Winter Solstice

Today is the winter solstice. In the northern hemisphere, this date marks the turning point of the season, the shortest day and the longest night. The word solstice itself means ‘standing still sun.’ From this point onwards, the days continue to grow longer until midsummer on June 21. In Celtic tradition, the winter solstice is a time of rebirth and renewal, as signified by the return of the light. It was the turning point in the year where the darkest hours began to brighten and the nights would grow shorter.

Solstices and equinoxes were very important to the pre- and early-Celtic people, as seen through the construction of monumental tombs whose passages align with the solstice sun, such as Newgrange. Rituals for welcoming back the sun date from the dawn of civilization, as communities came together to celebrate life with feasting, music, dance, drama and above all, light and fire.  Although today we consider Christmas to be a single day, or a weekend event, many cultures traditionally celebrate for at least twelve days.

A key ingredient of celebrations is mistletoe, a revered healing and fertility plant found mainly on oak, ash and apple trees. Long before the Germanic-influenced Christmas tree made its way indoors, a bough of mistletoe would be placed inside the front entrance of a dwelling, there to garb the inhabitants with its protective magic. Oak and ash were particularly sacred to the Druids, as was the holly tree.

Whatever your belief system, consider spending some time to honour the longest and darkest night of the year. Sit down in a quiet place to journal about your hopes and aspirations for the year ahead: plant your seeds of intention. From this day forward, the light begins its slow return, and they will start to grow.

Things I Love: “The Courage to Stop Running”

Trauma is the invisible force
that keeps us running, restless,
in pursuit of some intangible goal.
Caught up in some unnecessary activity.
Addiction. Compulsions. Distractions.
Makes us escape into thinking.
Makes the body feel unsafe.
Makes the present moment into an enemy.

If we slow down.
If we stop.
If we rest.
If we simply do nothing.
Then we will have to face … ourselves.
We will have to face buried feelings.
All the shit we were running from.
All the darkness.
The gunk.
The muck.
The loneliness.
The aches and the boredom.
The night and the emptiness.

Trauma says, “Run!”.
Trauma says, “Do Not Stop!”.
Trauma says, “Just keep going!”
Trauma says, “Stopping is unsafe!”

We start by proving to ourselves
that it is safe to rest! Safe to be still.
Safe to do nothing, just for a moment.
Safe to think our thoughts and feel our feelings …
… and not ‘fix’ the moment in any way.

We can begin – one moment at a time –
to digest all the undigested things inside.
Stay with sadness for a moment longer.
Be present with our joy or shame for an instant more.
Breathe into our anxiety instead of running from it.
Become curious about our discomfort
instead of distracting ourselves with unnecessary food,
more thinking,
fantasy and false hope.

We can challenge the core story at the heart of trauma:
That the present moment is unsafe.
That the body is somehow working against us.
That feelings, sensations or thoughts are dangerous.
That stillness and silence equal non-existence and death.
And that we have to ‘do’ something
in order to be worthy,
and loved,
and whole.

It takes courage to stop running.
It takes courage to lean into the storm.
It takes courage to touch the darkness inside
with the infinite light of our curious attention.

It takes courage to break the addiction to futures.
And be present.
And breathe.

And not know.

~ Jeff Foster

Something to Inspire

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“Meditation is about seeing clearly the body that we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, the job that we have, and the people who are in our lives. It’s about seeing how we react to all these things. It’s seeing our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat. It’s about not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness.”

Excerpted from: The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chödrön

Something to Inspire

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“Instead of asking ourselves, ‘How can I find security and happiness?’ we could ask ourselves, ‘Can I touch the center of my pain? Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away? Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace—disappointment in all its many forms—and let it open me?'”

~ Practicing Peace by Pema Chödrön

Heart Centered Learning: Thanksgiving Address

Today, it is Thanksgiving in Canada; and I thought it fitting to share an address from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

The confederacy, made up of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas was intended as a way to unite the nations and create a peaceful means of decision making. Through the confederacy, each of the nations of the Haudenosaunee are united by a common goal to live in harmony. Each nation maintains it own council with Chiefs chosen by the Clan Mother and deals with its own internal affairs but allows the Grand Council to deal with issues affecting the nations within the confederacy.

Often described as the oldest, participatory democracy on Earth, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s constitution is believed to be a model for the American Constitution. What makes it unique is its blending of law and values. For the Haudenosaunee, law, society and nature are equal partners and each plays an important role.

The Thanksgiving Address (the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen) is the central prayer and invocation for the Haudenosaunee. It reflects their relationship of giving thanks for life and the world around them. 

Read the full address here: Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

Something to Inspire

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“The Buddha taught that flexibility and openness bring strength and that running from groundlessness weakens us and brings pain. But do we understand that becoming familiar with the running away is the key? Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well.”

~ Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Joy Journal

Joy Journal #11: April 23, 2022

I spent a beautiful morning walking along the stunning Antrim coastline: beginning at the Giant’s Causeway and ending at Dunseverick Castle. The castle is an ancient royal site of the Dál Riada, a Gaelic kingdom from at least the 5th century AD. Saint Patrick is recorded as having visited the site, where he baptized Olcán, a local man who later became a Bishop of Ireland. The castle was captured and destroyed by General Robert Munro in 1642, and his Cromwellian troops in the 1650s, with only the ruins of the gate lodge remaining. The northern area contains an oval depression of wet ground which is thought to be a holy well, known as Saint Patrick’s Well.

As I explored this desolate and ancient site, I discovered a lone Hawthorne tree. In Ireland, the Hawthorn is synonymous with the ‘Sidhe’ or Fairies. From the times of the druids the tree was highly valued as a source of medicinal remedies. The flowers, leaves, and berries were used to treat conditions of the heart, and lower blood pressure.

Certain hawthorn trees, especially those associated with Holy Wells, are known as “Rag Trees” or “Wishing Trees”. Historically, cloth strips taken from the clothing of an ill person were tied to the branches of the tree as a petition to a local saint or deity. Local people also tie strips of colourful cloth to the wishing tree as a symbol of their prayers or wishes. These items are known as clotties. It was an honour to come upon this beautiful and sacred offering. #JoyBlogging

Something to Inspire

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“Those who train wholeheartedly in awakening bodhichitta are called bodhisattvas or warriors—not warriors who kill but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world. Warrior-bodhisattvas enter challenging situations in order to alleviate suffering. They are willing to cut through personal reactivity and self-deception. They are dedicated to uncovering the basic, undistorted energy of bodhichitta.”

~ Comfortable with UncertaintyPema Chödrön,