In the last post, we were rather immersed in the bleak midwinter of the soul. And what a miserable place that proved to be! Perhaps, like me, you were left feeling somewhat disheartened – and knowing that the bleak midwinter is a necessary stage of the soul’s growth may not have helped at all! As the fierce winds howl around us, as the biting cold gnaws us to the bone, when we are in the midst of it all and feeling lost and alone, we need all the resources and support we can muster. We want to know how we can survive such cold, barren places in our lives.
So gather around – I’ve found some individuals willing to help us. A somewhat eclectic mob, perhaps – a Greek goddess, an American lawyer and a bunch of people singing fa la la la la. But all willing to share what they know. So come out of the cold, join us around the fire, and have a cup of something hot as we mull over strategies for sustaining ourselves in hard times….
Who better to turn to first for advice than Hestia, the greek goddess of hearth and home. Hestia, what wisdom can you share with us?
Hestia: My name means ‘fire’ or ‘hearth’, and this is the gift I can give you. Fire and warmth are essential for the survival and nourishment of individuals, households and communities. As chief among the goddesses, I hold the place of highest importance in every household. It’s absolutely essential that my gift of fire is preserved and nurtured, otherwise the household and its individuals will certainly suffer. It’s such a vital task, tending the fire, so make sure you don’t neglect it. And as you go out into the world, carry a flame or some coals with you.
Think about how you can bring the spark of fire into your home and life. Perhaps not an actual fire, but what else do you have that brings warmth, light, energy? Are there people with an inner fire that you can gather around you? Perhaps a candle, lamps, vibrant colours, lively music, energetic activity, warming foods? (For some ways to enliven your senses and bring in more warmth and energy, see the post Feeling blah? Here’s 5 body-centred ways to enliven your spirit! Maybe there’s a space in your home that gives you a warm feeling whenever you are in it. Or a small ritual that reminds you of the gifts the fire symbolizes. When you consciously bring these things into your life, you are feeding and nurturing the fire. And then it, in turn, can warm, nourish and sustain you. Just like this blazing log fire tonight!
Hestia’s advice: Think of at least 3 ways you can bring my ‘fire’ into your life. How will you tend these sources of warmth, light and energy? Have at least one practical way for each – and do it!
Well – good advice from Hestia. Knowing what I do about Greek mythology (thanks, Wikipedia!), I know that it is customary to offer her the first and last glass of wine at feasts, so I hope someone has given the first mulled wine to her! On the other side of the fire we have the prominent American lawyer and poet, Max Ehrmann. Who? Turns out he was the one who, in 1927, penned the wonderful advice for living known as The Desiderata (and I imagined it was written by some medieval monk!). Max, you obviously know about navigating hard times. What can you share with us?
Max: The advice I gave in 1927 is still true today. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. And beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. I suggest you take particular note of the bit about fatigue and loneliness. There’s two things right there that can make a big difference – 1/ Looking after yourself physically – rest, good food, walks in the fresh air. Think about what you can do to support your body as it battles the elements.
2/ Build a community of support around you. Being alone in hard times is incredibly difficult. Whether you have just one good friend or a whole tribe, whether that person is nearby or on the end of the phone, and whether its someone you’ve known forever or a group of people on the internet going through the same thing as you – doesn’t matter – find those who can share the journey with you. When we are in bleak times, we often isolate ourselves, but this can be just the time we need others the most.
Max’s advice: Look after yourself physically as best you can. Definitely don’t try and go it alone. Oh – and be gentle with yourself – it takes courage just to hang in there.
I think there’s lots of helpful advice there, too – thanks, Max! (Oh – and Max has just said that even though he’s a lawyer, he’s not charging us for that advice).
Finally, let’s ask these people over here – these ones singing songs, decorating the place with boughs and tinsel, and bringing in all those wonderful dishes of good food. What’s going on here?
The joyous throng: It’s cold and dark, so we’re celebrating warmth and light! Christmas is traditionally a mid-winter festival – a time to celebrate light coming in and dispelling darkness. A time to celebrate the warmth of love and hope that can reach us even in the darkest times. A time to celebrate community, and togetherness. To use music, songs, food and stories to build up faith and hope, to be nourished and sustained. The midwinter pagan festivals from which Christmas sprang also had a strong religious significance. Special times, significant rituals, traditions and ceremonies are important for all of us to “nurture strength of spirit”, as Max suggested earlier.
The advice of the joyous throng: Celebrate the things that matter, even if you cannot see their presence right now. Combat darkness by bringing in light, barrenness by affirming growth, hopelessness by holding on to faith. Especially when times are hard, fly in the face of what you can see, and bravely celebrate what you know in your heart to be true. Think of one small ritual you can instigate that will help you “keep the faith”.
Well, there’s plenty of strategies there for us to be going on with. Let’s take something from that – what one thing will you do? Have you found strategies that help in the bleak times? Let us know in the comments below, and we can keep the conversation going – at least until the mulled wine runs out and the fire dies down!