Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nature's New Year & Beginnings

This Sunday we celebrated the winter solstice or the darkest night of the year which heralds the return of the light. We are also inching upon the New Year, a time when many of us create resolutions, intentions, new goals, and action plans for the year ahead. This practice has always puzzled me and in looking at the history of the Yule, I can see why.

The pre-Christian Germanic peoples celebrated the winter through a three month celebration called the "Yule-Tide", a tidal wave of customs that include the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and the celebration of the "Wild Hunt", a ghostly procession of stars in the sky. This period of time where darkness reigned was revered and feared as a time of increased supernatural activity and sacrifices were made to keep the gods happy. It was a time of community activity, feasts, ale drinking, song and merriment. It was a time of keeping the light alive within the darkness and also honoring the darkness with offerings.

In a culture that is overly obsessed with quick fixes and baptismal fresh starts I wonder if we as yoga teachers are perpetuating this simplistic view of the solstice and the new year. To "resolve to evolve" or to "set an intention" seems to bypass the process that our ancestors understood. We forget that this time of year is a gradual descent into the darkness and a slow walk back toward the light. On December 21st or January 1st nothing in nature is asking us to make a resolution. There is no bird song calling us to rebirth. Nature is still, cold, and quiet and in this space it appears that she is asking us to listen.
I recently researched the word "beginning" to get a better sense of what it is we are trying emulate during these symbolic moments of change. What I found was fascinating. The word "begin" is comprised of "be" which is a prefix that derives from the old English word "bi" which can be translated as "about, by, on all sides, thoroughly" and the West Germanic word "ginnan" which means "to open, to open up, to cut open." So we could say that what we are trying to do when we begin in the New Year is really a movement toward "opening up and viewing thoroughly the contents that are inside." If this is the case then we should view this opening as a process and not a moment that is willed into action by force.

So, this New Years, let's gather together and eat, drink, and celebrate the yule-tide, the waters of the winter. Let us find the patience to slowly unwrap the contents that are inside and thoroughly examine them from all angles under the dark starry skies. May we refrain from quick fixes and remind each other that the process of re-discovery takes time, and we have plenty of time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Follow The Darkness: A Winter Solstice Reflection

If we are being honest, then we can each say that we have bad days. Days where it feels like the darkness is swallowing us whole or days when the weight of the the worlds sadness is resting upon our brow. In many yoga circles we are taught to make these dark thoughts and feelings go away. We are told to "plug in a mantra", "twist it out", "send light to these sad thoughts" or to meditate." But what if we are averting one of the most powerful forces that exists within our psyche? The power of darkness.

Darkness is the space of germination it is the womb and the chrysalis. Darkness is the cave we enter to rest, to sleep, and to dream. These powerful dark forces pull us into their grip to show us what is dying and give us a peek at what we've been missing or glossing over. Darkness is real and if we let ourselves be enveloped by dark nights of the soul there is tremendous potential for deeper insight. Many of our mythic heroes and heroines must go into the dark earth or black waters in order to realize a critical piece of their journey.
Nature has within its intelligent design specific periods where the darkness reigns over the light. During the months leading to the winter solstice (Dec 21st) the darkness trumps and the portal to sadness, grief, anger, and deep inner processing opens. Each new moon period is also a time when the dark night skies remind us of our smallness. If we honor these natural periods of darkness we give the soul a chance to suffer. The word suffer comes from the Latin "sufferre", sub- ‘from below’ + ferre ‘to bear', or to "bear what is below."
As yoga teachers and students we can do a great service to our community by allowing ourselves to feel and express our suffering. We can let go of guilt and shame for feeling "depressed" and see it as a period of "deep rest". The darkness is here and we can fight it or we can curl up under its night skies and hear the stories it has to share and maybe, just maybe, we will awaken changed.

(from Teaching Tip Tuesdays, posted each Tuesday on Facebook by Sky House owner, Ashley Litecky Elenbaas)