I have come to live in a permanent twilight.
In that magic hour stretched into a day
When there are no distractions
And the entire landscape reflects golden You.
It glows with a hazy splendour
Too great to be understood or named
Simply to be breathed
And to have Your whispers heard.
Now the ground is flirting with winter
The leaves make their descent in droves
And I can see Your face
As if for the first time.
BARE BRANCHES: ELEVATING CONSCIOUSNESS
As the leaves fall, they reveal the structure of the tree beneath. The bones of the graceful giant are exposed and their intricate anatomy highlighted. I like to think that the same thing happens to us at this time of year. We are invited to shed layers of our external selves to reconnect with the inner and develop the spiritual. We are inherently spiritual beings. Yet we find ourselves in a cycle of conditioned thought and action. Creating a sense of identity removed from our inner reality. We shut out the light of awareness out of a desperate longing for material progression. As we approach winter, it is a time to strip back the baggage we have carried with us throughout the year and instead cultivate our internal world and develop inner strength. Just as animals are preparing for hibernation – a period during which they will require little from the outside world and become peaceful, still and internalised – we too must begin preparations for a season of reflection and spiritual potency.
Throughout the year we are so busy admiring the foliage of the trees that we give little thought to the unseen life force out of sight. The complex and intricate root system of the tree extends deep into the earth, spanning out in branches much larger than their above-ground counterparts. So when the trees welcome winter and shed their leaves, they are far from being frail or sickly. Instead, the entirety of their energy is stored within the labyrinthine roots – within the deeper self. In the same way, during the winter we should draw our energy down into our roots. Grounding our energy and recognizing that abundance resides within us, on a much deeper level. We simply need to commit to the time to dip in. To gather up all of our energy and draw it within – to pool it up at the base of the spine. It is a time to be still and aware. To affirm the abundance of life force we carry within. To store it and cherish it over the months to come.
Through the season of wind and air, we look to the earth to support us and keep steady and grounded in order that our consciousness may rise up to greater heights. By limiting the number of material distractions and baggage that we get bogged down with through the summer and harvest months, we create a space to delve into matters of a higher resonance. We can move into the opening freed up by letting go that which does not serve during this time of outward simplification. This does not require any drastic action to rid yourself of belongings or practices, but rather is a time to put to some things to bed, to be picked up again in the spring. As we become more internalised this may also mean resting some of our relationships and minimising some of our social obligations (within reason of course!). When stripping yourself of the mundane, impractical or superficial, you may find that the way in which you want to communicate with others alters. Gossip and intrigue become less appealing. When awareness is heightened you may find you become more sensitive to energetic exchanges, and therefore need to choose your company more carefully. Friends who require a lot of energy to be with may not be the right people to spend time with during this month. For as we approach winter there should be no energy wasted or lost on people, causes, or actions that do not serve a higher purpose.
Practice… becoming very aware of the fluctuations of your energy. How it responds to people, places, foods, conversations, movies and even books. Before and after any interaction you have, just pause for a moment and take stock of how you are feeling. Soon it this will become second nature and you will begin to recognise those things that elevate you and those that drain you. Make a conscious effort to move in alignment with the things that nourish and uplift you. Do so quietly and with reverence. A respect for the shift that both you and the world around you are going through at this seasonal juncture.
REFLECTION: MAPPING THE MYSTERIES OF THE SELF
A mood of gravity in the season of air is a welcome thing. Not to be confused with austere seriousness and lack of fun. I mean gravity in the sense of groundedness and intentionality. Rather than being frivolous, reckless or carefree, we should garner steadiness. Tapping back in to the deep intuitive wisdom that resides within. Become composed, compassionate, soft, and reflective.
The seasons reflect the cycle of life. We have just stepped through Samhain, the juncture of autumn and winter. The year has reached maturity, and we are invited to explore our own relationship with maturity. To explore the areas in which we have grown or matured throughout the year, and the places where we require more development. We are encouraged to look at the life cycle of our projects, relationships and systems. To look upon endings and periods of rest with a welcoming gaze and non-attachment. With deep awe and reverence for that which has brought us to where we are. And to let it go with a prayer.
Coming to a place of acceptance that often those things that mature us are the things we found most painful, challenging or unpredictable. The season brings with it a sense of loss. There is a poignancy with each shard of beauty that unfolds. With each patch of earth exposed. As we witness the death, or dormancy, of natural elements around us, we are confronted with our own relationship with loss. Women’s feelings of loss tend to be subtly pervading throughout the year - the menstrual cycle is a cycle of potentiality, vulnerability and loss - however it can become more prominent (however disguised) during this seasonal transition. The losses we experience come in many guises, from the death of a loved one, to the culmination of a dream, to the closing of another chapter of life. We must allow the losses to move us. To resonate and teach what they have to teach. For what is life but a journey? With bumps and challenges along the way. Comings and goings. Love and loss. And with each step we get a little further. We grow a little taller and become a little wiser. This mystery of life is revealed to us only in fragments. But like the jewels that make up a crown, each fragment is perfect and complete simply as it is. Rather than desperately seeking the destination, take this time to appreciate all the gems that line the path. Draw a detailed map. The road of the Self. All of the rivers and ridges along the way. Reflect on the beauty and the pain, but do not become consumed by them. Simply love them for the service they offered.
Practice… journaling about the things learnt, the adventures embarked upon, and the things that need putting to bed. Journal about the points along your map for which you are most grateful or have the most growth associated. What mysteries of the self have you solved this year? And what new mysteries have unearthed? Where have you witnessed success and where failure? And how can you expand from both? Can you remain unattached as you witness the fluctuations of fortune? Can you elevate your consciousness to look at life from a higher perspective – not conditioned by material or societal standards? How can you progress in your spiritual life? How can you become more connected? What or who inspires you? How can you develop and express devotion with humility and sincerity?
Think on these questions throughout the coming weeks. Note how the answers may change or develop as you become more conscious, more attuned and sensitised.
HARDENING TO THE SEASON: ELEMENTAL EXPOSURE
Modern life makes it very easy for us to rarely spend any time outside. And as winter is looming, the sanitised and comfortable climate of heated houses become more attractive than ever. As the landscape becomes bare and the weather hardens and becomes less hospitable, you may feel some resistance to spending much time outdoors. My determination is to convince you not to give in to this resistance and instead to celebrate time outside almost more so than any other time of year. Partly, for our mental and physical health, soaking up as much day light and fresh air as possible is invaluable. Many people succumb to feelings of depression, low-energy or despondency during the darker months. One of the greatest ways to avoid or overcome these feelings is to spend more time in nature. Nature has always been one of the most reliable healers for a whole range of mental and physical dis-ease. And there is a real magic to the winter landscape. An ethereal, other-worldly feeling of energetic stillness. I say ‘energetic’ stillness because it certainly isn’t a lethargic stillness. The whole atmosphere is filled with stored up energy and potential. If you are sensitive to your surroundings you can feel it. Like a pulse running through the veins of the earth.
The winter is hard and uncompromising yet inherently graceful. Each year I commit to make the most of what this season has to offer. At a time when we are encouraged to do more soul searching, to become more quiet and reflective, the penetrating cold and inky cloak of darkness acts as a guide, taking us to our spiritual and emotional depths. The winds and bare earth leave us exposed. Stripped of our worldly identity and stature, we become yet another element within the greater landscape.
One of my favourite qualities that this month carries is the shallower path taken by the sun, resulting in a hazy daylight glow, contributing to the magical atmosphere of the season. Each afternoon we march up the hillside, intent on waving the sun goodnight and watching the valley become engulfed in liquid fire. We run back down, racing the darkness, and arrive in the garden – silent and tranquil – with burning cheeks and numb hands. The stars are out and we are alive. More alive, probably, than we’ve been all day.
And at the same time, spending time outside during the winter has a very practical purpose as well. Removing ourselves from the artificial internal environment we harden off the system, boosting the immune system and helping to maintain health throughout winter and early spring.
A MOMENT IN TIME: STAYING PRESENT
This transition from autumn to winter is visible from moment to moment. With each hour that goes by more and more colours have turned, more and more leaves have fallen. With each day the night draws us in earlier. It is magical to see Nature at work. To witness the activities of the animals, preparing for the months ahead - frantically gathering food and materials for hibernation or for migration south. I never want to miss a second of this shift. The melting of one season into the next. The inevitable changes and relinquishing of control over that which cannot be controlled. Mourning the passing of that which has past, but relishing the present with every breath.
I don’t want to miss a single moment
As you transform
As you shed your outer layers
And become raw.
I like to stop and think about what markers establish time throughout my year. This is a practice I highly recommend as it sheds like on the lens through which you view life. Your markers may be holidays, birthdays, family events. It may be your social schedule. The nature of your work. Or even your wardrobe - the day you pull out your favourite old sweater marks the entry into the darker seasons. Since living here, since farming and wood gathering, and ultimately, since I shifted my consciousness and awareness, time is no longer marked by any symbols of materiality or sociability. My days begin with the sun and end with the stars. The journey from one season to the next is a path from which I hope never to miss a single step. By simplifying my life, in many ways it has become more complex. More pertinent. Hardships come in unexpected forms - not the trials and failures of the garden, nor the cold, nor even the sometimes devastating weather which can take out an entire harvest in one foul swoop. The hardships come by being confronted with Reality. Moment to moment. By living in the present I stand face to face with the Reality which I hid from for so many years, using a cocktail of numbing agents and wilful distraction. I turned a blind eye to the Realities of life outside of this physical form. I didn’t want to confront the big questions of life. Or to feel the range of emotions that you open yourself up to. But the disconnection of distraction from reality is a weight too hefty. By living in the past or in the future I was inflicting unnecessary pain on myself. I was lost and being pulled under by waves of illusion. But the cycle becomes seductive so we continue on this perpetual masochistic rotation. But we have the choice, at any moment, to step out of the wheel, take a breath and become present. Now I live in a constant attempt to remain connected. To heighten my awareness and become sensitive to the fluctuations of the natural world. I am every day witnessing life and death. Sunrise, sunset. Endings and new beginnings. Temporality and eternity. All wrapped up within the fabric of the four seasons.
By cultivating our state of presence, by committing to reside in this place of awareness and consciousness, we become reacquainted with our role within the whole. A sense of self and sense of purpose, that has its foundation in something far deeper and more spiritually orientated, emerges.
Practice… in those moments when you find yourself idle – in a queue, waiting for something etc. – rather than reaching for your phone, take a moment to take stock of your present situation. Notice the quality of your breath. Deep or shallow? Even or erratic? In the belly or in the chest? Notice how you are standing, what facial expression you are pulling. Notice your mood and see if you can bring it back into a place of peace and presence. Notice the sounds and colours around you. As if you were to describe the entire scene to someone. Seek out the poetry that imbues every situation, even in the most unlikely of places.
RITUAL: SACRED SPACE
Today I unearthed my frankincense resin and burnt it until the entire room was veiled in a thick cloud of smoke and my eyes started to sting. I listened the Bach the entire time, naturally. The Catholic in me just can’t resist. And at this time of year I begin to itch for the bells and smells of sacred ritual and the calm assurance of familiar ceremony. Winter is the season of deepest spiritual practice. Of closest communion with the Divine. And whilst we haven’t entered into winter quiet yet, this latter part of autumn is flirting with the arrival of the darkest season.
November has many sacred resonances. The last evening of October was Samhain and Hallowe’en. The end of the harvest and the portal to winter. It is a day to celebrate the dead. Not in the consumerist costume it is most known by today, but in a deeply reverential and sacred way. We honour the saints and martyrs. Those who gave their lives for a spiritual cause. The teachers who have gone before us. Those who have guided the way and have now left – their deed done. This honouring of death is also symbolic of the end of the harvest. It is the dawn of the new spiritual year. Far from the light-hearted merrymaking of the hallmarked Halloween we have come to recognise, this transition is really one of sombre and benevolent mood. A time of reflection, grief, release, and closure.
We are also in the midst of the month of Kartik which, for devotees of Krishna, is the holiest month of the year. Kartik is also known as the month of Damodara, as the entire month is dedicated to the celebration and worship of the form of Krishna is His form as a young boy, Damodara, who has been bound by the waist by His mother, Yasoda, as a punishment for his mischievous childhood pastimes. It is a period of intensification of spiritual practice. An opportunity to commit to extra vows and more spiritual activities and reflection. During this time, devotees offer ghee lamps to the Lord every morning and evening as a mark of attachment, love and devotion.
Other dates of note that fall this month are Guy Fawkes night (5th), Remembrance Day (11th), and Thanksgiving (28th). All of these days carry a weighty resonance and spiritual potency. There is much to be reflected. To be mourned. To release and ultimately to find rebirth into this new spiritual year.
November is a powerful month of growth and spiritual maturity. As such, our interactions with the outer world are reduced as we turn the focus inwards, to matters of a loftier nature. It is a time to make space for reflection and progression. A time to store our energy and dive to the depths of devotional practice. Creating sacred space within your home - a space of quiet and respect – where you can go to feel held as you go within, is a hugely important self-care practice for the month of November and into the winter ahead.
Practice... embracing the darkening evenings. Use softer lighting - candle light wherever possible. Spend more time in quiet, away from technology. Be very sensitive to the sensory input you surround yourself - even the nature of the books you might choose to read. Favour music, books and company that elevates you, emotionally, consciously and spiritually. We are moving away from the warm months of play and frivolity and entering into a period of deep introspection and reflection. Creating ritual that you can observe on a regular basis will help you feel connected and held.
Frankincense… I probably say this a lot, but this month particularly, frankincense is your best ally. Like sage, frankincense removes negative energy from a space and provides protection. It has deep connections to many sacred lineages and is used in ceremonies due to its ability to create elevated spiritual awareness. It is often used to lift moods, to ease anxiety and stress, and for purification purposes. There is also a whole raft of health benefits to the use of frankincense which you can easily research, but for me it is these sacred and ritualistic properties that draw me to this medicine. I like to burn pure frankincense resin, particularly during the dark hours, but the essential oil is also very potent.
TURNING IN: SIMPLICITY
There is little as refreshing and satisfying as simplification. Allowing the mind a period of peace. The mind becomes constantly bombarded by thoughts, objects, mundane rhetoric and temporal, false identification, that we drown out the Truth that lies underneath it all. Simplifying can feel like the calm after the storm. But we resist silence. We resist the shedding of unproductive thought patterns or habits because we are heavily reliant upon them to hold up an image of ourselves, or who we are trying to be. To be left alone with our thoughts - real thoughts, not the superficial musings that occupy most of our time - is scary. It is no coincidence then that at this time of year, when we are being called to turn inwards, simplify, quieten and turn our awareness to higher consciousness, that we do all in our power to become preoccupied by external and material paraphernalia. Holiday after holiday falls around this season shift and moving into winter. It is easy to go into sensory overload. To be attracted by the colours and sparkles of social holiday constructs, sensationalising spiritual festivals that should be treated with more sensitivity and respect. However, if you resist the temptation to go down the empty and soulless road of consumerist inanity, this deeply spiritual month can be honoured from a place of purity and delicacy. The internal work is far more valuable than the external, and this season has so much to offer in that regard. By simplifying our lifestyles during this period, we make space for elevation and expansion of a much more transcendent nature.
On a more practical level, it can be nice to take this month, before the seasonal festivities begin in earnest, to try simplifying certain practices of daily life. For example, it is an opportunity to support the body through the seasonal transition by simplifying the way in which you eat and interact with food - turning to earthier and more nurturing foods such as sweet and grounding root vegetables. Honouring the process of food preparation and consumption is almost as important as the substance itself.
Chaga mushroom is the medicine of the forest. It can be found growing on birch trees in northern reaches. It flourishes where the temperature is cold. Where the elements are severe, chaga reigns majestic. Steadfast. In such a way, chaga energetically embodies the strength and vitality we aspire to during the cold season. Medicinally this energy is potent too. Chaga is a powerful support to the immune system. It promotes cognitive function and helps to elevate the consciousness. It is believed to have anti-cancer properties, containing chemical compounds that inhibit the growth of cancer cells without compromising healthy cell production. Chaga is also anti-inflammatory and lowers blood glucose levels. It is popular as a tea or as a powered supplement that can be added to warm drinks, porridge or baking.
As with all medicines and powerful plants, it is best to research carefully before adding anything new to your regime. And just because I like it doesn’t mean you need it. We are all unique beings and chaga may be beneficial for some, contraindicated for others, or just plain not necessary for others. I always steer people away from taking any supplement just for the sake of it.
WORDS OF WISDOM: BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS
I love books. And I am forever advocating people look less and screens and read more books. With a central theme of this month being raising consciousness and elevating thought above the mundane and superficial, more and more of us should be turning to books as sources of wisdom and entertainment on long cold evenings. Just like how we become more discerning of how we choose to spend our energy in social situations, the same applies to all aspects of our daily life, right down to what we choose to read.
Here are some of my favourites that I’ll be dipping into this month:
- Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Joanna Macy
- Henry David Thoreau, A Life, Laura Dassow-Walls
- The Way of Tea, Wu De (Aaron Fisher)
November has so much to offer us in terms of reflection, realization and growth. Every year I enter into this month with great intention and perhaps even some slight trepidation. Ready to be humbled. Ready to simplify. To mourn and to release. We wake to the season of introspection and deep spiritual work with a soft step, a steady determination, and a quiet mind. May this sacred season be rich in wisdom.