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We can walk through the darkest night with the radiant conviction that all things work together for the good. 

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Winter is a time for healing.  There is an inward turning as nature goes to rest, gathering energy and preparing for new growth. Often, I observe that fall is a time for reflection—and winter brings the opportunity to internalize those reflections. To slow down, nourish ourselves and feed the possibilities germinating as our future. In many ways, we can see this process as healing. 

Healing is about becoming whole—in ourselves, our organizations, our communities and our world. To pick up on some of the etymology theme from last month, “to heal” comes from the Old English hal, also the root of the word “whole.” So, we can see healing in many ways as a process of “wholing”—creating a more complete sense of ourselves and our world. This is reflected not only in nature, but in many of our traditions—both at this time of year, and throughout the cycle of seasons. Many of our holiday traditions during the winter months involve lighting candles a way of brightening our homes and communities, of finding hope in darkness.

And the spirit of the season is often about gathering with friends and family to celebrate and feast. But it is also about remembering the broken-ness of the world, and about those less fortunate than ourselves. And it is always hoped that once the energy of the holiday season fades, that this spirit of healing and generosity will experience an inertia that carries it through the year. In the Jewish tradition, the practice of tikkun olam calls for us to consistently participate in the healing, repair and transformation of the world. It is an acknowledgement that, though we may be in good circumstances, there are others who are suffering and in need, and that there are part s of ourselves that need the same kind of healing.

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has written: “If we were to see the secret suffering of our enemies, there would be enough sorrow there to disarm all hostilities.” These enemies can be both external and internal, and so the healing process also asks for our compassion—for ourselves and for others. The activist, teacher and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy in her work of training activists and others wanting to transform themselves and the world, has developed much of her work around taking in the grief and despair that exists in the world and letting that fuel your awareness and action. This is the practice of compassion—of sensing what really exists in the world and in ourselves—and using that feeling to either build awareness, inspire action or both. It is a crucial step that we must take to foster true healing in any context.

And this is what it takes to deepen our own effectiveness, build community and transform the world. At the start of this year, I wrote about the work of DIG IN as “restoring the civic ecosystem.” That continues to be an inspiring goal for my work with organizations and communities and is always re-affirmed at this time of year in reflecting on healing and gratitude. That we must increasingly focus on creating  and repairing connections among individuals, within and between institutions and across cultures, unearthing that which is important in our lives and our work in building a more sustainable, humane and healthier society.

December 2006