The Winter Solstice—Saturday, December 21–is almost here. A favorite day of mine. I love the remind that the darker time of the year brings, to turn our energy inward and rest, in preparation for the new creative output that the spring will invite.
The dark is not an easy thing to look forward to, I know. Especially when we’re talking about the darkness of difficult experience, or change we didn’t choose. The Solstice is one of those markers of change, every year ushering us from the vibrant beauty of fall into the quieter fallow period. An easy thing to dread, if we’re being honest.
Maybe, like the earth, you’re moving through one of those dark seasons right now, too. In those times it is inspiring, I think, to know the stories of people who have moved through some dark period, into an age of more light and expansion than they ever knew they had in them. I want to tell you one of these stories.
My favorite painter in the world was a woman named Tomi Ohtake. I remember the first painting of hers that I saw, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. But even more than her work, I remember some amazing details about her life story: how she didn’t begin painting until she was 38 years old. And that she had her first exhibit at 46—older than I am now.
Her biographies mention that she began to paint in response to the loneliness of being a sudden immigrant (Ohtake was from Japan, and became a permanent resident of Brazil after visiting her brother there and discovering she couldn’t return home due to the upheaval of WWII.)
She is known for huge, beautiful abstract expressionist paintings, a large number of which feature a single large circle in various experimentations of color and light, reminiscent of Mark Rothko.
But I’m getting around the the point:
She didn’t actually begin painting until about seven years after the initial wound of her forced migration. But when her art finally came out of her, it was huge and beautiful. She hadn’t grown up painting. This was just what happened in the middle of her life. After all that painful change.
If you go to the museum dedicated to her work in São Paulo, you will see numerous giant canvases, stunning as clouds wrapped around the moon. The totality of what she created is incredible, so complete but also mysterious, like there must be some world that looks like her paintings which maybe we should all be trying to discover.
Anyway. I think about her a lot, and how she had no idea, probably, the enormous beauty what she would end up creating in the second half of her life. After a long and lonely fallow period, some impulse came up that hadn’t ever existed before. And sparked a whole new life and identity.
She comes to mind sometimes when I arrive at my yoga mat, on those days when I feel particularly at odds with change, or bogged down by uncertainty, sadness, or other forms of dark/cold/fallow. You can never predict the moment that your breath just opens up, and what your body will do in response. Sometime this impulse to create some beauty in your practice comes up out of nowhere.
As the days grow shorter, and maybe some holiday stress begins to build, we invite you to take some time in practice to just be with yourself, in whatever stage of always-occurring change you might find yourself in.
Let your breath open up a little. Maybe nothing new will come up today. Or maybe a whole new version of your life will begin to reveal itself. Probably it will be something in between. But the important piece is this: the capacity you have to be with yourself in darkness, translates pretty directly into a capacity for ushering yourself toward more light. Let’s do this together.
Much love and happy winter!
Erin H/Indi Yoga