A 12-Step Winter Solstice Ceremony For Everyone.
In Ireland, there lies a 5,000 year old tomb called the Newgrange Passage.
It was constructed so the only light that ever enters is during the dawn of winter solstice. It is entirely dark for the rest of the year.
The physical remains of the ancients’ dead were left in the tomb, so that upon the dawning light of winter solstice, their loved ones’ souls could more easily transition onward and upward.
The ancient people were great astronomers, and followed the lead of the stars they studied.
They saw this annual celestial setup as a unique time during which the veil between worlds thinned, so to speak, and a brief window was opened as an opportunity to connect spiritually at a much deeper than normal level.
During these solstice days, the sun appears to stop moving, yet is actually readying herself for birthing more light in the cradle of deepest dark.
It is a sacred ancient time of worshiping life over death via the energy of light growing out of dark, as well as a cosmic opportunity to let go and move forward.
For us, Winter Solstice marks a time of year for turning inward, trusting that you’ve done enough, and opening up your interior so that you can rest, reflect and regain balance in your purpose.
It is the deep sleep at the end of a long run that helps your muscles heal and grow stronger; a type of death that allows you a space to incorporate all that’s happened, all that needs to be released, and all that’s required for growth in the coming cycle.
These planetary designed apertures in the fabric of the universe offer us a chance for deliberate shedding and forward movement, no different from the way the ground warms in the spring to help plants grow.
Except possibly, unlike plants, we get to decide what to let go of and how to move forward. Nature’s mechanisms support us in all ways.
The ancients mirrored nature to find their wholeness, and that is what we need to do to find ours as well. When we move closer to wholeness, we feel stronger about who we are, we know better what we love, and how best to offer that in service to the world.
Winter solstice is a time in which internal dreams and bodily awareness take precedence over outward involvement.
However, instead of going slow and honoring the nature of which we are inextricably linked, we are instead stressfully wrapped in a culture whose expectations require us to be in full energy-out mode in the name of holiday giving.
This ceremony is a way to honor the true spirit of giving by answering nature’s request for us to go dark for a bit, so we can accept new light in our lives with purpose and intention.
It is a way to take stock of you, and pledge your loyalty as a conscious participant in the development of your own spirit.
If we can rank inner growth above shopping trips and cocktail parties on our holiday wish list, then we offer others an opportunity to put themselves first too this time of year. And by doing that we exponentially increase the happiness factor.
And that’s a gift that keeps on giving.
Step 1: Make yourself sweat in your preferred way. Anything that stirs you up and moves out your anxious energy. Do this for at least 30 minutes.
Some ideas: dance, hike, bike, run, karate chop, high kick, Power Yoga, hopping like a bunny perhaps, anything that makes you move will work.
Step 2: Take 10 deep conscious breaths seated with eyes closed.
Step 3: Grab paper and pen, and find a place where you can sit safely unbothered.
Step 4: Write the answers to the following questions:
1. Where were you last winter?
- Physically where were you — how did your body feel?
- Mentally — how was your head this time last winter?
- Emotionally — how did you feel a year ago?
- Your relationships — how connected were you to your loved ones last winter?
- Your purpose and your passions — how on track were you with them last winter?
2. Spring? (answer same questions as above)
5. What major events happened over the past year?
- How did they affect your body?
- Your mental state?
- Your emotional state?
- Your perception of life?
6. What have you struggled with most over the past year?
7. What have you learned from these struggles?
8. What positive things happened over the past year?
9. What feelings/habits/thought patterns would you like to let go of?
10. How have your personal passions developed over the past year? (Your hobbies, interests, the things you love to do for no other reason than you love to do them — how have those things evolved over the past year?)
11. How have you incorporated your passions into more of your daily life?
12. What do you need in order to be able to do more of what you love to do? (make a list)
Step 5: Put writing aside and stretch your body with your breath for at least 10 minutes. Asana is wonderful here, but not everyone is a Yoga practitioner, so if that is you, all you have to do is move your body with your breath for 10 minutes.
For example, inhale — chest out and eyes open, exhale — round back and close eyes; or inhale — point toes, exhale — flex feet; or inhale — lean left, exhale — center, inhale — lean right, and so on.
Step 6: Sit with your eyes closed for five minutes. Let thoughts and feelings come and go like trains at a station; you’re just on a bench, people-watching. Notice the sounds and your breath and how your body feels when you notice it.
Step 7: Review what you wrote.
Step 8: Restorative or Yin Yoga. Just basic stretching poses to help you relax.
Step 9: Corpse Pose. Lie down with your arms and legs splayed, close your eyes and breathe. Let everything go, nothing to notice but your body’s unique humming.
Step 10: Burn your writing as a way of surrendering control. You’ve done your work, now it’s in the hands of the Universe.
Step 11: Go outside and give something meaningful and valuable of yours to nature. Hence the whole decorating the tree and gift-giving rituals. When we sacrifice the things we love as a form of adornment, we are staking our claim as contributors in the whole.
Step 12: Do something you enjoy for the rest of the night. Your favorite food and movie, or snuggle up with some chocolate and a book, or take an evening stroll with your dog. Find something that will allow you to relax in a snuggly fox den sort of way.
This ceremony is to help you use Mother Nature to feel more whole, less tired and drained, and more in line with the real you underneath all the fanfare. The natural world is, and always has been, our greatest teacher.
The idea isn’t to bar yourself from holiday festivities, but to re-associate the holiday season as a time for connecting to the natural rhythms of our bodies and the world from which they came. A time for caring for yourself, so you can care for the world.
Valerie Shively is a writer, Yoga teacher, and more than anything else, a partner-in-crime to her daughter Eve. She’s had a shanty past, and predicts a shantier future filled with doubt, certainty and that beautiful space in between where we feel free and maybe even obligated to be who we are. She believes doing what you love is your ticket up, and a little bit of chocolate and faith goes a long way when you’re down. She lives in New York, and runs a small batch herbal bitters company with her better half, called Old Stones Bitters. You can connect with her at her fledgling blog.