It’s the season of Solstice. Whether your winter festival is Christmas or Chanukah, Yule or Diwali… in the northern hemisphere the shortest day is the time when the sun stands still. It is the beginning of the astronomical winter.
Traditionally, this would be a time to slow down and hunker around fires, telling stories, getting through the long winter, which might bring hardship and illness, the threat of death. In our lifetimes it is more likely to have been a time of over-consumption, whether of food or ‘stuff’, parties or presents. And now? After a year in which ‘lockdown’, ‘social distancing’, ‘social isolation’, ‘shielding’ and ‘cocooning’ have become every day phrases, what should a celebration look like?
A rhythm of enchantment
Whatever our context, we need times of joy and celebration in our lives; the rhythm of fasting and feasting is an ancient one. There are times when we keep vigil and mourn. There are times when we celebrate. Sometimes we have to move rapidly between the two. Grieving with those who have lost a loved one, yet sharing joy at the birth of a child might fall in the same week. Over a long winter, finding time to step back and retreat into contemplation in order to feed a rich inner life might meaning taking a week, a day or even an hour or less out of a day that is otherwise full of outward activity. We balance times of festival with times of reflection.
Our creativity, like our lives, also has rhythms. There are fallow periods when whatever is happening creatively is so deep within that we begin to wonder if it has deserted us. But these winters of our creative spirit ebb and the next creative spring flourishes, often when we least expect it.
There is a rhythm between mundanity and enchantment in life and in creativity, a rhythm that pivots between the story of light and dark. Just as daily we wake to the light and to whatever the day holds, then sleep in darkness and whatever dreams the unconscious brings, so our creativity has spurts followed by the need to hibernate, withdraw and refresh.
Our lives cannot be lived only in coruscating brilliance or withdrawn darkness. To see the beauty and enchantment of life, to take pleasure, requires moments of shadow, contrast and depth as well as of grandeur, grace and epiphany.
But finding this rhythm isn’t always simple. At its worst, the festive season can be a time of running ragged, buying ‘stuff’ we are not sure anyone will like or appreciate, let alone use, because it’s ‘expected’, cooking up storms only to feel bloated and out of sorts or spending time socialising in ways that only ever skims the surface. Even in good years, the festive season can leave us feeling spiritually empty and deeply ill at ease.
Yet at its best, this can be the time to bring the rhythms of light and dark together in close harmony. It can be a season of valuing family and friends,whilst also finding the space for our inner lives and to nurture our ever-changing story. It can be a season in which we face the dark and honour what has been lost over the last year and will be lost in the future, yet still look towards the light. It can be a season in which fears and hopes alike are met with kindness and a vision of new life.
A daily enchantment
So why is it so easy to lose this rhythm and end up feeling jaded and exhausted? Why is it so difficult to get through the festive season without the tension between deep darkness and epiphanic celebration collapsing into a tangle of fatigue?
There are surely many answers, but I think one part of the problem is to do with world of consumption we live in. The most toxic myth of our age has been that (as humans) we are gods with the rights to use up the planet like some infinite toy-box. In this scenario, the individual trumps the community and the corporation masquerades as an individual.
In this poisoned story, the watchwords are ‘more’, ‘bigger’, ‘better’ and ‘peak’. We’re sold so many ‘peak experiences’ (and it’s notable that they are almost invariably purchased, not experienced through serendipity) that we become inured and harder to impress. One of the things I most admire about my three-year old grandson is his ability to say ‘Wow’ in the face of things that could easily be dismissed by adults: a simple gift, a new taste, a big puddle, a bubble bath …
Of course we need a rhythm and a seasonal flow of fasts and feasts that encompasses the darkest lows and most wonderful joys of our existence, but we also need the ability to value the quotidian and see the enchantment in it.
And we do this not by being in pursuit of ‘more’ or a bigger ‘peak experience’, but rather by valuing slower, simpler, more connected lives.
Writing about starting an alternative model of business in the music industry, Geoff Travis noted:
I wasn’t interested in competition or success. My inspiration was not ‘wanting to join the straight world’. Rough Trade wasn’t like, ‘let’s build an empire.’ It was more, ‘let’s find a working environment that’s actually enjoyable to be in every day.’ That Situationist thing where what happens in your everyday life is really important, and actually is more important than what your goal might be.
This is what I’ve realised more and more over this year, with all its obstacles and challenges. What makes my day enchanted might be different from yours or many others in the individual details, but however the particulars vary, enchanted days occur when life slows down sufficiently for us to take joy in its simplest elements.
Enchanting the everyday is how we live stories of meaning and depth. It doesn’t require the distractions of dumbed down media or the super-highs of adrenaline-filled off the peg ‘experiences’. It is how we live each and every day that builds into a good life.
Along the way this will include the rhythm of high days and holidays, of experiences that are extraordinary and special memories. It will include our most desolate moments of loss and grief. But the rhythm of these will only become humane and not dissolve into despair or burn us out in excess when our ordinary days contain a sense of enchantment.
For me, this festive season, that will be a meal with the only two family members I can be physically present with in the current climate; stopping to make herbal tea and watching the river race by; stringing a single chain of fairy lights across our front window; foraging for holly and ivy in the forest or reading poetry late at night… It will mean using technology to be with my family on Christmas day, and connecting to my oldest friend in Australia.
After a year of lockdowns and Brexit and … this is what celebration will look like and it is sweet and good. And for you?
The courage of enchantment
Giving precedence to the simple pleasures of the everyday; finding moments of enchantment in chopping vegetables or taking a walk, requires a courageous and generous heart that is not easily swayed by riches or fame or vacuous thrills or the god of More, More, More.
Making the everyday a place of enchantment requires resilience and a calm sense of equilibrium. It requires that we have good boundaries to refuse whatever would distract or undermine us. It requires the belief that knowledge and healing are found deep within or in making deep connections.
We change our story and find the vision for healing and transformation by living the everyday well.
This festive season, give yourself space to dive deeply within, to find the highs and lows, face them, honour them and move on. Give your relationships and your most vital connections space to flourish, perhaps spending more attention than money on those you love or environments you rely on, even if some of that has to rely on technology. But most of all, nurture the simple pleasures of this season, value them, and delight in the enchantment that the ordinary holds.
Becoming a different story
Thank you for reading — if you’d like to join writers who are diving deeply into the writing life and making transformations, sign up to my email list. You’ll also find free courses here on the site including a Solstice forest meditation to download on December 21, a small gift for the winter season. While you’re there, take a look at my book Writing Down Deep: an alchemy of the writing life.
Marina Sanchez says
Thank you Jan for reminding us about what is important to remember in this season and every day.
I went to a local wood today to visit the oaks that a group of us campaigned to save from being felled and there’s a stay of execution until next year:)
It was lovely to see so many people out, to watch the fading light and try not to slip in the mud while making my way to the oaks.
Happy Winter Solstice and major conjunction to you and your family!
Thank you Marina — I managed to make a wreath of the foraged ivy and holly this afternoon after a walk in the woods — so good to connect with trees in winter. I hope your oaks survive longer than next year. Solstice blessings 🙂