Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hug the Dark

The title of the carol we sang at the Solsisters’ Winter Solstice celebration on December 21 is Holy Night, Longest Night (see Invocation). It's sung to the tune of Silent Night. This is a sacred time for many people and in most traditions. Above all, it’s the time when we can turn inward to see what’s really going on.

Darkness is part of a natural cycle, and when we reach the darkest day of the year on Winter Solstice; it’s time to shift to inner concerns. New Year’s resolutions are one way we do this in American culture, although we still tend to make them outer-oriented—I will lose weight, pay off debt, get a better job. People have more success with these new starts in spring, the natural new year, when our energy rises with the first shoots of plants from under the ground, and we’re more rarin’ to go.

Winter, on the other hand, is the time for reflection, reading, quiet, meditation, and taking stock. Two favorites in our Winter Solstice ceremony are something you can try at home during these last weeks of 2007. First, we do Meditation on Recognition—what do we recognize that we have accomplished and appreciate about ourselves this past year? This is a kind of self-report card, and writing down what we have gained since the last inventory can be a huge revelation. You can include both inner and outer achievements: I’ve been a better wife or mother, I have as many knee-jerk reactions to things, I like myself more. The second is a real favorite. After passing the Yule Log and infusing it with our thoughts of what we’d like to see changed in the world, such as peace in the Middle East; we focus inward. We write down all the things we’d like to release into the Yule Log Fire that are personal, whether it is 20 lbs. or an irritation with a workmate. It is a hoot to watch people line up to burn their lists. Some dump it and walk away, even with a “wash your hands of it” gesture. Others linger to be sure every fiber of paper containing the junk they want to dump has burned to a crisp. Some people have a short list and get to the fire among the first; others write long lists and need more paper.

This year, I plan to mine my journals from the past two years for insights, because it has been a very transitional time for me—from full-time work plus to full retirement from a day job. Even though I plan to go back to work part-time this year, the time off has been like an extended winter where I have finally had the time to be quiet, reflect, and let inner issues surface for resolution. That should be our true New Year’s “resolution,” the kind where we look in the dark corners of ourselves for the stuff that needs tender taking care of. In the whirlwind of most of our lives, it is amazing how many inner signals and intuitions we miss for running as fast as we can. The build-up of issues swept under the rug will ultimately make a big lump of gunk for us to cope with later, often not on our own terms. Illness, break-up, and tragedies of all sorts are often the result of the waxy build-up of untended inner content.

I describe my first year of retirement like getting off a kids’ merry-go-round in the park. You are no longer spinning physically, but it still feels like it, sometimes even with a wave of dizzy nausea. I had no idea how stressed out I was after 36 years of full-time work. I usually did other work on top of that, primarily my astrology practice and writing. My need for complete R&R for a period of time was screaming at me in raised blood pressure—highly atypical for me—crankiness, and a host of other physical and psychological signals. I am so relieved I took my body’s loud advice, even though I went kicking and screaming to rest. It took the first nine months of retirement for me to get that I needed to do nothing for at least a year—or at least as little as possible.

While this may seem like a luxury to most people, especially those of us who are not independently wealthy and have to work for a living, nature gives us opportunities every day of our lives. We just have to take them.

Winter is a time to relish the dark of night and the season of hibernation. Take time at night to meditate and reflect, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes. It can be so replenishing. Keep a dream journal, and encourage your dreams to guide you by welcoming them with intent to remember them. Part of my previous practice, Inner Growth Work, was to help people remember and work with their dreams. If there is enough interest, I’ll do some posts on this topic. Above all, give yourself light duty in the dark months. Read, relax, veg, take hot baths—know that this down time is essential to creativity and accomplishing all you want during the rest of the year. And if this all seems a little heavy to you, remember that you can do light reading in the dark and use the down time to watch funny movies and restore your sense of humor, health, and balance. One of the best articles I have ever read about the role of laughter is How Laughter Works on the How Stuff Works website—a must Favorite for anyone with a computer and a lust to learn and laugh.

Hug the darkness; it will hug you back. Spring will come sooner than you know, and if you miss the opportunity to rest and recuperate from last year’s action, you won’t be running on all cylinders in 2008.

Have a happy, healthy New Year—and a fabulous dance in the light and dark of life!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Where Are My Christmas Cards?

As a communication and connection junkie, I mourn the loss of my Christmas cards. At eight days before Santa, I have received only seven. The Ghost of Christmas Past: I used to get nearly 50. Nobody loves me; everybody hates me; think I’ll eat some worms.

Not really, but I will pout. Maybe e-mail and more constant communication makes them redundant in most modern relationships. Then there’s the eco-factor. I design my own and do a well-thought-out annual newsletter. My generic missive is more personal than most people’s one-on-ones. Still, I convert them to .pdf files and e-mail them to many people, especially those halfway ‘round the world. It’s not just the postage saved; it’s the energy for the transportation. At least I know I’ll save the equivalent of any pine branches I use to decorate. Not everyone is a creativity machine, and I’d be happy to receive store-bought cards well chosen.

There is something about the art and sentiment in these once-a-year offerings that I sorely miss, now that most of them are gone. Some people find family letters impersonal; I think they’re fabulous. No one has time to write to 20 people once a year, forget more often. The generic news and a note—even a real signature!—give me enough personal touch to gush with gratitude.

It’s really about connection. These tiny bits of cardstock, ink, or computer printout mean you want to keep me. I’m a keeper! There are relationships I truly value that are Christmas Card Companions. Even though we only connect once every 365 days, this custom honors the important place we still hold for each other in our lives. Often separated by miles and years of going down different paths, the annual card is old home week, a balm, a sense of continuity. I love them for that. They are personal history come home to give you a kiss under the mistletoe. They cause me to reflect where I’ve last been since I saw Art & Michele, Lynne, Judy—people who represent my young adulthood, college days, and Catholic grammar school era respectively.

If you want an exercise in stimulating your own hot flashbacks that can lead to cool insights, compile copies of your past holiday letters and look where you’ve been and what you’ve reported for the past 5-10 years—or however many you have kept. If you’ve got time, and if you also have the gene for packrat, my family curse, read others’ old cards and Christmas letters. You know, the ones you have saved with that wrapping paper that is so old, the store where you bought it went out of business more than a decade ago.

This reflection starts a trend in keeping with the natural cycle that begins at Winter Solstice on December 21. In one of my favorite, wacky Tom Robbins novels, Still Life with Woodpecker, the heroine is reportedly “off cycle with the Moon.” Never mind her periods that are out of sync with the lunar phases. Our entire culture is off cycle with the Moon, stars, planets, and especially the Earth. Take the dark winter, a time when other animals and vegetables are hibernating or dormant. If we had any sense at all, we would be meditating, reflecting, resting, and vegging. Instead, we are running around high on sugary cappuccino and latte drinks at malls mobbed with people, acting loony—our only claim to synchronization with the Moon.

If you can’t do it this year, make a resolution for next: Finish all your shopping by Thanksgiving and the merriest parties by Equinox Eve. Keep the peace of silent nights and reflective gatherings of spirit and family beginning with the Solstice.

This is how we were meant to be. And don’t get me started on New Years, designed to be the ultimate inner time, normally spent like we’ve got ants in our pants, no inhibitions, and a lust for alcohol that a large lake of champagne could not quench.

More on this later. Meanwhile, would someone please send me a Christmas card? Even a Merry e-mail?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Turn on the Lights!

In the beginning was Creativity.

It expressed itself as Light.

It wasn’t just any light; it was the biggest bonfire in the universe. It shone so brightly, it was eternal. It could never be put out.

But being the Light in the Dark was lonely. Shining was fun, but it would be more fun to reflect the light off others and to share it.

So Creativity divided and cast off sparks of Itself.

But Creativity also spawned Intrigue. The sparks could not know they came from the bonfire. They had amnesia. The game would be to rediscover—using their own creativity—they were part of the Original Light … and, ultimately, to return to the Light.

Along the way, these individual sparks would almost touch the truth. They’d join with other sparks and create a brushfire. It was exhilarating!

As they lived their lives, made mistakes, and righted themselves on their course through experience, the sparks would—now and then—have a get a glimmer of a bonfire. These were times when they would join lights and create the biggest fire they had ever seen so far. They were times like births, deaths, weddings—anytime love is reflected in large quantities for them to feel a part of.

Ultimately, the good players got that everyone is a spark of the Great Altogether—of Creativity Itself.

Once the light dawned, their time on Earth was nearly as bright as it would be on the day they would return to the Biggest Bonfire in the Universe—to Creativity—and Love—Itself.

Here we are in the Season of Light. I hope I have just told a Creation Story that can appeal to anyone, regardless of belief.

In one way or another, all major religions celebrate light as we approach the darkest day of the year on Winter Solstice—December 21st. Some do it out loud; others more quietly.

The earth religions honor the Sun god at the Solstice and pray for his safe return, knowing all life evolves around light.

In a play on words too good to pass up, Christianity celebrates the birth of another Son … the one who told us, “You are the light of the world.” Certainly, he was a light, but notice, he made a point of telling us we are also the light.

Jews celebrate Chanukah—a miracle of light—of lanterns that kept burning and saved the day when they should have run out, a kind of loaves and fishes story with the element fire …

Lastly, Muslims celebrate Hajj, the annual trip to Mecca all adults of sound mind must do at least once in their lifetime. The ritual promotes the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood by showing everyone is equal in the eyes of Allah. Sounds, to me, like an affirmation of the One Light.

So, you have to wonder why so many people on the planet still don’t get it.

Don’t let that get you down—the wars over differences in religion, opinion, or other ridiculous things we fight about as human beings.

This holiday season, do the one and only thing you can really do about it. Just go out there and let your light shine. Turn on your lights! Fire spreads in a divine domino effect …

… and remember every time you see a light, to be a light …

Ultimately, the good players will get that everyone is a spark of the Great Altogether—of Creativity Itself.

Once the light dawns, your time on Earth will be nearly as bright as it will be on the day you return to the Biggest Bonfire in the Universe—to Creativity—and Love—Itself.

Author's note: Some of the basic concepts in this essay come from channeled material called The Michael Teachings. If these ideas intrigue you, please visit this link or one of the many sites devoted to this spiritual slant on the universe that has always made so much sense to me. I was introduced to these teachings by Stephen J. Cocconi, who also has a fascinating site on the Teachings.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Blog Referral CONTEST!

Now for a request for help, a challenge, and a little contest. (Did I mention fun?) The success of my book, blog, and website depend on sharing. To encourage new members of my Yahoo Group, I am sponsoring a holiday contest. The reader who refers the most new sign-ups to my Yahoo Group by midnight January 1, 2008 will win free, signed copy of the anthology soon to be published by my local Sisters in Crime Chapter. We expect it to be available in February. Capital Crimes: 15 Tales by Sacramento Area Authors includes some twisted mystery short stories and some pretty funny ones, including my own wacky "Digital," the saga of some very weird goings-on in a fictional Mexican fast food joint near Sac State University.

Here’s how you play: Every time you refer a friend or friends, e-mail me at with the e-mail addresses of those you have referred to me. You can cc me as you send links to your friends or just save the addresses all up and forward them in a single e-mail. Whatever is easiest for you. Names aren’t as important as e-mail addresses, but both are fabulous. I will keep tabs on who referred whom, as those names pop into my Yahoo Group. I will announce the winner in my first post of 2008.

Yahoo Group members get some extra perks--more behind-the-scenes info about Hot Flashbacks, the book in progress and the online community--and the opportunity to participate in contests and other special events and offers.

Good luck, and rest those weary dogs from all that holiday shopping by telling your friends we're here, ready to bust the old Old, and ready to make the rest of our lives a booming blast!