Well, it's official. The darkest piece of the pie on the wheel of the year is here. And, for some of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, the early sunsets, gloomy rainy/snowy days, and longer nights can be challenging. I believe that for many of us, even if we enjoy aspects of this season of quiet dark, the time between Samhain (Halloween) and Winter Solstice can stir up primordial fears, pre-holiday worries, aggravated sleep rhythms, and a sometimes even a sense of claustrophobia or doom as we spend many more hours inside our homes during the drawn-out evenings. This isn't necessarily a 'bad' thing, it just is. And, as I've been learning on my new favorite Mindfulness & Meditation App, Head Space, being willing to be with things just as they are can bring greater peace and calm to our whole being and to those around us.
Personally I love autumn and early winter, as well as the sense of quiet it brings, but in some ways I also fear and resist it, especially as I age!! Once the snow begins to fall and the light begins to return I'm golden, but this pre-holiday stretch can at times feel downright gloomy and uninspiring. I literally want to hibernate, even as my pushy mind wants me to keep on working late and getting things done as usual. As the old adage goes, 'What we resist, persists.' In meditation, as in life, nothing cold be further from the truth. I've been loving the 10 minute guided meditations on Head Space, which have helped me to embrace my thoughts, feelings and emotions (and the loss of daylight) without having to change or fix a thing. Here are 3 simple ideas that I have gleaned from the Head Space App and my practice that have been supportive while I sit each morning:
* Meet whatever is arising in the mind, body or heart with compassion and kindness. Start from a place of self-love and curiosity. Simply get the lay of the land.
* Notice what is arising in the body, mind and emotions. Become aware without trying to change or fix anything. Simply be the witness to your ever changing experience/ sensations/ thoughts/ feelings.
* Move towards yourself. Rather than running away from anything you are feeling, thinking or experiencing, can you actually get a little closer to it? Resistance can create even more tension, while paying attention and attending to our inner space can naturally soften tight places in the body or mind.
You can even try this right now by sitting back in your chair, softening your shoulders and taking 3 deep breaths. Have a look around and just calmly bring yourself into this present moment. Notice how you feel after doing this.
Perhaps as we move into the darkest corner on the sacred wheel of the year, we can huddle a little closer to ourselves and each other and bring some light into the dark places through our quiet presence. No need to resist, contract, withdraw or push away and even if we do these things occasionally, we can practice forgiving ourselves. When the going gets rough, it's so easy to fall into habitual patterns of behavior and try to escape our feelings and needs, but it is often at great cost. Perhaps rather than viewing this time as a 'loss of daylight' (as the sun set's earlier and earlier) we could think of it as gained time for: Self-reflection (dust off that journal), for re-connection with a loved one (with all devices put away), for long dinners by the wood stove or magical walks under starry skies. Maybe it's time to unplug earlier from technology and tv, in order to plug into the beautiful intimacy that arises when we share with a real human in real time what we are afraid of, what we love most, what we need or want and what frees us from fear. And then practice listening.
Here are 5 simple steps for bringing more L I G H T into the darkness. May you surrender to the dark places with a sense of courage, trust, peace, compassion and connection, knowing that the light will surely return:
Laugh: Make time to be playful! Watch a comedy or some stand-up with a friend, or enjoy a fun outdoor adventure in the darkness. Allow yourself to laugh and be goofy. Episodes of the Ellen Show always make me happy as Ellen is all about bringing light into our sometimes dark and challenging world. What makes you laugh hard? (I'd love to know if you want to comment below!)
Intend: It's a great time of year to dust off that journal that's been on the shelf and begin contemplating intentions for the new year or maybe just a heartfelt intention for this moment or this new day. Cultivate gratitude for all that you have and all that you wish to manifest in your life. This can change our brains to an 'attitude of gratitude' rather than despair.
Gather: It's easy to isolate as the night's grow longer. We are lucky to have such a beautiful abundance of uplifting community rituals in place here in central Vermont, many of which are very affordable and by donation. You might try a community yoga class, go to a free form ecstatic dance, enjoy a Kirtan (call and response chanting), attend your place of worship, or host a fun pot-luck or game night. Gathering together in a ritual way, in community, with real humans, can uplift the spirits and brighten the heart. Singing, dancing, chanting, playing and laughing are scientifically proven to reduce depression and stress. Invite a friend to join you!
Hold: Touch and real live human connection is so important this time of year. It's easy to spend hours on our screens during a long dark night, but don't forget to hold each other or ask to be held. Today I was at Athena's in Montpelier, and the lovely owner and I were lamenting a bit about the dark. Before I left I asked if I could hug her and we just had this nice long embrace in the middle of the clothing racks. I could tell we both needed some connection and a HUG! Hug a stranger or friend today or treat yourself to some bodywork or a spa day. Savor delicious smells, tastes, and touch.
Tend & Befriend: Tend to yourself through exquisite self-care and befriend whatever is true for you in any given moment. Take time to journal, read a good book or soak in a hot bath with healing oils. Try recognizing what is really going on in your heart and practice being vulnerable and sharing it with a trusted friend or loved one. Try not to make this into a self-improvement project but take a moment to breath, listen and honor yourself and those around you with a sense of curiosity and presence.
I wish you all blessed passage toward Winter Solstice and the Holiday Season. As Celtic poet John O'Donohue says in a poem, 'Be excessively gentle with yourself.' May this time of gathering darkness bring our hearts closer rather than further apart, may we soften the walls between each other and may we tip our heads back to look up at the little dots of brightness in the inky black night sky. May we soften our resistance to all that arises within us, so that it might transform into wisdom and light.
Here's a poem by Danna Faulds called Being Present:
Breathe, relax and feel,
take time to slow down
the pace of life. Watch the
rise and fall of moods, the
birth and death of dreams.
Feelings and sensation seem
so real, yet they shift like
changing clouds, and flow
with the high tide out to sea
again. Allow it all to be, no
need to grasp or push away.
Present with each moment,
the whole of you, body, mind
and soul, opens to receive.
As always, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to hit Comments, below to post your thoughts and if you would like to join me in sacred space for a retreat this January, check out my Spiral Down to the Center Retreat in Vermont. It's the perfect way to celebrate the New Year and give yourself a nourishing gift for mind, body and spirit!