The Gifts of Deep Winter

I remember as a little girl struggling to create friendships in school, most probably owing to that characteristic disastrous combination of shyness, intelligence, and shabby clothes.  Recess was always painful for me, until the day that I somehow integrated some of the other young girls into a pretend game I’d been playing which involved riding pegasuses into all manner of adventures in a world we created in our imaginations but transposed onto the playground.  I can still remember the amazing feeling in my heart as I saw the game grow and grow all around me, including more girls and then boys and the jungle gym and slides and swings and everything I saw, and there I was, in the throng of it all for once.

That memory has been coming back a lot to me, these chilly days in Indiana.  It started while watching Jason’s children and nieces and nephews play, who are about that age, and seeing in their games a similar spirit to that bright memory.  Beyond the simple similarity is a sense of yearning that lays beneath many of my thoughts these days – a yearning to create something, and to be a part of something, growing and expanding into deeper and deeper throws of beauty and imagination.

I suppose becoming aware of that yearning is the gift of my isolation from my community here, in this land of snow and ice and unfamiliar faces.  Here, surrounded by snow and strip malls, processed food and abundant time to watch the junkos and cardinals at the bird feeders, I become viscerally aware of both the intense power and transformation of the work that I’ve been doing in the world and also how far we have to go.   Watching the evening news and nighttime drama television shows is an act of despair work: seeing both what is voiced (terrorism, often created by either Muslims, anarchists, or protestors; cops saving the day; diets of powdered chemicals that promise weight loss; endless cute commercials for pharmaceutical drugs) and what is not (like even the suggestion that the terrible flooding in Southern California or the blizzard on the East Coast that has stranded thousands might have a relationship to climate change).  I wonder, what can and must happen to build bridges with those people who seem the furthest from us in their choices and beliefs, and what can and must happen within us to be able to come to the table with openness to their wisdom?

These thoughts bring me back to the yearning, which grows sharper as this year draws closer to its closing.  I feel more ready to let this year pass away than in years previous, more keen in my excitement about what the coming year will bring and the adventure and work on the horizon, less attached to all that didn’t get done and the disappointments.  The faces of those who are on this path with me are clearer, coming up in unbidden memories of the past and wonderful schemes for the future and bringing waves of appreciation and warmth for these kindred spirits – many of whom are not my closest friends or the most likely suspects, but people who sparked something deep and slow-moving in a now forgotten conversations at camps or in the streets that still work me beneath the surface, stirring and shifting my awareness.  I find myself having bouts of sharp and strong commitment to these folks, our shared work and play, our emerging vision.  This sense of commitment feels sharper and stronger than the many pale emotions of the fall, and perhaps even longer – these winter winds have blown away the fine dust of burnout and broken dreams that built up into drifts without my noticing them.

These are the gifts of deep winter: that our colorful leaves, once so alluring and intoxicating, drop to the ground and get buried in snow, leaving the trunk and branches of our true selves naked, starkly visible against the pale landscape.   That what remains takes on a deeper, stronger, clearer significance in the dreams we dream on long winter nights and the visions that brighten our hearts during the day.  That we reconnect to our passion and commitment, during these cold months that our ancestors struggled to survive.

A couple of nights ago we witnessed the first full lunar eclipse on the winter solstice in over 400 years.  I felt the Turning that night, felt this turning that has creating a sense of openness and renewal in my heart.  Below is the missive I sent out on Solstice Day:

Dear Witchy Ones (and kindred spirits),

If you have received this email in your inbox, it means that sometime during the turning of this year, you have touched me magically.  This is a “group email” but its not to any particular group — just people in my heart that I’m thinking about on this Solstice Day.  I wanted to share some of my thoughts right now, about this thing we call the Great Turning and the magic and the power that’s flowing.  I wanted to share this love that I’m feeling so strongly tonight with you.

Last night, I went out and spent a beautiful Solstice Eve / Lunar Eclipse Night with my community; it was truly a night of beauty and adventure, which began with a plunge into the freezing cold waters of the Pacific Ocean and ended curled up in the crook of my lover’s arm on the floor of the Black Cat House ritual room, with Starhawk chanting and drumming over us, surrounded by many of the teens that I’ve worked with so intensely this year.  Somehow, in the flow of the night, it came clear to me how much magic has happened over the last year and also how much is unfolding right now in my life.  I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling.   Sure, often I allow myself to be jaded and cynical — I succumb to the trap of being overly analytical, disparaging, uncourageous, too lazy for hope.   But beneath that is an awareness of the shifts in the world that are happening, shifts in power and in consciousness.  Last night, I really allowed myself — no, dared myself and then committed myself — to opening to the deep transformation that’s happening in this world and in my own heart.  An upwelling of earth wisdom, my friends in Minneapolis call it.

Joanna Macy, my mentor that I so love to quote (you probably already know that) says that expressing gratitude is a radical act in a world that tells us that we aren’t enough and thrives on a philosophy of scarcity.  She also says that being grateful means being present to the beauty of our lives, even during the darkest times.  If that’s true, than I must admit that I’ve been ungrateful at times lately, letting myself get weighed down by thousands of small things that don’t really matter that much — although the overculture likes to tell me that they do.  I probably will go down that road again, sometimes.  But right now, with the final glimmers of this solstice moon in the sky, I’m aware of the bigger picture that my life is a part of and also the web of beautiful work that we’re doing together.  I feel very grateful for you in my life, and aware of the beautiful connection that we share.  It’s a connection of my heart to your heart, and its also the mystical connection of something that I call the Great Turning because that makes it easier for me to grasp it:  being alive during this precarious age and working for the forces of life of beauty in our own, creative, personal, powerful ways.

I’m also grateful for the ways that you’ve supported me, both visibly and invisibly.  I’m grateful for the times we’ve laughed, made music, held each other, dreamed together, kvetched together, smiled at one another in passing.   I’m grateful for knowing you, and for the potential to know you even more deeply during the turning of this next wheel of the year.

The light is returning.  I suspect that at first it may feel hard to believe, that it might seem like all is the same as it was before for awhile, like the nights are just as long.  And then an inkling — yes, really, it does feel a bit different.  It feels better.  It feels like the days are getting warmer, that the plants are growing bigger around us, the songs of birds are more clear.

One last thing: during these long winter nights, my dreams have been strong.  In one of those dreams, I was given a new addendum to my magical name.  I feel tremulous about it, uncertain, but I wanted to share it with you all the same.  Let us see if it stays as the wheel turns to spring and summer and fall again.

With love and joy and deep gratefulness,

Rebecca