Thoughts for a Winter’s Eve

A group of us spent some time together in a “virtual” circle (via video conference) last night, on the Winter Solstice. Tuning in from Boston, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Madrid, São Paulo, and Romania, we gathered to consider what we have learned this past year, what “darkness” in our lives we are prepared to leave behind, and what “lightness” we see over the horizon.

The questions we considered were inspired by a Winter Solstice Ritual guide developed and designed by my friend Clare Mulvany, a creative mentor, writer and thinker whom I met at the OnBeing Gathering earlier this year. She was generous enough to share this guide with us to establish a framework for recognizing the longest night of the year, when we simultaneously embrace the darkness and hold hope for light and renewal.

From the question “what have you learned this year?” came collective wisdom that provided worthy lessons for all of us to consider.

Curate, cultivate and activate your community

There’s been a lot of attention these past years on emotional resilience, the ability to navigate and face down life’s ongoing challenges with courage. Certainly, being agile and brave is an important survival skill in today’s bewildering, almost chaotic, world.

Equally important, though, is that we feel we are accompanied in our life’s difficulties. Feeling connected to others can provide strength to persevere.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Brené Brown

I’ve been in several conversations this past year regarding the importance of being intentional about the people with whom you surround yourself. Researchers are investigating the impact of our social networks on our health and well-being. The researchers behind the so-called “Blue Zones” — pockets of the world with the highest life expectancy — list nine common denominators among them. Of those nine, three involve a sense of belonging. Curating a tribe — a network of people who can support the best version of yourself — can ensure that you are able to walk your path well-accompanied.

Remain Flexible

We move through this world with the false impression that we control things. The market is flooded with planning books of various sorts that help us sort out our lives in ten-point plans, daily affirmations and long term projections of goals. We have it all mapped out…until we don’t. We come across a major roadblock, a tearing-apart of our vision of ourselves and those around us. These situations come to us uninvited and unannounced, reminding us that there are no guarantees.

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

James 4:14

These moments offer us the opportunity to exercise resilience. They are also an invitation for deep reflection about the path we were on, and what our alternatives may be. It’s a time to consult our compass rather than our map — that is, look up and out at our “true north” that guides us, rather than the specific steps or routes to getting there.

You are stronger than you think

Our personal, inner strength is not tested when things are running smoothly. It happens when we are faced with a challenge, or we take a big risk. I find that hope is the undercurrent to strength.

“We often don’t quite trust that rebirth will follow the deaths of what we thought we knew. We sense that somehow what comes next is up to us, but we’re not sure where to begin. Yet it’s precisely in these moments when we let our truest, hardest questions rise up in our midst, allow their place among us, that we become able to live into them rather than away and to do so together.”

Krista Tippett

Many of us, looking back on a particularly trying or tragic time in our lives, can continue to be incredulous that we were able to come out the other side. We may come out of the experience frazzled, frayed, and fumbling. But over time, as the thick fog starts to clear, we glance over our shoulders and vaguely recognize the person we were.

Strength, powered by hope, got us across the abyss.

Embrace the adventure

What I love most about these lessons it that they are not theoretical. They are real lessons, by real people, who faced significant — sometimes tragic, sometimes terrifying — challenges this year. Surely, some of them may have preferred not to have suffered through those challenges. But they all recognize the growth that came as a result. Each of the participants in our Winter Solstice Circle shared real experiences, and what they carry with them as a result.

Each one has done more than “lean in” to their lives, just as they are. They have embraced the ride and look toward the light of the coming year.

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