It’s the middle of November, the last weeks of another year of extreme weather, fires, floods, the lingering threats of Covid, wars and rumours of wars… Less than two weeks ago I was in Paris for Samhain with unseasonal temperatures in the mid-twenties. Now I’m beginning to look forward to the first Christmas in three years when at least some of my family can travel to be together. At this cusp of winter, there is a feeling of entering a liminal space where the news is uncertain.
In the stillness
The world, as long as we are not lured into the hustle of preparing for Christmas as the next big consumer jamboree, slows at this time of the year. The leaves are shedding or shedding (climate change seems to have pushed winter back in corner of the world); the meadow grasses die back and rest; the seeds are underground doing rich, invisible and slow work that will not emerge for months. In this part of France, the people seem to hibernate as much as some of the creatures.
reflect and heal
And in the stillness, there are spaces for reflection. Having recently completed the first issue of Kith Review on the theme of ‘Abundance’ a lot of my reflection has been on this subject. Writing the editorial for the inaugural issue made me realise the extent to which I come from a family with generations of scarcity stories. I still carry those stories and I won’t shift them by simply telling myself how wrong they are—it’s not only about convincing myself rationally—my body also needs to believe me.
Moreover, convincing my body is about taking time in stillness to sit with those scarcity stories and allow them to heal. For me that’s a process of journalling and of practicing yoga nidrā—a meditative space where my subconscious can make perspective shifts deep below the surface. A process akin to the seeds that are germinating in the earth through the dark winter months.
For others, the stories of scarcity or fear may be different and your ways of healing them various—conversations, walking, faith journeys… but the need to have the space to reflect and heal is common to all of us, whatever the uniqueness of our particular scars.
In the stillness of the earth, processes of rotting vegetation are enriching the soil and seeds are incubating the life that will burst out again next Spring. There is an extraordinary generosity in these natural processes. What dies gives life to the next generation of sap, plants, creatures… The letting go is not an act of nihilism or despair but a life-affirming cycle.
And then there are all those seeds—the nutrition in seeds is dense and enriching. Think of elderberries or rosehips that are packed with vitamins and immune-enhancing goodness. Think of nettle seeds that are trophorestoratives—nourishing tonics for the liver and adrenals.
We too are rich terrains for new seeds. They may be the seeds of our next creative project, a new phase of life or something entirely different. But they are in there and these still months are a good time to nurture them with the mulch of what has gone before in our stories. As well as a good time to be generous to ourselves and to those whose lives we touch.
Being generous—whether this means giving ourselves time or being there for others (and often the two are intimately linked)—also requires the kind of clarity that nature models on a sharp blue winter day when the sky is blue and the ground shimmering with frost.
It’s this clarity added to healing and generosity that helps us to focus on what really matters. In the editorial to Kith Review 1 I noted:
…we live on an abundant planet, despite humanity’s efforts to pollute and degrade it. And at its core, abundance is not a measurement. In a world where there is such a sharp divide between living in riches or scarcity and an increasingly complex media that encourages dissatisfaction and want, we often, and understandably, confuse abundance with consumption. There is nothing romantic about poverty. But abundance is not about having things, or acquiring more and more ‘stuff’. It’s about how we savour life, the ability to delight in the everyday pleasures that surround us. Abundance comes in those moments when we are truly alive to the present and in how we connect with all life.
There is so much media hype encouraging us not to have clarity. It serves the status quo to keep us muddling acquisition and stuff with living abundantly, which takes us full circle to the need for reflection and healing. When we’re overwhelmed and fielding a massive to-do list and have no time to stop and think then we’re much more likely to think in muddied terms; we’re much more likely to fall into patterns that exhaust us.
we can listen
Finding some time for stillness, especially at times of the year when the natural world is doing the same, is a way of listening deeply. When we listen to our deepest stories, and to the shadow sides of the stories we tell ourselves, then we begin some healing. And when we are in the stream of healing we are much more open to being of service.
I recently had a conversation with someone about journalling and the other person said she finds herself often going around the same circles in her journal. The same rubbish keeps turning up in her life, even though she’s achieved so many goals and outwardly is seen as someone who has ‘come a long way’. She wondered if there was any point in going on journalling or was she just digging the same rut ever-deeper?
I’ve sometimes felt the same yet when I look back at my journals over a longer period I can also see some real shifts—often from what seemed at the time to be the smallest of epiphanies. There are lots of ways to listen to and heal our stories and journalling is just one possible route, but however we do it, perhaps the clue is in asking ourselves exactly what we are listening to.
In the stories we tell, about ourselves and others, we make choices. We highlight particular events or traits. We give the story its slant. When someone says ‘I’m always the giver’, that may be a true story. But what is the shadow side of the story? Those who give and give and give can also be people who gain status by being relied on or who exert control through their magnanimity. There’s often a fine line between a virtue and it’s shadow.
I’ve seen this in myself through the long process of parenting—I love the philosophy of the sculptor Anne Truitt who journalled about her development as both an artist and parent in Daybook and says of her parenting that she had to learn to ‘withdraw her terrirory’ in order to allow her young adult children to flourish.
Listening to the whole of our story—the things we highlight and the shadows we tend to suppress—can be an illuminating process that allows us not to keep going round in the circles. Such listening of course needs to be done with kindness, not as an act of self-sabotage and judgement but as a way of gently shifting our perspective.
how lovely if we can hear
When we listen to ourselves in this way—deeply and honestly, we also become better at listening to others—to the gaps, doubts and depths as well as the surfaces. When we listen to our own stories we simply have more to offer, not as myopic or egotistical taking centre stage but because the more we know how important our healing is, the more we feel confident enough to get out of the way when we are listening to someone else.
It also frees us to listen more widely—to the pain of the wider society we’re embedded in; to the suffering of the planet. One of the things I’ve experienced during my herbalist training is what my mentor calls ‘nature resonance’. It’s not magic or dependent on a particular spiritual ideology, but simply the act of listening to the natural environment.
It starts from recognising that we are nature, We’re not some separate uber-species that is outside nature. Outside, we spend time focussing on the breath, body, and how we move, gradually becoming still and more aware of our internal senses. We switch the focus from inner to outer senses and vice versa. It’s a playful process that allows us to listen within so that we can connect with natural allies around us, often trees. It’s a way of feeling part of all life, connected. What we hear is non-verbal, but powerful—a sense of overcoming the fragmentation of life.
In the stillness of this time between Samhain and Solstice, as the earth (in the northern hemisphere) turns inwards, there is an invitation for us to do the same—not as navel-gazing but as part of the healing of each of our stories. It’s in the stillness that we can reflect and heal, become more generous and find clarity. It’s in the stillness we can listen—to our own story and to its shadow; to the stories of others and to the story of our planet and all of life. And how lovely if we hear something there that moves us on to the next cycle of healing and being of service, through our writing and through the lives we live.