Saturday, December 20, 2014

Introspection at Winter Solstice

Home, home again
I like to be here when I can

~Pink Floyd

When the daylight hours are at their shortest just before the winter solstice, staying home is so underrated.

All week friends and coworkers have been baffled by how tired they are, despite the amount of sleep they’ve had. Some even acted as though the fault was somehow their own. I reminded them that we’re coming up on the shortest day of the year, and that we should be hibernating. We are mammals, after all. And a good deal of mammals are laying low this time of year, staying warm and cozy in their nests/caves, and sleeping a LOT.

In the week before solstice, I always give myself permission to hibernate. This means staying home after work where it’s warm and quiet, rather than venturing out into the cold and dark. Permission to give my body the rest it’s inherently calling for. To be still, and to reflect.

I’ve done this for quite a few years, ever since I ran with a New Agey crowd in the 90s and learned what a sacred time the solstice was in many ancient cultures. I learned how to observe it as reverently as people do religious holidays. Native Americans, in particular, taught me to use this time to “go inward,” sitting in quiet introspection of the self—as a sort of inner renewal before the return of the light…leading toward springtime and new beginnings.

I remember when the song “Long December” came out (by Counting Crows), I marveled at how its slow tempo, its lyrics, and the contemplative inflection of Adam Duritz’s voice seemed to embody the feel of this. Especially this verse:

Drove up to Hillside Manor sometime after two a.m.
And talked a little while about the year
I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower,
Makes you talk a little lower about the things you could not show her

At this year’s solstice, my introspection has me contemplating the meaning of home.

For the first time since 2010, I will be able to go “home for the holidays.” Except there is no home anymore. This past spring, my mother was moved into assisted living and the house was slowly emptied and finally sold. There will be no more gathering around the living room talking and laughing as one family unit. No playing of the antique parlor grand Steinway and singing carols in three part harmonies. No sitting around the dining room table with all three table leaves put in, and no grandkids sledding down the hill in the big one-acre backyard.

My “home” is no longer a physical place, but a memory. It is now only a hometown, a region where I connect with friends and family.

In my life, Christmas has always been about family getting together. Talking, catching up, laughing, singing and jamming, and LOTS of eating. And sadly, there hasn’t been a Christmas like that (with everyone all together) in years. Many of my siblings felt they had reached a time of life where they needed to stay put in their own homes and host their own children and grandchildren. They would pay the bigger family (and our mother) visits just after Christmas, or just before…but they needed Christmas Day for their own immediate families.

This year when I am home for the holidays, it will be very different, but wonderful nonetheless. We have our 92-year-old mother talked into traveling an hour from southwest Ohio to Northern Kentucky where I and three of my sisters (and their families) will have Christmas together with her for the first time in a long time. And there will be talking, catching up, singing, and lots of eating. Even if it's not everyone.

This holiday visit, I will be savoring my mother like never before (my gut tells me this might be her last Christmas—but that’s another story for another time), no matter where we celebrate or where “home” is.

For me, a truer definition of home is where a family is. Even if the family is made up of just two people. In that respect, I am still working toward creating a home of my own. For the last ten years, I have been flitting back and forth from east to west to east and now northwest – and I feel it’s time to be still and grow roots. To find that family. To build a new home.

As I look forward to a new year, I’d like to end with this quote by Stephen Levine. I know he was talking about death, but I think it can apply to the “unknown” of the future.

"How do we allow ourselves to come into the unknown with an open heartedness and courage that allows life its fullness?"

~Stephen Levine
I know the answer to this question is the rigorous practice of maintaining a present-moment awareness. Spending as much time out of my head (dwelling on past or future) and in the now. Feeling the connection to all other beings and to what is going on right in front of me.

Fullness of life. I believe I have my focus phrase for 2015.


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