Posts tagged seasons
A Mindful Winter Season

This year, the holidays have descended early and are in full glitzy swing. Part of me sighs, “Can we please just make it through Thanksgiving?” while the other part of me is celebrating. There's no denying that I love this season. I love the memories I have associated with it and the excitement I have to share it with my baby. For her, I want it to be as magical as I can possibly make it for no other time is more full of magic and mystery and sweetness. But, I'm wary of falling into the trap of buying the experience, of getting swept up in the early pressure to purchase what is easily accessible. I want our holidays to be authentic, full of meaning, warm and memorable which takes extra effort, extra thought, and extra purpose. This year, I've set about to incorporate a mindful approach to the traditions we know and love and to create new traditions unique to our little family.

This year, the holidays couldn’t come at a more opportune moment in history. With the recent divisive turmoil and fear and hatred that is swirling relentlessly throughout the country, it is even more important to enjoy a mindful and thoughtful celebration; it is the perfect time to stop and recall what this season is supposed to mean beyond religion, beyond race, beyond politics, beyond hate, and beyond selfishness. We, as parents, have the great responsibility to shape our families, to shield and protect them in a frightening world, but we also have the unbelievable opportunity to create small, inextinguishable flames of warmth and light in a dreary, tired, dark world. And this season is nothing if it isn’t about light in the dark.

This year, since it is the first my little family of three will be spending in our own home, I want to focus on creating traditions that tell a positive narrative beyond the excitement and thrill of decorations and presents. I want these traditions to celebrate our religious beliefs throughout Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, but I also want them to celebrate a sense of mindfulness and intention rooted in reality. I want our holidays to be timeless and full of texture. So, to escape the suggestions surrounding me, I started thinking about what the winter season of celebration, from Thanksgiving to New Year, meant to families generations ago. What did it look like before the panic of presents and perfect trees and visits to Santa Claus at the mall? I think it looked a lot like family and friends gathering, lighting candles and fires, telling stories, sharing laughs, tears, and meals. I think there was a lot less glitter and shine and tinsel and more tattered woolen wear and treasured heirlooms. Our current familiar holiday standards were once rooted in deep tradition, and, for some, they still hold significant meaning. But as a whole, the depth of meaning has been lost. We are surrounded by imagery and traditions that have become common commodities. But they are still here, waiting to be rediscovered and assigned meaning once again. It’s beautiful. In fact, stepping back and out and away from the modern fray of the holidays, reveals a glittering, sparkling impression of tiny lights in the dark.

This year, and years before, we recognize a holiday season that is created to celebrate light from every imaginable source. Families drape their homes in strings of lights, creating dreamy streets and glowing lighthouses filling the darkness. So ingrained has this tradition become, that we don’t realize we’re participating in a much bigger human celebration. Symbols of light are prominent in every major seasonal religious holiday. The advent candles and the star of Bethlehem for Christmas, the menorah for Hanukkah, the diya for Diwali, the moon for Ramadan, the Mishumaa Saba for Kwanzaa, and lanterns and the moon for Chinese New Year. I’m sure there are more. The darkness of winter, the starkness of the cold and snow and blurry weather is transformed through our celebration of light, warmth and life. In ancient flickering, natural candlelight, our human connection is revealed; the artificial, blinking spotlight of contemporary culture tends to distort it. Light, in all of these celebrations, serves as a symbol of our need for the positive reminder of hope and love and community in the darkness of the world. As long as we light the flame and pass it along, there is always hope, there is always love, there is always warmth.

This year, I want my family’s seasonal traditions to be warmed by the golden glow of that ancient light. I want my daughter’s winter to be more than just the anticipation of opening the biggest gift under the tree. I want her to know the meaning of all the symbols, the love and hope and life they represent for people all over the world. I dream of creating an environment where we take time to appreciate the season and how it makes us feel. Family, charity, creativity, thanksgiving, and community are my focus this year. We’ve already planned simple family events like storytelling nights, moon gazing picnics, Christmas music dance parties, a scavenger hunt through the canyon, and a no boundaries hide-and-go-seek extravaganza. We are working on how to incorporate our extended family members who live thousands of miles away from us. We are crafting decorations from clay and paint, little gifts with found nature items and lots of glitter, treats like decorated sugar cookies, caramels, and deep, dark gingerbread to share with neighbors and friends. All of our creations will show we are capable and worthy of display. We are looking for ways to give of ourselves, by donating food and gifts and spending time with the elderly in a local retirement home. By sharing of ourselves, a near-two-year old might understand what empathy means and let her light shine. We are making lists of the things for which we are deeply thankful and we intend to share them with each other and others we know. We will expand our new community through purposeful, intentional actions and respect. Children are naturally full of the most pure and precious timeless glow.  We need to kindle it, praise it, share it, and mirror it into our own lives. How blessed are we, as parents, as humans walking this earth, to have the opportunity to live alongside these fleeting, golden miraculous creatures? In the darkness, we should always seek their guidance.

This year, regardless of your religious, political, sexual, or social affiliation, I invite you to join my family in our quest to light bright a honey sweet flame of the season. Take to to meditate on your family, determine a purpose for this season. Find a way to share your glorious light, to open your home to new sources of glowing love, and to experience the old flame of kinship and community. Don't miss the opportunity to kindle a fire for your family and don't forget to seek out a flickering glow where the darkest seems the deepest.

JOURNALIST: Shannon Sullivan Brown 

Conquering Personal Goals

My goals are always evolving, moving with the wind; they sway with the breeze and change with the seasons. There are those so deeply rooted and others that are so whimsical they wither and die, not nourished and fed, their roots not planted in the depths of my mind. Then there are those sweet few that serve for a short time only, like the tulip blooming, beautiful and glorious but then slowly fading with time. It is wonderful and fulfilling in that fleeting moment, giving you a sense of pride and wonder, even though short lived.  

My husband and I were on holidays in Europe when we found out I was pregnant with my first child; we were celebrating the end of my university degree. I wasn’t 21 years old. I was 30. I had made choices to this point in my life that meant I had only just begun the journey of pursuing my passions and sometimes my mind was so full of the cavities of regret, I felt that I had left my time too late. If only I’d had the courage to begin this degree when I was still young enough to throw all my energy into a career. Now here I was at the threshold of another new beginning and I was both wonderfully joyed at my pregnancy and secretly a little despondent that it hadn’t happened a year later. 

As leaves drop from the trees, the cold winter leaves us hibernating, like my goals, placed on the back burner, gone but not forgotten; waiting for the burst of sun for the energy to give it new life, for spring to awaken seeds for new growth. When my first born arrived, my creative root appeared withered and lifeless, I was fearful it had died as my mind seemed so absorbed in finding my role as a mother and tending to dirty nappies ripped my soul of creativity.

Before kids, we used to begin each year with a list of goals, everything we wanted to achieve that year. Time and freedom allowed us to throw all our energy into creating the life we wanted, and we ticked those ambitions off our lists, month by month, year by year, we achieved aspirations of overseas travel, promotions, study, new business ventures and home ownership. Now 3 years into this parenting role (another life ‘goal’), we’ve stopped these lists. The first year we continued our tradition but then forgot about it as the days of the year were consumed in daily tasks, no longer goals, it was survival, it was the day to day, it was work, eat, clean, sleep. The attempted holidays were wonderful but not bucket-list, goal-ticking achievements. They were short escapes close enough to home that we didn’t have to endure long travel time with a restless toddler. We avoided anything with winding roads and boat trips after discovering (the bad way) that we had a poor baby who suffered from travel sickness. Goals didn’t matter anymore. Family time mattered, as simple as it was.

Sometimes the drought drags on, the inspiration of my heart and mind on a steady decline, we toil with no reward; we see the weeds, tenacious as they are take place of the beauty, the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning, the mundane, they grow and flourish and destroy the glorious. Then it takes hard work to clear the land. We need to rip and dig and shed and discard the weeds to make room.

Some days it feels like I exist only in 2-hour segments, there are 6 of them in a day. And some days by segment 3, I’ve had enough, I’m ready to curl up on the couch with a book or a movie and switch off mentally…from the noise the activity, the need to entertain and the obligation to achieve. Other days I feel angry because it seems no matter how busy I am, no matter how much I run around and wear myself out, I still fall short of the basic goals I want to achieve. The pile of books I long to read, the thoughts that take bloom in mind to write down are all but lost and the quality time with friends I so crave. Instead, life consists of clearing the washing pile, cooking dinner and attempting to mop the floors. 

If you ask me what my goals are now, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe it is to confidently call myself a writer.  But the truth is I think I stopped working on these things and allowed the daily tasks and to do lists to take over. After all, it takes work to sow the land and conquering goals takes dedication. I don’t aim to wake before the sun, before the birds and before my children to toil away at those pressing goals, instead like the last falling leaf of autumn I allow myself to drift and float, I meander through the meadows of my mind and I let my motivation take its free will, to come and go as it pleases.  But as the winds change, my heart slowly drifts with the changing season, it returns with a new depth and new shoots of leaves (after a little pruning) show promise of new growth. No longer do I have long term goals for job promotions and overseas travel, as I grow, the goals may seem a little less ambitious, perhaps more philosophical; I’m focused on finding myself, finding peace in the slow everyday moments, more patience, more acceptance and I’m learning to stop and be in the moment.   

Recently my youngest was struggling to fall asleep, so sapped of energy myself I lay beside his cot, my hand stretched through the bars to settle gently on his back, when I felt his breathing settle into those deep long breaths I withdrew my arm and lay listening to the gentle rhythm, until after a moment a small hand dropped through the gaps, tiny fingers circling the air searching for a lost hand. In the darkness I couldn’t make out his face, just his small hand sitting softly in mine and I realized what everyone tells you, cherish these moments for they are so fleeting and one day when I look at my grown son, I’ll long for that time when his hand searched for mine.

There are moments in drought when a single flower blooms, and inspiration takes hold. Words flow freely, the mothering load is light, you’re the person you want to be, your children don’t fight, they listen, they laugh instead of cry and you’re winning at life. Your garden is blossoming and it’s glorious to admire. Standing back, for a moment in time you feel immensely proud, you feel you’ve made it, taking in the lay of the land and my isn’t she beautiful. But you know nothing sits still for too long, the grass will grow, the seasons will change and the petals will drop ready for you to toil again. It takes work, sometimes nature helps you along, a long day of rain feeding the soil, luck and inspiration coming your way and opportunity opening up. Then other days the rain doesn’t come, the sun doesn’t shine and the roots don’t take hold. You’re sowing and reaping no reward. The weeds take over, you lose inspiration and you forget to tend to the land. This can be motherhood; your personal goals seem long forgotten. But don’t lose hope, as the sun will still shine, the rain will come and when the conditions are right, you will reap again.

Journalist: Katy Andrews