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Winter Solstice Reflections

Laurel Holman

The winter solstice doesn’t get much attention these days. It’s a footnote to our day, if we are aware of it at all. This electric age makes the timing of the sunset nearly irrelevant. But back before electricity, when lighting up the night was not possible, outside of tiny spheres of flame-cast glow, the winter solstice was a significant turning point. It's the longest, darkest night of the year. A time for either quiet contemplation, or for celebration, (or in our view, the perfect time for a little bit of both.) 

The deepest, darkest days of winter offer an invitation to observe the waning light by settling into a cycle of rest and renewal.  And the solstice, in particular, is a moment in the calendar year that can serve as a prompt, a reminder to take a purposeful pause in the midst of our busy lives, to snuggle close with loved ones, to wake slowly, to head to bed earlier, or to rest in a moment of quiet reflection.  Living in a technology driven culture it is easy to miss this opportunity, and fill the quiet, dark days with activity.  What would it be like for you to make room in your schedule so that you could really enjoy being in the slower pace of the dark?  How often do you really give yourself over to the call to rest and renewal?  What would it be like if you did? How does observing the dark make way for celebrating the return of the light?

From the day after the winter solstice on, the sun stays up a little longer each day. Brighter days are just around the corner, and if we have allowed ourselves to restore our energy, we will be well prepared for longer days that lend themselves to increased activity. 

So, tonight, when the sun goes down, try lighting a few candles instead of turning on the lights. Sit by the fireplace, if you have one. Pull your loved ones close. Listen to the dark. Enjoy the quiet, and the delicious anticipation of new brighter days ahead, with all the possibilities they contain.

Event recap: Sheila Hamilton Book Salon

Cristina Spencer

Today we’re sending out a special thank you to Sheila Hamilton, Sharon Roth, and Katherine Olivetti, NAMI San Mateo County and to everyone who attended our book salon on Friday December 4th.  The love and support in the room that night was palpable.

Sheila presented a moving talk based on her experience living through her late husband’s, ultimately fatal mental illness.  Sheila was unflinching in her willingness to expose the rawness of her story.  When asked how she sat down to write such a painful narrative she responded, “I did it to figure out how I became the person who made those choices.  I felt my healing depended on my willingness to be vulnerable in a way that my own husband’s crippling shame would not allow.  I did not know if I would ever publish the book.  I felt called to write it.”  Her talk ended with a spirit of hope and a call for action around mental health care reform that would take a more holistic approach to healing.

In the panel discussion that followed, audience participants gleaned wisdom from the personal and professional experiences of the panel members.  And while the topic was painfully difficult, it was encouraging to come together as a community, to support one another, and to consider avenues for productive action and conversation.

Thanks again to Sheila for joining us.  Her story has so much to say to our community in Palo Alto.

Shedding what we no longer need

Laurel Holman


At this time of the year in the Bay Area, the fiery trees of autumn are shedding their leaves, giving way to the bare limbs of winter. It's sad, in a way. Until you remember that this process is necessary to make way for new growth in the spring. Brave pink buds and fresh green leaves are just around the corner. In that light, the bare branches of winter start to look strong, and smart. They are calmly doing what’s needed to prepare for the new growth of next season.

What if this applies to people too? Are there times when we need to shed something from our lives? From our hearts or our thoughts? Or even just our schedules? To make way for something fresh, brave and new to flourish in the next season? 

Winter is the perfect time of year to think about it. What ideas, curiosities, inklings and fascinations are hibernating inside of you, which might just break forth if given the space that only comes when we shed whatever is holding us back?

As we head into the darkest days of the year, may you find the courage to shed what you no longer need. And may you find the rest and renewal you will need to shine brightly in the season to come.