Yesterday was Winter Solstice.
We still don’t have our lights up nor our tree brought home. I haven’t purchased many gifts. We haven’t baked much either.
Despite a lack of traditional holiday activities, I feel calm, connected and alive. I feel energized enough to have begun new Winter Solstice traditions with my family. Last night we kept all electricity (minus heat) at bay from dusk until dawn. We dined by candlelight and set intentions fireside, with the anticipation of hot cocoa and cookies to follow. TJ played guitar, and we took turns reading A Wrinkle in Time. Once they all drifted to sleep, I stayed up reading and listening to the crackling of the fire and the sound of their sweet breath. Instead of dreading the shortest day of the year, we celebrated the longest night, and we did so with ancient and magical ritual that has accompanied it for time eternal.
This experience was crazy different than any way we’ve ever celebrated the season before. Normally I’m frenetic and frenzied the week leading up to Christmas, fretting about how we are going to get it all done and how I’m going to survive so much family, food and drink. Normally I’m freaked about how we squeeze Santa and Jesus into the same evening. Normally I simply nod in a reverent gesture toward the solstice as it passes by.
“What changed?” you may ask.
Nothing and everything.
I believe this greater than usual sense of calm surrounding the holidays and the ability to make positive changes in our home have to do with my almost daily sitting practice. Through time on my homemade cushion I am learning to hone in on what it is I truly desire.
To be still and do nothing. This is counter culture, but I’m realizing how crucial planned quiet time is for introspection, reflection and rejuvenation.
To become curious about scary thoughts and feelings. By granting negative or uncomfortable thoughts to have space and be acknowledged, I have greater power deciding what to do about them. When noticing this year (like every year) that my chest got tight and I felt a little nauseous when thinking about the upcoming holidays, instead of pushing the thoughts away, I examined them. Hmm. Do I really dread them? Why? What can I do ?
To talk more kindly to myself. Until I sat and purposely watch my thoughts, I wasn’t aware of how nasty and self-degrading I was. I was my own worst enemy. (i.e. “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you embrace the holidays?! Suck it up! Get organized!” transformed into, “What can I do to be joyful? What about the holiday still feels like magic? If I could start over, what would I do?) Becoming aware of my mean mental chatter and actively changing my self-talk has also changed the way I talk to others, too.
To be more “comfortable” with discomfort. This is a BIGGY. Learning to be still and simply breathe while experiencing achy legs or an itchy elbow translates directly to not reacting so quickly when one of my housemates pisses me off, or when I need to have a difficult conversation, like “honey, on Wednesday night I want to celebrate the solstice, and it’s going to involve candles and it may be a little weird…”
To embrace “this too shall pass”. Paying attention to my emotions during my sitting practice has allowed me to see how quickly they change when I neither reach out and grab them nor shove them away. I’m learning to curiously experience negative emotions, while trusting deeply that they won’t last forever. Last night I let myself be bummed that my almost teenage son wasn’t 100% on board and that my husband fell asleep while we were reading. I gave the sadness space and within moments it turned into gratitude that most of my family was on board for most of the night.
In a nutshell, my time in stillness is allowing me to see more clearly how I currently operate and how I want to operate in order to fulfill my deepest desires. I am more in touch with my emotions and my gut. I can more easily make decisions that help me feel good: I can say no to the parts of the holiday that don’t serve and yes to the parts that nourish. I can refocus and redirect the holiday energy.
P.S. If you, too, are interested in change and think that starting a mindfulness practice may be the ticket, please reach out. Though I’m a beginner, I’d love to share what I know. I also encourage you to check out one of the many organized mindfulness meditation sits being held January 1 in honor of OMAHA MEDITATES. This is a practice you won’t regret!