The winter solstice is here. A time for rest and retreat in this season of darkness and transformation. Although six months have passed, it amazes me how much my life is still filled with fear. I’ve read lots of books on the topic and they all tell me the same thing: that anxiety is a normal response to an extraordinary event. Or in even simpler terms: that fear is a natural reaction to pain. They tell me that fear is the opposite of love. And that it takes courage to let go of it. To release our grip on it. To befriend it. But it wasn’t until I read Edith Eger’s book The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life that I understood how hard that is. Because fear is paralysing. It creates a relentless cycle of hyper-vigilance, thinking that it can protect us from losing even more. But life doesn’t work like that: pain and loss are an inevitable part of life, no matter how vigilant we are. Instead Eger tells us that we should stay curious. Don’t you want to know what happens next? If you shine your light into the darkest places?
One moon ago, on midsummer’s night, my mum died. Just like that – no farewells, no teary goodbyes. The most peaceful death anyone could wish for. In the midst of life and light, just like the dancing fireflies. After all this loss it feels like my world has been shattered. What am I to do now? Thankfully a dear friend showed up with pink flowers and the book I had once lend her When things fall apart: heart advice for difficult times. The book is exactly about finding yourself in this no-man’s-land of not knowing where you are or what’s going to happen. Chödrön explains that being alive means always being in no-man’s-land. Because the fact is that we never know what’s happening. We might think we do, but we don’t. Life is challenging and never perfect the way we want it to be. So she tells us to face up to the enormous space that has opened up. That we should move towards the turbulence and doubt, not away from it. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.
As the autumn leaves are falling, the end of our gardening season is near. After weeks of looking after the beautiful calabash, who has almost completely conquered our little plot of land, it’s time to harvest it’s fruit. The incessant rain hasn’t done it much good and only three large calabashes remain. We bring them home to dry, but it soon turns out that one of them won’t make it, turning brown so quickly it takes us by surprise. The two that remain are hanging from the ceiling until they are ready to be carved into shape and made into a cabaça. Meanwhile, some plants are thriving at this time of year. The chrysanths is in full bloom and so are the winter cherry’s. The lavender is looking lush and abundant too. So I gather all of the pots we own and get them ready to be shipped off to our balcony. How will they adjust to this new, contained life? I ask myself the same question as the days are getting shorter and I fall into slumber. Six more weeks until the solstice… and the return of the light.
Seek and you shall not find. I always think I got this one, but somehow I never quite learn. For a while now I’ve been on a quest to find a unicorn. I know there lives one deep in the forest somewhere, so I went down there everyday and did everything I could possibly think of. I sat down on the grass and quietly read my book, making sure not to make any sudden movements. I looked behind every tree. Chased every butterfly and rainbow. Tried to squint my eyes hard enough so that a white deer looked like it might(?) have an almost invisible horn. None of these things worked, of course, but I was having the most wonderful time wandering around this beautiful place and meeting the most amazing creatures. Until one day, having forgotten all about my quest and just dancing around joyfully with my woodland friends… a unicorn magically appeared. I couldn’t tell you where he had come from, he was just there in front of me, moving his little feet and inviting me to dance with him.
Autumn used to be my least favourite season. I would hide under a blanket, depressed, longing for the winter solstice and the longer days that it promises. But this year I have felt mesmerised by the changing colours of the trees, playing with the red and golden leaves with a happiness that I remember only from childhood. For the first time I am embracing the dark evenings that invite me to slow down, reflect on and let go of the exuberance of summer, to read my favourite books in the light of cinnamon scented candles and quietly do my meditation practices before bed. At first I didn’t notice this change in my spirit. But as this new energy takes me to the beach each morning to witness the rising of the sun and breathe in the crisp air, I was walking through the dunes at dawn when out of nowhere a murmuration rose up from behind the hills and flew right over me, almost knocking me down. With the beauty of the world in my face like that I couldn’t help but see that, to be free of the things that are holding you down is the most liberating feeling in the world. And to fill your life with things that lift you up, the greatest treasure.