Keeping Love Alive in the Darkness

Most holiday greetings include words like “joy,” “merry” and “happy” in their text. Yet, consider that we are called tokeeping love alive in the darkness celebrate cultural and religious traditions with family and friends – during the darkest time of the year. This darkness manifests in our lives in many ways that can not only make it a challenge for us to be happy and joyful, but also cause us to forget the essential teaching of this season--keeping love alive.

“Ancient traditions remind us that we have come to this world for one reason….to love and to find a love even greater than any known by the angels of the heavens.”
–Gregg Braden, The Isaiah Effect: Decoding the Lost Science of Prayer and Prophecy”

Legacy of love

Trees and plants go dormant or die in winter. Their essence is preserved in their seeds and roots for rebirth and rejuvenation in the spring. Whether nature or humans, we all have an essence that lives on after death in the energy of the cosmos, in nature and in the legacy we leave behind and pass onto others. This essence is love. Divine love permeates the Universe. It is the core energy that connects and holds everything together—the stars, galaxies, planets, moons, everything on Earth.

Keeping the charge of love alive
is an essential teaching of the holiday season.

Darkness and Diminished energy 

At this time of year the sun, our natural energy charger, is busy sending its rays to other parts of the planet, leaving us with short, dark dreary days. We in the North are supposed to be hibernating like the rest of nature. Instead we’re typically out and about trying to be merry, stressing our bodies–and often our relationships. It’s not uncommon for heated arguments to ensue at family gatherings. Now with our current political climate and the continuing stress ensued from the Covid-19 pandemic, the charge of love has seemingly diminished.

keeping love alive in the darkness

Perhaps we can learn something from our earliest ancestors. They feared that the life-giving sun would disappear at this time of year. So they performed rituals they believed would prevent this from happening. Eventually, they came to embrace this season as a womb or seedbed of life to come. They saw the Winter Solstice as a time of death, a passing away of the old pattern of the year—the old sun, old habits, beliefs and structures—and birth of a new sun, new patterns and possibilities. It was a time of healing and transformation.

Changing traditions

Our traditions are filled with memories of the past and the love we’ve shared with others. But traditions change when people’s lives change. Children grow up and move away, relationships end and loved ones pass on–and even pandemics emerge. We keep love alive when we adapt to change, like nature, even creating new traditions and bringing new people into the fold. This helps heal losses and create new possibilities.

Keeping love alive: Winter Solstice ceremony at Jacqui'sEach year on the solstice, I host a gathering of special people. We sit in sacred darkness as I lead a special ceremonial ritual drawn from ancient native traditions. A friend plays the Native American flute which is accompanied by the soft beating of a drum resembling the heartbeat. Candles are lit and the flame is passed  to another as we each share a story of how we moved from darkness into the light during the past or recent years, or something that lit us with joy. We end with a hearty laugh and a wish for new possibilities in the coming year!

Keeping love alive

The holiday season typically ends with an appeal to make New Year’s resolutions to help us call in the light and create those transformational possibilities. Perhaps it’s to take better care of body, mind or spirit. But resolutions can be empty words unless we imbibe them with energy, passion – and love. As the sun shifts into a new pattern it invites us to do the same. I invite you to take a moment to light a candle before the New Year. Feel Divine love energy alive within helping you to create resolutions that you can implement with joy and ease in the coming year–even in dark times. You might ask yourself:

  1. What am I willing to release–habits, patterns, beliefs, or something else?
  2. How do I want to show up in the coming year? 
  3. How will I keep love alive this year? 

    Keeping love alive imbibes you with the courage to stretch to new possibilities.

Check out my classes of Hanna Somatic Movement and iRest Meditation.

 

Loving kindness

Taking Pause

“It’s not so much knowing when to speak, but when to pause.”—Jack Benny, American comedian who died in 1974

What is a pause? Generally, it’s an interlude or gap between two things. Some pauses are long and others brief. Some may seem pregnant with meaning, especially when someone pauses while speaking. If you’re taking a class or attending a speech or presentation and the teacher or speaker stops talking, you probably become intensely aware of the sudden empty space waiting to be filled. Your mind may try to fill in the space with what you assume is coming next, or you may also relish the uncertainty—remaining open to something unanticipated. During that notable pause, you may feel a special connection with the speaker, as well as with everyone else in the room. Had your mind wandered prior to the pause, you may suddenly find yourself very much in the present moment.

In written works, periods, commas, dashes, and colons force the reader to pause and better grasp what he or she is reading. Pauses can help you transition from one activity to another, and even shift your mood. And, pauses can help you experience moments of deep presence—nothing lacking and everything just as it is. As the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has said: “If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.”

Beneath the surface

icebergHuman beings present themselves to the world much like the tip of an iceberg floating in the ocean. Beneath the surface of the myriad of distractions and busyness of life there is an enormous depth of being. Pauses can help you drop the facade and access this depth so you can listen to your own inner voice and connect with your true views and desires and even your intrinsic value system.

Author Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own: “…it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.” Our body, brain, and spirit need periods of idleness, of non-doing. That’s how ancient hunters and gatherers lived. When they weren’t acquiring food for sustenance, they played, groomed, rested, and gazed at the heavens contemplating their existence in nature and the universe.

One can take pause in prayer, meditation, or simply a deep breath. Longer pauses might be spent in nature, on vacation, or on a sabbatical—from work or even a relationship. When a relationship grows sour, or an impasse ensues following an argument, it can be helpful for each partner to take a time out for inner inquiry and reflection. This creates space to examine beliefs and feelings related to the situation.

In his beloved classic The Prophet Kahil Gibran says this about marriage: “let there be spaces in your togetherness…” A healthy relationship needs spaces for separateness—space to grow individually as well as together. Knowing when to pause, as Jack Benny said, is at the heart of every person’s life. Gibran ends with: “And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” Like trees, we all need space in order to thrive.

walking pathWhen feeling stuck or blocked in trying to solve a problem or finish a project, shifting one’s attention to something else—taking a walk or breathing deeply—interrupts the brain circuits. You may recall times when you fail to remember a person’s name; the harder you try, the more it eludes you. But when you back away for a moment, it quickly pops into mind. I often take breaks when writing to move my body; I tend to have my most creative insights while walking or even driving. Not surprisingly yoga and meditation foster physical and spiritual opening up.

Practice pausing by noticing your feelings, thoughts, and actions in the moment. Don’t analyze, criticize, or try to fix anything. Simply ask questions like “What do I believe right now?” “Are these beliefs really true?” “How would my life change if I letgo of this belief?” Notice how such pauses foster shifts in your thinking and feeling when you are experiencing a challenge, impasse, or even fatigue.

Selah

Selah is a Hebrew word that is used extensively in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms, which is often interpreted as “stop and listen.” A national organization, Selah Freedom, is dedicated to ending sex trafficking and bring freedom to the exploited. They interpret Selah as to pause, rest, reflect. Psychologist Rollo May wrote, “Human freedom involves our capacity to pause, to choose the one response to throw our weight.”

Selah Freedom has a residential program for victims of trafficking that provides needed therapy and life coaching to help the young women overcome the damage of past trauma and find new life paths. The program offers personalized educational plans, job placement, trauma therapy (including equine therapy), education in life skills, medical and legal assistance, and holistic restorative care.

meditationI have the honor of facilitating iRest Yoga Nidra meditation programs at Selah Freedom’s Chicago residential facility. During iRest, the women, mostly in their late teens and twenties, set aside their dark past and whatever has gone on in their day. They lie down on blankets and pillows and slip into deep relaxation and even dreamless sleep as I guide them in mindfulness practices aimed at helping them feel safe. The practice teaches them to welcome emotions and self-limiting beliefs, which ultimately lose their potency. This clears the way to uncover their wholeness and worthiness.

Pausing: make it a habit

You may not have a staff of coaches and therapists focused on helping you achieve your life goals, but you can do much of this work on your own by finding your own way to pause.

Pausing provides space to discover your deepest desires. When you do this regularly and intentionally, those desires become a motivating force, like an inner compass reminding you to stay on your path and sort out what’s right for you and what’s not…not this, not that, YES this!

Lily padsGetting in the habit of taking regular pauses can help you recharge and become more connected to life. What you do for yourself, you do for others. What you do for others, you do for yourself.

Your most healing pauses may be simply resting and being. You might start by taking a deep breath, expanding the whole rib cage and belly, then resting and letting go. Use this simple acronym as a reminder: TAP RIBTake a Pause, Rest in Being.

I would like to leave you with a few words from a poem by William Stafford titled “You Reading This, Be Ready”:…carry into evening all that you want from this day. The interval you spent reading or hearing this, keep it for life.”

I hope you regularly take pause to note what you wish to carry forward in this day and in your life.

Passionate Living into Midlife and Beyond

Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr., once captured the essence of youth when he wrote, “In our youth our hearts are loaded with fire.” Youth, by nature, tend to be fearless and daring, filled with dreams and ambitions. They are like sponges absorbing every sensation as they seek their identity and life purpose. In adulthood, youthful passions fade, as we deal with day-to-day responsibilities of work, family, obligations. Certain life transitions, such as the loss of jobs, relationships or the death of a loved one can zap our fire even more.

I believe, however, that life longs to flow through us, and we all have the capacity to open our channels to rekindle passions or discover new ones–at any stage of life. I also believe it is our responsibility to do so.

What is passionate living?
To live passionately is to live with a sense of purpose, to engage in activities that you care about, that help you feel in “the zone”; when you lose track of time and are at one with the activity. It may be times when you feel great joy or inspiration such as being in nature.  It may be doing something that requires great hardship, as Mahatma Gandhi experienced. “Suffering, cheerfully endured, ceases to be suffering and is transmuted into ineffable joy,” wrote Gandhi.

Passion is an expression of aliveness and giving of self. To be passionate is to be ruled by intense emotions such as boundless enthusiasm, excitement, inspiration or love. But passion can also be expressed as anger, envy, or even violence. Both extremes of our passions can “rule” our lives, leaving us feeling out of sync and out of control. Yet when we live with consciousness and mindfulness, our passions (or lack of them) can teach us who we are, where we belong, and where our passion lies. This learning can guide and enrich us, even as we traverse life’s inevitable challenges.

Explore your passions
Passion in midlife and beyond is grounded in wisdom that is focused purposefully. To live a fulfilling life with purpose, it’s important to explore what you truly care about, what gives your life meaning, and what is the legacy you wish to leave behind. Your life, no matter how seemingly ordinary, is extraordinary. You have great wisdom that can be shared with others. When old belief patterns are stripped of negative limitations, you become liberated–able to resurrect old dreams or create new ones. When you examine your life experiences, lessons learned, and the inventory of your gifts and skills, you can discover your true calling.

In The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50“, author Sara Lawrence Lightfoot uncovered in those she interviewed a sense of urgency about the finiteness of life. They were not only doing the things that had been left undone, but were also engaged in new learning, inspiring curiosity, innovation, and resourcefulness. They were exploring ways to reinvent themselves. Their wisdom encouraged them to become better listeners and more patient and to have the courage to speak their truth.

Get enthused
The word enthusiasm is derived from the Greek “entheos, ” which means “in god, or to be “possessed” or “inspired.” “When do you experience enthusiasm? If you are not in touch with your passions, try taking the following steps:

* Think of the people you know who have enthusiasm about what they do.
What characteristics do they have in common?
* Examine a newspaper–every news item, editorial, ad, or entertainment
feature. Which items grab you?
* Think back over your life looking for clues about when you felt enthused.
Pay special attention to events before age 11 before habits become ingrained.
* Consider the things that excite you or anger you most.
* Ask yourself why you get up in the morning.

Blueprint for vital living

1. Identity: Reflect on your life stories to help you know who you are.
3. Passion:
Determine what you care about and are called to do in life
3. Meaning:
Know that what you stand for and what you value provides fuel to keep your passion alive.
4. Place: Based on the above, where do you fit in and with whom?

Richard Leider and David Shapiro speak of growing “whole not old”. In their book Claiming Your Place by the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose, they pose four aspects to explore for vital living:We live more passionately when we understand the deeper spiritual meaning of our lives. At any time of life it is valuable to take time for reflection, to evaluate what you have accomplished–or not–and create a new vision for where to go next. Is it a new career? A service opportunity or a new or unfulfilled dream? The authors of the books I’ve mentioned stress the importance of engaging in cross-generational activities. Wise elders can be inspired by the passions of youth, as they model, teach, and mentor younger generations.

I believe we should banish the word retirement, which means “withdrawal.” It has no passion or life in it. Everything you do matters. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “…to know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”


Questions to ponder:

* Where do you find passion in your life, or do you find yourself saying, “I’m not passionate about anything”?

*  What unfulfilled dreams are sitting in your dark closet?

*  What would it feel like if you could live with more joy and passion?

I invite you to share your share your thoughts