Late autumn: the final unwinding… the dying back… the sinking in. The nights are long, the light is crisp, the magic is close. Use this time to prepare yourself, body and spirit, for the deep inner-workings of Winter.
Winter is the time of compost and of the crone; it’s the underworld and the undoing, when even colors lose their vigor to the season’s whites and grays and browns. It’s the time of accepting death. (more…)
Happy New Year!
Who will you become in 2016? What parts of yourself are you ready to grow into?
For me these are not easy questions. I need to live within them, and let them live within me, for weeks or even months.
A few years back, I instituted “the long winter’s rest,” my name for my downtime between Solstice and New Year’s Day. It’s a time to wipe the slate clean and live in blankness for a bit, like a seed resting deep underground. What do I want this year to be?
I know that for many people, this is a question they answer on New Year’s Day. Resolutions or a word of the year is chosen, posted, celebrated… and then the year begins.
But I’m a process girl. This time of year is about re-finding my self. Brushing the accumulations of the year past off my soul so I can remember me in a big-picture way, unencumbered by the detritus of daily life. I start at the Solstice, as the old year dies… and I’m not done yet!
On the Solstice, I look back on the year that’s been. There’s an old tradition of leaving a basket by the front door of your home. When people came to visit, they’d put their metaphoric baggage into the basket. When they left, they could pick it back up or leave it behind (if you do this, be sure to smudge your basket so their crap isn’t left sitting on your doorstep!).
On the Solstice, I put my entire past year in that metaphoric basket, so I can consciously choose what I want to carry into the New Year. Everything getting left behind—thoughts, emotions, whatever—gets written on pieces of paper and burned. Picture me standing over the sink, burning paper in a cast iron skillet. Not very Martha Stewart, but it gets it done.
In a recent phone call Linda Sivertsen said: you actually only get a few things done every year. I think it was a toss-off comment for her, but it hit me in the gut and vibrated through my soul. I thought wow, what if I planned for that? What if I started the year knowing there were only a few things going to get done? What would those be?
This thought has been getting mashed around in my brain with the story of the professor who taught his students about priorities using big rocks, small rocks, and sand. If you don’t know the story, here’s how it goes:
You have a pile of big rocks, a pile of small rocks, and a pile of sand. You need to put them all in a bucket.
The puzzle is what’s the best way to make it all fit?
If you put the sand in first it creates a dense layer on the bottom, taking up a lot of space. The other rocks sit on top of the sand creating an unstable rock tower. But if you put the big rocks in first, then the small ones, then the sand, the small rocks and the sand take up the gaps created by the larger rocks. They create a matrix of support.
The large rocks are your priorities. They’re what you really give a damn about.
I’ve been focused on choosing my rocks for this year. I’m limiting myself to 5 precious things that will be priority. Everything else is small rocks and sand. I’m feeling kinda literal, so there may be actual rocks and paint involved!
How about you? Where is your attention and focus going to land this year?
Wishing you all a joyful beginning to 2016. And remember: this is just the beginning. You are a seed buried deep in the earth, dreaming your becoming. Go slow, build a solid foundation, and stretch gently into your own future.
Nights have gotten cool here.
I have pulled out the down comforter and rescued my woolen slippers from the back of the closet.
Ginger and cinnamon have once again found their way into my tea blends and it’s rare that I don’t have a cup of something warming my hands.
I suspect that the sudden abundance of small feathers and squirrel tails (minus the squirrels) and the raucous protests of the neighborhood crows are signs that the hawks are passing through these mountains on their autumnal trip south.
This is, without contest, my favorite time of year.
In Ireland we would lean into these last days, harvesting and collecting plant medicine for the winter months. Nothing would be gathered after Samhain–which we call Halloween–when the fairies were said to piss on the peppermint and spit on the hawthorn.
And so the evening of October 31 was a party, in some ways like Halloween is here, but not given over to children.
There is a magic to finishing your work for the season and then donning the mask of winter. I painted a black band over my eyes and wove raven feathers into my hair. Not as sophisticated as the Darth Vader masks or sexy kitten lingerie found here in the States, but it suited my mood and the time of honoring our ancestors.
This is where the masking originally comes from, you know: the spirits are abroad as the days grow shorter and a mask keeps them from recognizing you, in case they mean you harm.
In this time when the veil between the world is thin, we call our ancestors to us to offer guidance through the darker months. We honor them with cakes and wine and fill a plate for them at the table.
This is how we celebrated there, then.
It’s been a dozen years since my apprenticeship in Ireland but I have never lost the reverence for this season. As the scent of the wind changes, and the cold begins to whisper in, I feel the energy shifting. I imagine that I can sense the veils thinning and the spirit world snuggling closer, as if to stay warm through the darkest days.
It’s in this spirit that I have been beginning my own harvest.
Not plants this year, but ideas. Thoughts that have been ripening on my mind’s vine are suddenly full and ready for tasting. The juice of these days drips off my chin as I gather supplies for the Samhain Retreat, where I will have the joy of guiding others into the reverence of this season, where we will honor our lineage and the particular magic that we bring to our bloodlines. The crows are dropping feathers we’ll weave into our hair, and small crystals are finding their way to my hands for our altars.
Most of the year, I stand in the doorway, weaving a gentle wildness into my days, watching the signs of the seasons and the cycles of the moons. And so I look forward to the sweet days that hinge autumn to winter, when I put my work down and step, wholly, into the mystic.
Begin making your plans, my friends. Sample the winds and see if you can taste change.
And be sure to head to the comments and tell me what this season means to you.
I got my first tattoo when I finished my Master’s degree.
After three universities and enough course credits for a PhD, finally finishing something, degree wise, felt like a big deal… and I wanted to mark the occasion.
Many people (especially my parents!) thought it odd that I chose to literally mark my body. Permanently.
But that was exactly what I wanted—a permanent reminder of who I had become. Because I was not the same woman who had begun degree-hopping six years before. I was craving a way of expressing my inward change in an outward way.
And permanent? Absolutely.
Because, let’s face it, we often take two steps forward and one step back, treating our personal growth like a cosmic cha-cha.
This time I wanted to own it. I wanted it to be inescapable… so I etched a reminder on my skin.
This was the first in a series of tattoos, each marking an important shift in my psyche. The next tattoo came after what I call my Jesus Year, when I went through a personal death and rebirth. The weeks before my marriage brought me again to the tattoo parlor.
Ancient cultures knew that internal changes needed outward celebration. After an initiation into a new way of being, you went through a rite of passage: a ritual that allowed you to see and be your new self within your community.
We have precious few rites of passage anymore and the ones that we do have have become so rote as to be practically meaningless for most people. The exception (hallelujah!) is the wedding ceremony; there we see the kind of creativity that replenishes meaning and brings life to dusty words.
While I can count our culture’s rites of passage on one hand, as individuals we have initiatory experiences often… at least we do if we are on a path of personal empowerment.
For instance, a number of my Sage School students have been working on the final steps toward certification, which includes an interview with me. What we discovered was that Sage School was an initiatory experience: students began to think and see their world differently; they were initiated into a new way of being. And that final conversation, where I welcomed them as a colleague?
The conversation itself was a rite of passage. It allowed them to see themselves anew and be acknowledged for who they had become.
Instead of change being expected and reduced, it was elevated and celebrated.
The transition in these folks from the beginning of the conversation to the end was palpable. They came into the call unsure and left fully empowered and confident on their path.
That’s the beauty of a rite of passage.
Have you experienced a fundamental shift in who you are or how you think?
There is no right answer here: initiations are funny and don’t always come when you expect them to!
You may go on a big retreat weekend expecting an initiatory experience which falls flat and then walk into the grocery store, see a head of lettuce in a different light, and have a profound shift.
So when I ask if you have experienced an initiation recently, there is no right answer; there is only your heart’s answer.
If you have had an initiatory experience (i.e., you were initiated into a new way of being or thinking), I want to invite you to create a personal rite of passage for yourself to acknowledge your shift. And then post here so we can celebrate with you!
I’m beginning to think that our lack of confidence in our own skills and wisdom comes from a lack of these rites of passage: we don’t take the time to acknowledge our shift to ourselves and are not celebrated for our new way of being by our tribe.
I want you to have the experience of acknowledgement (and I want us as a community to begin to incorporate this practice) so take a few moments to be in the glow of you… and then tell us about it so we can all hold you in our hearts and give a big Hurrah!
Love, love, love—
A few months back, about the same time I won a hefty prize for a blogging contest, the bizarre stench that had been haunting my office reached epic proportions.
Mold? Burrowing animals under the floor? No clue.
All I knew for certain was the stale air was scratching my throat and burning my eyes.
I moved my office to the dining room table.
My partner works mainly out of the Asheville Herbiary so he offered me his workroom in the garage. Since there’s no heat out there and winter is far from over we planned the move for early spring.
I’ve been heading out to the garage a few times a week to stare at the personality-less white box built by the previous owner.
My eyes roam the walls, finding the place where I can put French doors onto a little deck or perhaps add a new entry from a stone patio I would add to the side creating a little courtyard connecting the garage to the main house.
I began to dream up a project using my blogging contest earnings to turn the white box into my sanctuary, my sacred (work) space.
As the idea took root I began asking other women if they’d ever had a room of their own and what it meant to them. I talked to my architect friends about sacred space and my wood-worker friends about live-edge shelves.
In my mind creating my little office space spurred all sorts of side projects: I planned podcasts and photo tours, easy carpentry lessons, and simple feng shui.
I tried to figure out how to stretch my $2,500 prize money to cover both a deck and a stone patio.
Meanwhile I was cultivating an acute case of work invading life: since the dining room was my office space, meals had to be eaten with my trusty Mac standing by and guests had to dodge the mouse to get their napkin.
A few weeks ago, while on retreat, I looked at various areas of my world that needed a clean-up and then laid out action steps to get me from here to there. It became increasingly apparent that my friendships, my work flow, my home environment and my general stress level were all taking a hit with the current dining in the office/working in the dining room scenario.
But I couldn’t move out to the garage! There was so much work to do to create my sacred space there. There were people to interview and carpenters to film!
If you’re like me, it’s hard not to strive for the best of what can be. That molehill really could be a mountain… if I just nurture it and help it grow.
One of my toughest lessons is sometimes it’s best to let the molehill be a molehill…
… especially if nurturing it into a mountain means the rest of your life suffers.
So last weekend I moved into the garage office.
And this week I’ve been pondering how to make it sacred space, without turning it into a big construction project.
A few days back I was on the phone with one of my long-time students and she told me that she had begun lighting a candle every full moon night. This simple reminder keeps her aware of the night sky and of herself as part of something larger and greater. Simply seeing the flame brings her back to center.
So I’ve been asking myself what’s my full moon flame?
What can I create for myself that is both simple and sacred?
How can I change the feel of the space without restructuring the physical space?
I have some ideas. I’m gonna let them percolate. and maybe I’ll do a video or a podcast about it (::snort::).
Meanwhile share your ideas for creating simply sacred space in the comments below!