandering the earth unsure about where her daughter Persephone has gone. All she knows is that she has lost contact with her, and her heart breaks for it. This can be seen as part of our own journeys -- that time when we may have lost contact with our own innocence, full potential and possibility, and all we can see is darkness and confusion. But what Demeter, and our own ego selves don't know is that Persephone is indeed in the Underworld -- a place of death, stillness, stasis - and yet in this place she is separating from all of her past ways of being, and being enthroned as a Queen. She has become sovereign over her destiny. Her ability to live with, and stay with Hades (death, stasis, stilness) allows her to remake herself with more power, grace and a new destiny.

I am Demeter. I am Persephone. I am Hades. I am the darkness. I am the emerging light.

So today, I will let this Winter Solstice be another opportunity of awakening. I will not only contemplate what has been lost in my own life in the great burning of my grief, but I will also contemplate what has been lost in this country the last eight, fifty and/or two hundred years.

I will sit in the dark quiet and ponder what is left to burn, and how I just might go about setting myself on fire.