“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus

With Winter Solstice recently upon us here in the Southern Hemisphere, the most introspective and self-meditative hours of the cooler seasons are now giving way to the expansiveness of spring. As we unfurl and reach for the warmer months of the year, it is common to feel a new burst of energy, a refreshing change of outlook, or a more positive perception of a difficult situation.

Most of the time, we experience these changes in our immediate ‘worlds’ – in our minds, our bodies, our relationships, and our spaces. It can be easy to forget that our ‘worlds’ – internally, domestically, and socially are actually one – and that our everyday actions have a universal impact.

Solstice means ‘sun stands still’.  In the summertime we experience this as the longest, lightest day of the year, whereas in the winter we encounter the shortest, darkest day of the year. The rising sun of the winter solstice has been worshipped, celebrated, and ritualised within a myriad of cultures, not only due to an optimism about the breaking of spring, but because the physical sun is considered a manifestation of the light within all forms of life on earth.

In Sanskrit, the traditional greeting Namaste translates as ‘the light within me honours the light within you’ – a simple acknowledgement that beneath the layers of physical, cultural, political, economic and social difference – we are all essentially the same; that the same light illuminates each of us.

We are all made of the earth, the sun, the moon, the ocean, and all of the vital energies that exist in this world, and yet, we complicate what is intrinsically simple, with the idea that we are all separate. Separate from one another, separate from our local environment, and separate from that which we cannot touch, see, or feel. We even go so far as to uniform and code ‘difference’, ensuring that unity is near impossible.

This can all sound a bit esoteric, however the philosophy of ‘oneness’ is ancient, and consistent across time zones, eras, and oceans.

In Zen, ‘oneness’ is described as ‘non-dualism’; in Buddhism as ‘unity’; and in Australian Aboriginal culture as ‘oursness’. The concept has only relatively recently been replaced with the ideologies of individualism and ‘myness’, championed by the spread of neo-liberalism, market dominance and identity management.

Aboriginal elder of the Yankuntjatjara tribe, Bob Randall, speaks about the idea of ownership, ‘oursness’  and ‘oneness’ as opposed to ‘myness’ in the context of land rights in Australia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5infho-6n

Randall explains how Western people often confuse the intrinsic human responsibility of temporary environmental ‘caretaking’ with that of ownership – but that the land is not something to be owned, it cannot be tamed without reaction, or reshaped without consequence. In perceiving a right to own, we create the illusion of separation and ‘myness’, not only from each other, but from the earth beneath our feet.

Elder Black Elk spoke of the innate unity of all life forms, and the connection between oneness and peacefulness:

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” 

The Great Spirit is not spoken of here as separate – as a singular god or deity – but as an energy that dwells within each of us, as well as collectively within the universe. This concept of a unified field, or universal consciousness, has been explored more robustly through the discipline of quantum physics, and as the ancient sages of India, Japan, China and the Americas identified thousands of years ago –we are all physically and energetically unified.

The only barrier to a collective realisation of our innate unity with all that is within and around us, is what Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras refers to as the first of the kleshas (sufferings or afflictions of human experience) – avidya, or ignorance. Avidya is described as the failure to understand the conjunction between that which we can see, and that which we cannot see.

Attaining a true sense of ‘oneness’ with that which you can and cannot see is what Buddhism and yogic philosophy describe as the eternal journey of the ‘seeker’ – or human soul. Some find it easier to connect the dots, others remain bound by avidya and the conditions of ignorance – feeling separate, overly attached to ideas about ‘the way that things should be’, and trapped in a battle with reality.

In truth, unity and peacefulness are one and the same: the search for one reveals the other.

When asked about how to best promote world peace, Mother Teresa replied – ‘go home and love your family’. So often it is tempting to look beyond ourselves and our immediate environment for answers, reasons, and meaning to that which we find painful, want to escape, or cannot explain. Sometimes it is easier to try to resolve the perceived problems of others, than to resolve our own internal conflicts.

As is often said in Buddhism and Zen – everything that we need is already within us – we are our own gurus and our own best teachers. How we act and interact in our most comfortable, domestic environments determines how we contribute energetically and physically to the world as a whole.

And  therefore, peace is not an abstract, foreign concept to be pinned down on maps, spread across war zones, or marched down the streets for – it is possible and necessary in even the most mundane of situations to achieve unity and peace.

In fact, our domestic environments are possibly where we are most energetically powerful and transparent. Our relations with ourselves, our family, friends, co-workers – even strangers on the street, provide the most significant insight into our own capacity to cultivate peace, unity and goodwill.  As Anain Ninn said, ‘when you possess light within, you see it externally’.