Friday, February 2, 2024

In The Belly Of The Mother

As I sit to write this column, a few days before you lay eyes upon it, vivid sun is lighting up a dazzling winter scene beyond my window. Not only are the mountains draped in white, but our own little piece of heaven is piled high with the season's unique form of moisture. 

I forwent (odd word that!) my usual dawn walk this morning to begin shoveling out from the foot of snow that fell on us yesterday. Not only was my lake path most likely buried, but there was a lotta shoveling that needed doin'. No time like the present, eh? When my back warned that it had had enough for now, I came inside, peeled off my shoveling attire, and replaced it with what I refer to as my fuzzy clothes, in layers that will gradually be removed as the sun warms the house. 

I love the contrasts the seasons bring. The 14 degrees that met me as I stepped outside this morning screamed winter, and yet the increasing day length promises spring is already on its way. To prove the point, we've gained nearly an hour of daytime since the Winter Solstice. And what is more, today is Imbolc! 

Imbolc, celebrated from sunset to sunset on the first and second of February, is an ancient Celtic observance, though in the cross~pollination that occurs when spiritual traditions intermingle, it became Candlemas and St. Brigid's Day as well. No matter the name or the particular form the festivities take, they all encourage us to rejoice in the increasing light. Falling roughly halfway between Solstice and Spring Equinox, we are reminded that the cold won't last forever, that the Earth is already turning us to brighter days. 
Imbolc is translated as "in the belly of the Mother." It refers to the advent of lambing season, as well as the recognition that seeds buried and unseen are readying themselves to poke through the soil for their own season in the sun. On a symbolic level, both references offer us something. 

Hopefully, despite all the busyness that often comes with the December holidays, we've found time to rest and reflect on where we are in our life's trajectory. This chance to pause and take stock is winter's gift. Spring's blessing is its invitation to welcome something new to come to us and to come from within us. Imbolc, as the bridge connecting the two, is a chance to begin to sense what seeds or metaphoric lambs might be wanting to move out into the world with the longer days. 

As I've written before, I'm not a big fan of New Year's Resolutions. The darkest time of the year is simply not a good time to decide anything, which I think is why we not only dread making those resolutions, but so often don't stick with them or craft them wisely. Seasonal cycles have much in common with daily ones. Midnight is a lousy time to make plans, but things change as dawn nears. We begin to stir in our sleep and cortisol levels rise until we wake in the quiet of early morn. Then thoughts of the day opening before us come naturally. 

Imbolc is the early morn of the seasonal cycle. It is not the time to move full steam ahead, but it is the perfect time to turn toward, to begin to stir ourselves to greet~~and to have a say in~~the new growth that will soon be midwifed into existence. 

As I craft this current paragraph, I realize that I not only dislike resolutions in the dark of winter, but I'm not fond of them in general. I much prefer the word intention, which feels a bit softer to me, less written in stone, appropriate when looking into a future we cannot see. I am not alone. Googling "resolution vs intention", I found my aversion seconded by many others. Sites as varied as The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and the AARP, all suggest intention might be the kinder~~and ultimately more effective~~approach. 

Resolutions, writes Gillian Florence Sanger on the blog at Insight Timer, "view things as 'this' or 'that', often quietly judging behaviors to be either 'good' or 'bad'. Intentions, on the other hand, are soft, qualitative, and compassionate." According to AARP, Diane Rabb views an intention is "something you want to manifest in your life or some guiding principle that you want to live by." While resolutions are discreet goals that are easily abandoned, intentions are the "beginning of a dream or desire." Who wouldn't wanna get behind that? And what better time than this month. It's still too cold and dark to actually do much, but it is an ideal time for discerning and clarifying a dream or desire. 

Intentions are gifts. They are orientations we can come back to again and again, modifying them as life brings its unknowns our way. If we do that, if we show up and honor our hopes and dreams as valuable, we have the best chance of living into them. I invite you, therefore, to take some time today, in honor of Imbolc, Candlemas, St. Brigid's Day~~or heck, even the totally secular and goofy Groundhog Day~~to feel your way into an intention that will guide you forward. 

I will share my own~~To shine more brightly and in new ways, taking risks to do things I have never done before, and finding joy in the process, no matter the outcome. 

Dreams have a staying power that resolutions may not. The former keep coming back around or showing up in various guises. It is for us to welcome them. They are ours to honor and bring forth. After all, if not now, when? And, really, why not now? What are we waiting for? 

Happy festival of increasing light to you, whatever you call it and however you choose to honor it. Shine, my friend, shine on.

Much love,