Nurture With Nature: Winter Within!
Greetings on this last Nurture With Nature event of the year! As I have done at the changing of each season this year, I have hosted a mind/body wellness and meditation evening which had a sole aim: to reconnect with Mother Nature in a meaningful way that would establish and enhance our own innate wisdom and balance. This event was no different and was a beautiful shared space of receptivity, vulnerability, and strength.
This season we took a look at the many wonderful and mysterious things happening around the Winter Solstice and during the long season of Winter. Here we noted the shortest day of year where winter officially begins, that it's a time of darkness but also holds the promise of light, we acknowledged that we gather to wait out the cold in the comfort of our dwellings (where we often cultivate a womb-like experience for deep rest and renewal), and what we can do to best enhance our connection to nature to ensure a smooth transition. Digging deeper, we divided our evening into three parts for the fullest opportunity to discover and witness these truths. If aligning with Mother Nature is something you'd like to do this season, I highly encourage you to adapt this to your own needs either as a group or individually: I) Winter lessons in nature and their deeper meanings, II) Activity to invite balance and the inner wisdom of the season (in this case, Shadow Work through Ho'oponopono), and III) Guided meditation to fully align with the macrocosm of the changing season and the microcosm of our evolving inner spirit.
Part I: Winter in Nature & Deeper Meanings
1. Winter Solstice
The Solstice itself only happens for an instant in the day, specifically Dec 22 4:19 UTC (12/21 11:19 pm EST). This is the precise moment when the earth’s north pole is pointed directly away from the sun. The sun stays largely underneath the horizon and will peep out to reach its lowest arc of the year on this day, giving us Northerners approximately 9 hours of precious daylight. Where today we have the vantage point of witnessing this astronomical event from space, ancient cultures built monoliths like Stonehenge and Machu Piccu to observe and follow the sun at precise, calculated times of year. Moreover, our ancestors depended on living in tune with these pivotal times of cyclical change in order to survive and thrive.
Reflection Questions: Have you ever been to monolithic a sight or ancient ruin, and how did the energy of the grounds feel? Are you directly affected by loss of daylight (Seasonal Affective Disorder/SAD)? Do you have (or had) a job that is/was directly affected by daylight hours?
2. Embracing the Dark:
There isn’t a uniform answer to addressing the darkness within, as everyone is different as so, too, are our experiences. But we all have something in common: our wounds, and that which becomes most painful to live with in this holiday season of forced cheer and merrymaking. Each year (and even each holiday) provides us the opportunity to deepen our experiences with the lessons and transformation of these sacred times. Right now, the world (norther hem) is quiet, slow, and somber. In order to live more harmoniously into this season, we must bravely allow ourselves be present in it and embrace it. Be in tune with the outer & inner darkness. For some of us, we have a plentitude of darkness (or shadow work) to reflect on. Instead of viewing this with hesitation, fear, and general distaste for the hard task of self-reflection, try viewing it from the angle of self-love and forgiveness. We cannot change our past, and certain events have shaped our present for better or worse. Trauma is change that we don’t choose, but healing is change that we do choose. Sitting with the emotions of this darkness and allowing these emotions a path out of the body can be difficult but, ultimately, rewarding. Emotion wants to leave the body; it’s when emotion becomes ignored and contained in ourselves that we experience suffering. When this darkness no longer holds its power over us, when we’ve traded in our shackles for emotional and mental freedom, the light has a pathway back in. Like the solstice sun, light comes back into our lives after the peak of darkness.
Reflection Questions: Have you had physical trauma in your life? Have you had emotional trauma in your life? have you done meditation or other inner work on healing past wounds before? have you chosen to not work on your inner wounds before (no judgement here!) but would like to?
For all of earth’s animals, flora, and fauna, nothing is so essential as the length of daylight. Our sun is a powerful source of energy which keeps our planetary life in balance. Many burrow-dwelling animals have begun or are already in the midst of their season-long hibernation. Even seeds and plants are in dormancy through winter. This is meant to reserve all of their energy in order to burst forth with life once more at Springtime. This rejuvenation is deep and necessary. It is an instinct that we also feel invited to follow for our own wellbeing. The environment is cold, harsh, and lifeless right now. We have withdrawn into the warmth and safety of our homes and loved ones’ embrace. We will hunker down until the warmth of Spring starts enticing us to venture outside once again. Honor this time of rest, cultivate a self-care routine that is nourishing and satisfying. This is the season of creature habits. Encouraging the consumption of comforting foods which warm the body can help us manage this season, like hearty soups and stews, whole grains, toasted seeds & nuts, or a delicious cup of aromatic chai tea (opting for natural sweeteners). Take a nap on weekends, and go to bed early. Take time for yourself & your health, and you will see how eagerly your body and mind respond with gratitude.
Reflection Questions: Do you find yourself doing way too much in general? Do you get burned out during the holidays? Do you have an established self-care routine? Could you benefit from slowing down and taking better care of yourself?
4. Death & Rebirth:
There is a rich history of celebrating the Solstice as a sacred part in the wheel of life and death, with the latter governing this time of year. The “dying” of life-giving light and threat to survival was very real to early cultures, who observed this day with reverence and ritual. New life and, therefore, new hope was on the horizon. Ancient Norse peoples celebrated with bonfires, potentially using oak or the symbolic Yule log, as a way to encourage the return of light and beckon the sun to warm the earth once again. Some cultures who practiced this winter ritual would then go one step further and spread the ashes into the field to encourage a bountiful harvest the following year. Many early societies killed and prepared their livestock at wintertide, with celebratory feasting which marked the last time game and cattle would be consumed until Spring. As a good luck measure, varieties of evergreen were brought into the home to encourage life amid the cold stillness of winter. Ancient Egyptians observed this time of year as the return of the sun god Ra. Modern pagans celebrate Yule (the new year) which acknowledges the dying of the Old Sun King/Holly King and rebirth of the New Sun King/Oak King (which then reverses at Summer Solstice). Christians will soon celebrate the coming of Light personified in the infant Christ child. Even on this darkest day of the year, we sometimes forget the other side of the coin: light will now be returning!
Reflection Questions: Who here has been looking forward to the Holidays since October? Who here finds this time of year sentimental or has enjoyable gatherings? Who here struggles with not having many friends or family nearby to celebrate with? Who is dealing with reminders of departed family/friends, or strained relationships this time of year? Does anyone have a favorite (even quirky!) tradition they’d like to share?
5. Water Element:
Water is the most yin of all elements: it is yielding, fluid, soft, and life-sustaining. Winter, in TCM, is a very yin dominant season and is associated with water due to all of its tranquility and flow. Water is arguably the most important of the body’s elements, as we are comprised of roughly 60% water (with some organs predominantly water, like the brain at 73% and the lungs at 83%). In the body, the water element is intimately connected to the body’s fluids, including the circulation of blood, the bladder and, most significantly, the kidneys (in TCM, the kidneys reign supreme for their spark of energy which vitalizes the body). Proper hydration is paramount to kidney health. Keeping the lower back covered and warm, especially when outside, is also helpful. While winter typically focuses on slowing down, it doesn’t mean we have to come a screeching halt. Just as water moves and glides over the terrain, we can learn to harness our own inner flow to achieve a path which conserves our energy by going the way of least resistance. Body awareness exercises and spiritual practices are a great way to help foster this attitude of flow in our lives, like Yin Yoga, Thai Chi, mindfulness meditation, and dance classes (think of the elegant fluidity that a ballroom dancer exudes!). Even finding time to spend in your local spa or YMCA pool can be a rewarding physical experience this time of year.
Reflection Questions: Do you find water particularly relaxing and rejuvenating? Do you find it hard to drink the recommended 8 glasses of water every day? Do you have an easy time being flexible, or do you have perfectionist tendencies? Do you wish you could be more in touch with your intuition and inner voice? Do you currently practice disciplines like yoga, thai chi, qigong, or something similar? Would you like to book yourself a massage this season?
Part II: Shadow Work through Ho'oponopono
Working on the repressed and hurting aspects of ourselves is considered the foundation of “shadow work”. We are quite literally working on the areas and aspects of ourselves that we don’t reveal or let into the light because we aren’t ready to or don’t quite know how to approach them. One beautiful practice for bringing reconciliation and forgiveness to these wounds is through the ancient Hawaiian art of Ho’oponopono. This shamanic practice seeks to correct, or “make” (ho’o) “right” (pono) the relationships which have become problematic, preventing us from moving into the fullest, freest versions of ourselves. This tendency toward relationship drama and patterns can be a result of your own experiences and even passed down through the energy of your ancestral lineage (your “energenetics”, as sound therapist Eileen Day McKusic likes to call it in her book Tuning the Human Biofield).
Hawaiian shamans and doctors saw disease and ill-health as a symptom of the stored, repressed emotions which lay trapped in our bodies. Through this lens, strong emotions like guilt, shame, anger, grudges, and fear are seen as the root of all illness. Through this shockingly simple four-part mantra, healing can begin to take place as the practitioner compassionately witnesses these wounds in order to release them from their crippling hold on us. The four-part mantra is as follows: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”
If you would like to practice this powerful mantra at home, I invite you to use the script I created below to work on some of your own emotional wounds. Read through the entirety of the script first and then loop back around to repeat the individual parts of the mantra first, getting an appropriate impact for each phrase. Then you may wish to conclude by reciting the mantra in full for as long as you feel is necessary. I incorporated sound healing (through the use of a crystal singing bowl tuned to an F note [resonates with the heart chakra]) and energy healing (through the hands-on art of Reiki) into this practice, and you may enhance this time however is most meaningful for you. I chose this lovely background music to fill out the space we held for each other.
"I invite you to take a seat (either on the floor or where you are) and get comfortable. For those more adept at being vulnerable and prone to emoting, please take a couple of tissues with you. For those of you not comfortable with tapping your emotions, I want you to know that this is a safe space and nothing you release here will be questioned or judged. There is strength in letting your guard down, and tapping into that inner strength is vital for this exercise. I want you to close your eyes for a moment and envision the relationship in your life which you are most emotionally available to work on. This can be the sudden loss of a loved one, a difficult intimate relationship which left you with a lot of emotional baggage, conflict with a parent or sibling, or even your inner child (when you were most impressionable and vulnerable). Find this relationship and hold it in your heart for a few moments. Once you are certain of your target, we can begin.
I will go through the parts of the mantra separately, describing each one in its fullness and meaning as it applies to you. We will then repeat this portion of the mantra continuously while placing our hands over our heart center. It’s ok if you become too emotional to speak, as this can be said with your inner voice as well. Remember to keep breathing through the rough spots. Emotions have a destination; they want to show us the lesson that needs learning, but ultimately, they are just the messenger. Allow them to come up, crest, and leave. I will say this mantra with you, and to signal that the repetition is over I will strike my crystal singing bowl a few times to help integrate the release of emotion just encouraged by each phrase. Each repetition will last for about 3 minutes.
1. “I’m Sorry”. When you apologize, you are recognizing and accepting your responsibility for the actions, thoughts, and emotions that have caused conflict to manifest into your life. Every relationship is a two-way street, even if we are uncomfortable accepting our part in it. When we chant “I’m sorry”, I want you to envision the face of the person in your relationship as if they were sitting right in front of you. See the pain on their face, the shame, the guilt, the hurt that is the culmination of this fraught relationship. Even if their actions predominantly destroyed or soured the relationship, they were still the recipient of pain in their own way. If you are speaking to your inner child, apologize on behalf of the struggles you experienced. Be sorry that you had to endure such pain, brokenness, anger, or emotional distance at such a young age. Apologizing for not knowing then what you know now: that everything will be alright, and that you are far stronger than you were capable of seeing then. Beginning with the energy of “sorry” softens our ego and arrogance, and begins to crack the veneer which can then allow in the light.
In your own time and at your own pace, repeat after me: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry….”
2. “Please forgive me”. Letting go of unforgiveness is likely one of the hardest things we will ever do. But in all truth and honesty, the only person who gets hurt by lifelong grudges of unforgiveness is ourselves. Unforgiveness is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person will die. Unless you forgive yourself and the other person, you cannot move forward. You are robing your present and future self the opportunity for healing. Forgiveness always precipitates acceptance (even self-acceptance), and this leads to freedom. When you speak these words, speak them with sincerity to the other person and to yourself. Allow the wall to come down. This is the only way to let in the light.
“Please forgive me, please forgive me, please forgive me…”
4. “Thank you”. These important two words are the icing on the cake of this powerful inner work. It is the opportunity to show ourselves gratitude for being strong despite our hardships. It is the chance to thank ourselves and others for lessons learned and allowing ourselves to change and grow. Speaking “thank you” to the other person acknowledges all of the good things that were shared together; all of the time spent supporting and nurturing each other. It also acknowledges that through the difficulties of your relationship, you became the person you are today. Each of those moments brought you to here and now. Give gratitude to your life, to God, to the Universe – create a bubble of “thanks” around you that can bring light to everything inside of it.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you…”
3. “I love you”. Love is the fabric of life. It is what makes the world go ‘round. It gives meaning to existence. This powerful truth is always available at any time for our highest good. It is an endless well that we can tap on demand, and it begins with self-love, or rather, self-acceptance. While it is deeply important in this part of the mantra to speak those words of love to the other person, I invite you to shower yourself with these three words of healing as well. When we can love and accept ourselves, even in all our perceived imperfection and lacking, it can pour out effortlessly from us and into those around us. “I love you” is a statement of unconditional acceptance, and we are made whole and healed by it.
“I love you, I love you, I love you…”
Now, in your own time at a comfortable pace, we will repeat the mantra in its entirety as I come around to bathe your heart center with sound from the crystal singing bowl. After I come to each person, I will then go back around to give Reiki to your Crown Chakra, the energy center which allows divine light and love into the body. I will repeat this mantra with you a few times before coming around. This is a good opportunity to bring your hands together in the universal prayer posture with hands folded in front of your heart. Again, at your own pace, speak the full mantra in a quiet voice to yourself. If you find it more meaning to speak these words silently to your inner self, you may do that as well.
“I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you….”
Part III: Greeting the Shadow-Self (Guided Meditation)
Below is the script I created for the guided meditation which aimed to embrace the shadow self within, and ultimately release the burdens they weighed down on us. Feel free to use the script for your own emotional healing. I will upload an audio recording of the script and link it here when it is available.
"Begin to relax your body into at relaxed seated or laying position. Feel your muscles naturally settle and rest into their most comfortable posture. If you feel the need to adjust yourself, you can do so with ease at any time. Keep your attention on your breath as you bring a deep inhale through your nose, funneling all of the air to your lower belly. Pause briefly and begin to slowly, audibly exhale into emptiness, letting go of tension and any thoughts of worry or distraction. Breathe in this beautiful and life-sustaining oxygen as it bathes each cell in your body. Feel it nourishing your tissues, muscles, organs, and bones. Each in-breath bringing light and relaxation, each out-breath an invitation for discomfort and anxiousness to leave your body. In – and out. As thoughts eventually come up, just notice them without judgement and release them into the universe.
I invite you to picture yourself inside of a room, decorated intricately with whatever brings you deep joy and peace – the sky is them limit. This could be a palace filled with beautiful architecture, exquisite paintings, and the most comfortable furniture you’ve ever sat on. It could be a cozy structure inside a hidden garden, sheltered by ivy, carpeted with moss, and decorated with nature’s splendor. It could be a room from your childhood home, where safety and love emanated from every wall. Whatever this looks like to you, know that this represents your inner sanctuary. This is the most intimate and authentic part of yourself that is purely “you”, without any of the trappings or messiness of life that is happening at this time. Breathe in the air of this space, smell its unique aroma. Feel the temperature of the room and anything you might be sitting on or near. Touch it with your fingertips and feel its texture. Things might catch your eye that you haven’t thought of in years, or have been put here for safe-keeping in your heart. Take another moment just to drink in the beauty and safety of this sacred inner dwelling.
As you look around, you notice a standing mirror that is unlike any other mirror you’ve ever seen. It has extremely delicate and ornate carvings along the frame, and you reach out to run your fingers along the edge just to feel the beautiful dips and grooves that make up this other-wordly pattern. Standing at a slight angle from the mirror, you notice the glass has an interesting quality to it. It’s smooth and perfect, but has a sort of soft inner glow to it. The illumination is gentle and barely perceptible, but you can feel it radiating from the mirror.
You feel a pull from within to see yourself reflected in this breath-taking looking-glass. The anticipation has you nearly giddy with excitement. As you step in front of the mirror, though, there is an unexpected part of yourself that you’ve never seen before. You can see that it’s clearly you, but you are different. Your image is almost too dim to see, like a shadow has been cast over you. You look up at the ceiling to see what could be blocking the light, but the light in the room is bright and flowing. You look down again at your reflection, and you can’t help but notice that your reflection has put its hand up against the mirror. This does not frighten you in any way, and in fact in creates a sensation of curiosity in you. You bring up your hand to meet your reflection. At the moment of your touch, you immediately sense all of the emotions your shadow-self personifies. It’s like you are watching a movie of your life, able to watch without being swallowed up by the intensity of the emotions. You sense loss, fear, wrath, shame, guilt, frustration, unworthiness, hate, jealousy, selfishness, regret, and bitterness. You see every time you lashed out in anger, and the look of pain on the other person’s face... You see every time you retreated in fear, and the way it felt like you could shrink away into nothingness... You see every time the world pulled the carpet from under you, and resentment that settled deep inside of you as a result... So much darkness, so many things you would like to do over and do better... You witness these emotions not with pity, but with a great sense of compassion for your past-self who had to endure all of these trials.
You notice that your reflection begins to weep from the heaviness of all you have had to experience. Instinctively, you lean in toward the mirror. In complete symmetry, your shadow-self does this too, and you find that you physically meet at the edge of the mirror. In fact, the glass is just an illusion. Your arms are wrapped around each other in perfect union. There is a deep sense of safety, love, and nourishment in this embrace. You can feel the center of your being rejoice at the reuniting of these two halves. You feel the heat and heaviness of emotional burden start to evaporate off of your body. In this space, light is meeting dark. Waves of healing ripple out of you in this unification, and there is a sense of sacred wholeness and completeness in your energy. You realize that this personification of trauma, difficulty, and pain is not in fact a separate identity. This reflection is just as much a part of you as is the light. In fact, it has helped make the light shine even brighter. For every struggle you have experienced in your life, you have grown in beautiful and transformative ways. You are the light and the dark, and there is power in this combination. There is authenticity in this power. There is perfection in your imperfection. Suddenly, you hear the reflection ask you something: “What are you ready to release? Who do you no longer want to be?” You pause for a minute taking in the meaning of these words, and imagine what this new reality could look and feel like in your life. “What are you ready to release? Who do you no longer want to be?”… Soon, you give yourself the permission to release these burdens: it’s ok to let go, it’s ok to honor your needs, it’s ok that you did what you had to do to get to where you are now, it’s ok to want or be more.
As you let each other go, you remain with your palms facing the other, lightly touching where the glass would be. You breathe in peace and understanding, and breathe out judgement and fear. You breathe in self-acceptance, and breathe out illusion. You start to slowly gather yourself together as you prepare to leave this room. With gratitude, you bring your hands up to your heart to soak up one last moment in this space. Know that you can return here at any time for self-care, replenishment, and rest. This sanctuary is yours alone. As you walk slowly to the door, you notice that the room behind you gently fades away. You come into this space of emptiness, of pure “being”, where you are cradled in the present moment. You can feel the divine flow of life as it washes over you, and it brings you deep peace. As you begin to come back to a waking state, be as gentle with your body as you can. You can start by bringing your awareness to your fingers and toes, and bringing your breath into your hands and feet. You can then bring your awareness to your knees, elbows, shoulders and spine. Take all the time you need to come into a sitting position where I will conclude our evening with a devotion."
As always, we concluded our time together with a devotion or prayer to send us forward, to continue the healing, and guide us toward greater harmony and balance with our outer world. This particular one was taken heavily from a lovely prayer card you can find here.
"Creator of Light & Dark, we give you thanks for the cycle of seasons
And the consistency of the sun, moon, and stars.
During this passage of darkness and light,
We are reminded of the beauty and wonder of your creation.
Enhance our appreciation of night by taking time to savor its quiet majesty.
May we find rest for both body and soul under the gentle canopy of darkness.
And as morning dawns, may we take a moment to bask in the returning of light and to revel in its luminous grace."
Blessings be with you all this holiday season,