As the season shifts to early winter, I feel myself dropping deeper into retreat. It is a natural pull towards silence this time of year, and it is the reason I end my year on the winter solstice, and I don’t return to work until after the new year. Everything in nature is dropping back into its roots, and we are part of this natural rhythm and cycle, whether we are conscious of it or not.
And, although many of us enjoy the holidays and time with family, for many, this time of year is a challenge. It can bring up grief, loss of loved ones and it can feel a bit overwhelming. Many people feel out of sorts, trying to keep up with the ‘holiday cheer’ and often people end up sick or exhausted, as they push through the ‘busy’.
When I was a teenager, I consciously stopped participating in the rush and busy of this time of year. I clearly remember one year, choosing not to meet up with my family (as much as I love them) and instead on Christmas day, I spent the entire day sitting and walking in the forest alone. I was 16, and like most teenagers, I was struggling with bouts of depression and crazy, but as I sat in the forest, silent, with snow coming down lightly all around me, I was filled with a sense of deep awe and peace. And I thought to myself, ‘this is what this time of year is really about’.
Since that time, the Winter Solstice speaks to me more than any other winter holiday and the way I celebrate is by pulling in, doing silent-at home- retreat. And I truly honor and support all others in their traditions and beliefs, but, as the years have passed, I have heard more and more people starting to dislike and dread the holiday season. Some still enjoy the lights or the gift giving and family time, and many still practice according to their faith, but so many people just feel stressed and overwhelmed by the superficial pressures to buy lots of gifts and rush about to various parties or gatherings, and they don’t even enjoy it anymore.
The winter solstice celebration, for me, is more reflective of the season. As we enter the darkest shortest days, there is a natural turning inward, the desire to stay closer to home and family, a feeling of hibernation and then the honoring and celebration of the return to light. It is primal and I do believe a deep part of our psyche.
If we look at the history of various cultures throughout, many have similar celebrations and festivals during fall and winter, that reflect this journey within ourselves into the darkness or as the ancient Greeks described it as the ‘journey into the underworld or Hades’. Joseph Campbell describes the ‘Hero’s Journey’ where we move into a realm of unknown darkness within the psyche, where the previous self completely disintegrates and once again re-emerges, bringing the new self or sense of purpose, back into the light.
Pitris Paksha is the Vedic celebration, honoring the ancestors in September as is Shuki-sorei-sai, from Japan (Shinto). The Celtic Samhain (Oct 31-Nov 1) honors the ancestors when the veils between life and death are thin, and it is also considered their ‘new year’ when it is time to wrap up the old and move towards the new. Dia de Muertos (Oct 31-Nov 2) also honors the ancestors, setting out altars of favorite foods for them to come back to enjoy. Even Yama Damstra, (Nov 22-Dec 9) in the Vedic calendar, is where again, the veils are thin and Lord Yama (the lord of death) walks the earth and snatches up deceased souls. During this time, it is important to be more discerning, to spend more time in meditation and reprieve and to gently nourish the self, as our psyche is more vulnerable, potentially bringing up deep unconscious fears.
All of this coincides with the teachings of Ayurveda. Autumn into early winter is a time of gathering and reprieve. A time to eat simple nourishing meals, drink warm teas to boost digestion, massage sesame oil on your feet and head before bed, practice meditation and steady grounding yoga, and to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Hydrate with hot sips throughout the day and hydrate your skin with yummy warming oils. It is the time of year when Vata is aggravated most (anxiety, restlessness, dryness) and if we don’t address these vata imbalances now, we move into the stickiness of winter (kapha) which only exasperates things further. Winter is also the time of Bladder/Kidney energy which connects us to our deepest vitality or Ojas, and when depleted we tend towards fear, anxiety, and a frayed nervous system.
On December 21st, we will arrive at the winter solstice ~ the shortest day and the longest night, before the sun returns to its northerly course. And, as technologically advanced as we may be, and for as far as we have come (or moved away from) our ancient ancestors, learning to manipulate the elements to our liking, we are all still directly effected by, and in some ways mystified by, this natural order of things.
We feel different if it is cold and rainy or hot and sunny. The light at winter effects our moods in a way that the light of summer does not. We may not ever look up to see the full moon, and may ignore its pull on our watery emotions, but ask any nurse or doctor in a hospital, the difference in the ER on a full moon night.
And if it has been too long to remember the last time you walked out late at night to stare up at the brilliant desert sky or watched a sunrise or listened to the crackling of wood on an open fire, my best and first suggestion would be to close up your iPad or laptop now, and walk outside….
Otherwise, I will leave you with a few other possibilities to consider over this holiday period…
- Say ‘No’ (thank you) – We can politely decline invitations into the void of busyness. We can pick and choose what really matters and kindly decline the rest, honoring some time for stillness. There is a good chance everyone else is just as exhausted and in need of reprieve as you are.
- If you find yourself drinking and eating too much of the ‘merriness’, add a cup of fresh ginger tea to your post mealtime, and a little bit of Triphala before bed.
- Keep that daily self-massage going, using warming oils, throughout the holiday season. Think of it like brushing your teeth ~ a habit you don’t leave home without.
- Consider some days of silence ~ whether it is spending a few hours each morning in silence before the computer comes out or the radio goes on, or a 1 day or several day reprieve. Suggest to family members eating 1 meal a day in silence or taking a silent meditative walk.
- Allow for things to slow down. One of the ways we speed up time and adversely effect aging is by being too damn busy and always, always rushing.
- Honor the darkness, or as Rainer Marie Rilke wrote ‘You, darkness, I love you more than all the fires, that fence in the world.’ It is okay to be still. It is ok to be silent. It is okay to be sad.
- And, lastly, my gift to you, is my January/February special ~ Warm into Winter – A 1-hour Abhyanga (ayurvedic massage) followed by a Ginger Compress /Svedana treatment. $125
- (Normally $145). This treatment deeply rehydrates and nourishes the kidneys and soothes the nervous system.
May you find peace this holiday season.