Early in January I had a beautiful newsletter from my yoga nidrā mentor talking about residing ‘deep in the winter cave’. Like so many people I’ve spoken to this season, especially writers, she talked about the need for deep rest, deeper than ever before. We’re out of the midwinter pause now, but still in the cold of winter (-4 here as I write) and in the long climb towards spring. And we are all aware tht the world over the last year has been so shocking, so bruising that it is hard to believe winter will end.
Listening to the daily story
The big stories of the world are dark and can feel overwhelming so it’s not surprising that empathic and humane people feel it as a deep ache in bone and soul. The big stories are so saturated with suffering — human, animal, plant, the whole earth — that attending to our own stories can seem self-indulgent. But it really isn’t. The story we live daily, the good that we can do (no matter how small it feels or is) and the stories we write as a result are the only places to start from.
Moreover, if we are serious about becoming a different story, we are not embarking on cosy work. We will be celebrating the kindness and love and authenticity we recognise in ourselves, but we will also be in that deep winter cave for much of the time, learning to recognise and love our shadow parts, learning to face and name our demons with compassion. No matter how unloveable these demons seem — your self-doubt, your fear, your brittleness or fragility or whatever you face — they developed somewhere along your story as defence mechanisms and pouring on self-loathing won’t help.
Listening to the pain
That doesn’t mean you want to grow beyond their dire inner warnings. It doesn’t mean that you want to remain stuck, but doing hard work with some modicum of self kindness has to be preferable because this kind of inner work is always challenging.
The psychologist Rollo May had a sign in his waiting room that said: ‘Either way it hurts.’ If you do the work, listening to your story, demons and all, there will be times of darkness and struggle. But if you don’t do the work, the suffering won’t vanish, it will merely fester and come out in health problems or insomnia or depression…
Attending to our stories, the wounded parts and the illuminated parts, the inner demons and inner angels, is ultimately what makes us kinder to others. On a global scale, if countries and tribes could do this, how could we not be at peace? How could we fail to see that we are all connected?
In her collection, Small Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver put it like this
It is possible to move away from a vast, unbearable pain by delving into it deeper and deeper—by ‘diving into the wreck,’ to borrow the perfect words from Adrienne Rich.
Studying the pain or the part of ourselves that seems ugly, understanding its origins, naming its parts, she says, is the path to healing or transformation. She finishes:
I suppose what I am describing is the process of grief.
When we attend to our stories there will be grief. If ever we have loved, if ever we have cared about anyone or anything, then there is bound to be grief. All of us are haunted by the ‘might have beens’ of our stories as well as by the real and painful losses. But it’s only by listening to the whole story with compassion that finding resolution begins.
Small epiphanies, new visions
It won’t be an all-at-once epiphany that closes the door on grief. It’s always a process. Our stories are always about who we are becoming, step by step. But along the way the attention will repay us with small epiphanies, moments of clarity that shift something in us and point us to the next phase of our journey.
We all have different ways to attend to our stories — meditation, contemplating while walking, journalling, drawing, talking with those we trust whether this is a close friend or partner, a spiritual companion or therapist… Walking, journalling and yoga nidrā practices are my personal go-to tools and over the space between Solstice and the new year and into the first few days of the year this always feels acute. (And again at the turning of the Celtic seasons which I follow as the rhythm of the year.)
In the most recent round of journalling there have not been any resolutions, but I have thought about what changed for me and within me in 2023 — changes of direction and perspective shifts, struggles and triumphs. I have a list of the things I’m grateful for and some creative musing about insights that have come over the year.
Some of these have been blessings — I’ve recently added an extra training to my herbalism work that has totally reoriented my understanding of holistic practice and given me a new way of looking at energetics in herbalism. I’ve dug deeper into being grounded in the place where I live — another Celtic land that was once the territory of the Osismes whose homes are now deep beneath the forest where I regularly walk. Increasing my competence in French has certainly helped and has included reading locally written herbal and poetry collections (though still a long way to go).
Some of the insights have come from sitting with the demons. I’m someone who can easily fall into cycles of overwork and I’m increasingly conscious that beneath this tendency is a deep-rooted scarcity mentality handed down from an impoverished family and, with it, a drive to make myself responsible for far too much. Linger, listen, connect — it is enough. I believe this to my core, but practicing it takes constant realignment, small steps.
And so the next part of attending to my story is to give shape to the coming year. Nothing too rigid that will stop the surprises and impromptu gifts that life brings. Not resolutions that will set me up to fail. But a vision and a direction.
I’ve been stuck and not writing about this vision for the last few days, but today the waters rose — there is water flowing through the basement and the river that meanders peacefully through the garden in summer is a torrent spilling over the banks to make a lake of three of the fields of the garden — lapping just a couple of feet from the house. Water is a powerful metaphor for emotion and creativity — the flow outside helped something to burst inside. Of course I know where I want to make changes and take risks and leap into new things this year, I’d simply been resisting journalling about it because the constriction of that scarcity mentality was winning the day. The flood waters were what I needed to burst the constraint.
So now for a deep dive into the creative process of the next part of the story. I wish you all time to attend to your story this year, the insight to name, love and gently outgrow your demons and the vision to create the next part of your path.
Here’s to a kinder year and to becoming the story we want to give to the world.