Just a few days from now will be the shortest day of the year - winter solstice. My city is already getting less than 8.5 hours of daylight, and often the daylight that we do have is obscured by clouds and sometimes rain as well. I feel it in my bones, the season's call towards rest, slowing down, drawing inward. I feel the nudge to gather closer the people closest to me and to enjoy the darkness. My body and my soul need more sleep right now, more calm, more quiet, more simplicity.
And yet I find it curious that, as the rhythms of the seasons and our bodies are slowing down, we as a culture ramp up our activity to such a frantic pace that December ends up being the collective busiest - and perhaps the most stressful - month of the year. In my own family, we do our best to keep things simple, but the added layer of even simple Advent activities, a couple Christmas parties and services, and a few gifts to buy or make seems too much at times. When our natural rhythms are bidding us to slow down, to take a pause from our full lives and let some things go, adding even a little more can feel like a defiant neglect of our deepest needs.
If I take an honest look inward, I find what I truly need is more reading books on the couch with my family and less driving them around town, more moments enjoying the glittery ornaments lit by tiny white lights on our Christmas tree and less moments checking and re-checking my gift lists, more open space for joy and less hurrying through the present moment just to get to the next. The beauty of these needs is that when I attend to them, when I care deeply for myself by honoring them, I have so much more to give to the people around me, especially more of the gifts I truly want to give this season - love, kindness, peace, presence.
But when everything around us seems to have succumbed to frenzy, how can we possibly stay grounded? Or when we've inevitably gotten caught up in the swirling tide, how do we come back to ourselves?
I've thought about this for a while, and back in November when thankfulness was in the air, I wondered if gratitude might be a simple way to re-ground in this season. When the advertisements and messaging are all about what we're lacking - whether it's items we or someone on our gift lists "needs" or gift-giving obligations we're "required" to meet - perhaps a return to gratitude could bring a little clarity. Interestingly, I've noticed this underlying theme in several nooks and crannies here on the internet this December. Just today, gratitude was the theme in my Yoga with Adriene morning practice, and in my email was an invitation to a gratitude cleanse for the week after Christmas. I've personally decided to commit to a simple gratitude practice during the two weeks of my kids' winter break. I'll be noting three things I'm grateful for each day and sharing a few of my gratitudes over on social media (follow along or participate on Facebook or Instagram!).
What will you do to rest and reset in the midst of the remaining weeks of this year? Will you take a moment now to assess how you might kindly attend to your needs? Perhaps a simple practice, such as naming gratitudes, could be a way to nourish your soul and allow you to give your best self to those you'll be with this season.
It’s mid-autumn in my corner of the world. The leaves turned several weeks ago, and their glorious reds, golds, and oranges have mostly fallen to the ground and are quickly turning to brown. Up and down the street I hear the rattling hum of leaf blowers, working to clear the sidewalks, the roads, the yards. But in the park where I walk every morning the blowers haven’t yet made their mark. All the leaves are still in the places they fell, some pulverized by weekday morning feet making their way to school, some caught high in the blackberry vines, most covering every inch of the ground, already beginning to break down thanks to our resident composters, the fungi, bacteria and invertebrates.
It takes a long time for those leaves to decompose, to return to the earth as nutrient-rich soil. It will be winter, then spring, then summer and maybe even autumn again before their nutrients will be released, and even longer until they are taken up again by the trees from which they fell. And as I walked this morning, it occurred to me that our lives are similar. In our world saturated with promises of quick fixes and immediate gratification, perhaps we’ve lost sight of the organic, natural process of decomposition, whereby the things in our lives that die take their time to disintegrate, release their nourishment and join together to transform into something new.
An example from my own life: the death of productivity, or rather, the idolization of it, which at times has run me ragged and robbed me of any sense of joy. It was a year and a half ago that, in a session with my therapist, I had a profound experience deep in my being of choosing to set down productivity as my main driving force and instead to accept my worth as inherent rather than earned. Many, many moments and weeks and days and years of learning and choosing and accepting and letting go had preceded that moment, when those leaves finally released from the branches and fluttered off the tree. But it was only a few weeks ago that I turned my attention to my body and soul’s clear communication that I needed rest and chose to take a weekend retreat by myself. And it was yesterday morning that I, somewhat reluctantly, spent a couple hours reading on the couch when I felt my body needed to pause and slow down rather than just pushing through and getting the chores and other work done.
Those leaves of idolizing productivity, which served to protect me and sustain my life for many years even if at a huge personal cost, may have turned and fallen, but they haven’t immediately disappeared. They’re currently composting, bits and pieces of them laying around my life, my habits, my thoughts, my choices, slowly breaking down, returning their nourishment to the earth. I still try to pack too many things into some days, weeks, seasons. I still can feel overwhelmed by all the work there is to do in the world. I still get edgy when I heed the voices whispering that I haven’t done enough, accomplished enough, contributed enough. I still sometimes neglect my needs for rest, quiet, delight, and joy just to check one more box on the never-ending list.
But more often these days, I have glimpses of those nutrients taken back up by the tree, transformed, and budding into new life. I still work, produce, accomplish, check things off a list, but I’m finding joy in the work and much more clarity about what to do and what to say no to. I’m less driven, more open, more grateful. I’m more present to my children, more able to hold loving space for their feelings and experiences and whole selves to be known and accepted how they are as I learn to hold that space for myself. The change is both slow and deep, and for that I am grateful. The new leaves are tender and green, and the blossoms are just now budding.
What about you? Are there leaves in your life that have fallen and are currently composting? How will you extend patience, love, and acceptance to yourself in the transformation process? What new growth do you see beginning to bud and bloom?
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