Thanksgiving Festivals: A Time for Focused Appreciation

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

October, 2017

This evening, I lingered along the lakeshore path, marveling at the Autumn splendor of colored leaves dancing in the evening breeze, listening to the call of Canada Geese winging their way back to the safety of the water; and also, in awe of the brilliance of the soon-to-be-full moon. This Harvest Full Moon coincides with many harvest festivals in the Northern Hemisphere; and in Canada, it heralds the beginning of our Thanksgiving weekend.

I have great memories of many Thanksgiving feasts of the past; one of my favorites is in relation to focusing with appreciation on what I had wanted, rather than on what I did not want. Some years ago, when my eldest Grandson was about five years of age, I had asked him to help me finish setting the festive table by placing the knives and forks beside each plate. Some moments later, I returned to the dining room to see the results. The knife and fork had been placed beside his Granddad’s and my plates exactly as I had asked. The remainder pieces of silverware were scattered in various positions beside the other ten plates. I called him to me to emphasize how much I had appreciated how nicely he had placed the knives and forks beside his Granddad’s and my plates. I said nothing of the scattered silverware. Over the next half-hour, I caught glimpses of him making several trips back through the dining room; each time to rearrange to the best of his abilities, one or two more placements of knives and forks.

I am unsure if my Grandson recalls that event or even that day. It matters not; for I believe the lesson was mine and from it I learned the power of focusing on what I want, rather than on what I do not want. That Thanksgiving Day, nearly a decade ago, my Grandson taught me to appreciate even the smallest of blessings, and to recognize that when I do so, I am almost certain to get more of the good things in life.

As the Harvest Moon shines on you and your life, may you focus with appreciation on the good you have received, and may your gratefulness bring to you even more of what it is that you are most grateful for!

Transformation Produces Abundance

©Jane A. Simington, PhD. 2017

Today, while gathering the abundance of an August harvest, a multicolored butterfly landed on my overflowing vegetable basket. The butterfly’s colors and how its wings became one with a carrot top reminded me of a clay Kachina I had once molded during an art class, and of the symbolism related to it. A Kachina is a supernatural being who controls nature and has the Spirits of living things such as animals and plants within it. The Butterfly Maiden is a Hopi Native American Kachina responsible for a fertile beginning leading to a transformation that produces a bountiful harvest. She is often pictured as a young Native American woman dressed in, and surrounded by butterflies. One teaching associated with her is that similarly to how each morning, the harvester searches for the ripe corn cobs that have burst forth from their husks, each new day offers abundant possibilities for stepping from our cocoons, spreading our wings and discovering the beautiful butterflies within; and that the best way to make progress in this direction is to reconnect with the symbolic messages reflected to us from nature’s perennial rhythm of fertility, growth, harvest and decay.

During times when our inner wisdom is quieted by the pain we feel, a daily venture out-of-doors can help us regain our foothold upon the Earth. Mother Nature’s cyclic rhythm of promise can help us regain hope for the future, and thereby rekindle our desire to continue to tread among the living. As we move through our daily lives, which are sometimes filled with hurt and fear, chaos and challenge, may Mother Nature daily provide one item to symbolically brighten the darkness of our personal cocoons, laid down to protect us from the harshness of the world, and from within that Light, may our beautiful butterflies emerge.

 

Nurturing Seeds of Optimism and Hope

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

As the days became longer and the cold of winter was giving way to the warmth of spring, as a child I could sense the optimism and hope being shared by my parents as they discussed their plans for the seeding of spring crops and gardens. Signs of new life abounded around my farm home and the potential for the gains my family could acquire if that new life was nurtured and properly cared for, while covert, were palpable.

Those childhood days have imprinted correlations in my mind between spring, new beginnings and hope. Our spring celebrations and family meals offered a sacred space for giving thanks and for inward visioning of the promises held for the coming season.

My sacred and treasured childhood memories of the holiness of spring are in many ways comparable to the teachings which since ancient times have surrounded the Spring Equinox. The Spring Equinox, because of its association with light and new growth, was in ancient times, also known as Ostara, This title derived from the name of the Celtic Goddess of fertility and springtime. She was celebrated during the Spring Equinox as the balance between darkness and light and as the bringer of increased light. Many other cultures and traditions including Christian, Orthodox and Pagan have also marked this powerful turn of the seasonal wheel with symbolism of resurrection and rebirth.

The sun’s journey throughout the course of the year holds strong symbolism to our own journey. The Spring Equinox is positioned upon a point of balance, with one side of the equinox representing the dark half of the year and our struggles with the dark and death aspects of ourselves. The other side of the equinox represents the light half of the year and our possibilities for rebirth and new beginnings.

Spring is for me a time to celebrate the resurrection of what went beneath the earth at the Winter Solstice, both real and metaphorically; and to joyfully anticipate the new life that is appearing in field and womb. It is a time of new beginnings, of action, of saying goodbye to the old, and of creating sacred spaces to hold the new seeds we plant and, when nurtured and properly cared for, will produce abundant fruit.

Earth teach me, to forget myself as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me, regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring.
~ William Alexander

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox
©Jane A. Simington PhD

Summer has ended and during this week we are in the energy of the Autumnal Equinox. Since ancient times, the Earth’s Peoples have re-enacted rituals to draw in the energies of these days believing that during the equinoxes, the universes are more directly in line; and thus celebrations of gratitude as well as rituals for supplication were more likely to be received and responded to by the heavens. According to NASA, there is indeed a change in geometric activity that takes place during the September Equinox. These changes actually increase the chances, for those of us who live in the higher regions of the Northern Hemisphere, to view the Northern Lights.


No matter how far removed we are from the soil and the smells and colors of this beautiful season, each of us is affected by the movements of the planets; and thus each of us can purposefully harness the energies of these days for our own life shifts. Here are some ways to draw into your own as well as into your groups, the power available to each of us during the Autumnal Equinox. Remember that rituals and ceremony do not have to be observed following any particular tradition or religious ceremony. In my experience, the best outcomes of any ceremony are achieved when they result from actions based on pure intentions that flow from my own Spirit to serve my personal needs and those of my groups.

 

  1. Examine the Balance in Life

This year the official day of the Autumnal Equinox is September 22. On that day the hours of daytime and nighttime are relatively the same. This has long been interpreted to mean that during this short period of time the world is in balance. Metaphorically, we can use this time to determine and re-establish the balance in our own lives.
 

  • Purchase two candles for each person who attends your equinox ceremony. Select one candle for each in a bright autumn color and the other in a dark color. During the celebration each person in turn, lights first the brightly colored candle and speaks of how and in what ways, since the Spring Equinox, they have been able to balance their soulful and personal needs and desires with their commitments to the outside world. The colored candle is then placed on the centre altar and the dark candle is lit. As the dark candle burns the person speaks about what actions are needed during the upcoming dark days and nights, so that the balance that is already achieved can be maintained; and so that there can be, by the Spring Equinox, a celebration of having achieved an even greater balance, between soulful and personal needs and desires, and their commitments to the outside world. The dark candle is then placed on the central altar. When all members have spoken and all the brightly glowing candles are on the centre altar, lead a group prayer in which you honor the balance in the universe; express gratitude for the balance each member has found, and request that each receive whatever they require to achieve the further balance they seek.

 

  1. Make a Wreath
     Invite each person to pick a piece from the bowl that you have previously filled with items representative of nature in autumn. After each person has picked their item, ask each in turn to speak of the significance of that particular piece to them and what drew them to select it; and to then place the item on the empty wreath (which you have earlier either purchased or created from willow, grape vines or birch bows). You will want to have a good quality glue gun available for the purpose of gluing the items to the wreath. Once all of the items are secured to the wreath, place it on the centre altar. Invite members to join hands and form a circle around the altar and then lead a closing prayer of gratefulness for the gifts of the Earth; acknowledging that as we celebrate the gifts of the Earth, we also accept that Her growing time is dying. Pray that each member of your group is able to embrace the dark times ahead as opportunities to be more inner-focused and from that, to place their newly gained strength and renewed purpose in readiness to meet the light of the Spring Equinox.

The Earth grows cold.
The soil lays barren. Six months of dark
Without dark we do not know light.
 Without barrenness we do not know growth.
Without death we do not embrace life
Without sorrow we do not appreciate joy
Great Mother, in your dark time, support me in mine.

Autumn Harvest Stimulates Life Review

©Jane A. Simington, PHD. September, 2016

In many cultures of the northern hemisphere, the September equinox is the official announcement of autumn. In Greek mythology, autumn is associated with when the goddess Persephone returns to the underworld to be with her husband Hades. It was supposedly a good time to enact rituals to invoke protection and security as well as to reflect on successes or failures from the previous months.

pumpkins-1574975_640

As I gather the last produce from my summer garden I reflect on how each September, when I ponder the successes and failures of what I have planted in the spring, I am drawn inward, there to consider the fruitfulness of my personal and professional efforts in moving me toward the fulfillment of my life’s purpose. As I mull over how the seasonal changes in my garden metaphorically prompt my own seasonal life review, I recall that Erickson1 described the two parts of a life review: as a soulful attempt to examine and bless those aspects of life that we feel satisfied with, and as a soulful urging to alter any circumstances that need changing so that soul growth can continue into our next season.

While my annual life review is stimulated by the final harvest from my garden, reminiscence, an important aspect of the life review, can be activated by many things including music, photographs or visits. These things naturally stir memories and because of that, each can be used in a therapeutic way.

For a time I was a nursing director in a long term care facility. I like to sing, and I often sang for the residents. Their selection of songs would almost always bring a number of them to tears. Because I was intentionally using song as a therapeutic way to stimulate memories, I would later spend time with each teary-eyed resident, exploring the memories that had surfaced for them as I sang. Together we re-enjoyed happy memories and in most cases, all that was needed to release the emotional load attached to a difficult memory, was for the resident to know they were being compassionately cared about and supported in their attempts to come to terms with their feelings.2

This experience guided my response to my husband’s questions about how to best help his dying mother. As he left to be with her, I encouraged him to help his mother recall the good times that he and she had shared throughout his lifetime. He later reported that even though she was only semi-conscious, as he spoke and caressed her, a tear would roll down her cheek, or she would frequently smile and nod as he related each, “Remember When Mom” detail. He described that as he spoke to his mother he could hear soft sobbing in the background. When he turned to investigate, he recognized that the three other women in his mother’s ward were also listening to what he was relating. Were they perhaps vicariously receiving and delighting in the love he was conveying? Or, were they perhaps wishing that their own sons would be by their bedsides helping them with their own “Remember When Mom” narratives?

As we enter the autumn season, is it time for you to also turn inward, there to examine how the seeds you have planted have ripened? Is it time for you to ponder how the harvest you reap will support you on your next great movement forward? Or is it time to offer “Remember When” details to a loved one, and thus assist them to bring a peaceful closure to their life in anticipation of their next great movement forward? Whatever this autumn equinox stirs within you, may it aid you in harvesting bushels of ripe fruit from the good seeds you have planted in the spring of this year and in the springs and early summers of your entire lifetime.

Erickson, E. H. 1963. Childhood and Society, 2nd edition. New York: WW Norton & Co.
Simington, J. A. 2013. Through Soul’s Eyes: Reinventing a Life of Joy and Promise. Taking Flight Books, Edmonton, AB.

A Garden Metaphor: Resolving Guilt and Regret

©Jane A. Simington

 

For years now, my garden has been a great teacher. I treasure the soulful prompting I receive daily in witnessing the seasonal changes of growth and decline. Today I ruminate on how fruitful some early spring decisions and planting choices have been, and on how underproductive others were. Why did some not turn out as planned? Was the planting time wrong; the location unfavorable? What can I do now to altar those early choices? What will I do differently next spring?

Jane's lilies

Looking back at the choices and decision we have made at an earlier point in life can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt and regret. Guilt and regret are the emotional expressions of the spiritual need for self-forgiveness. Guilt is an expression of things done we wish we had not done. Regret is an expression of things not done we know we should have. These emotions are often articulated in phrases such as “If only…” and “I wish I had…”

If you are holding guilt or regret over a past event here is a four-part process I find to be both helpful and healing.

1)    Place yourself right back in the event over which you are experiencing guilt or regret. See yourself and your circumstances exactly as they were then. Now ponder; “If I were right back there under those same circumstances and in that same time and place, would I make the same decision?”

We often judge yesterday based on the knowledge and experience of where we are at today, yet when we place our selves right back in the circumstances of the time when we made the choices over which we now hold guilt or regret, we will likely be more capable of seeing and experiencing that situation as we saw it then.

2)    Following the examination of those past circumstances and the conclusions about the choices you made, take a few more moments and ponder how that event and the action you took, changed the course of your life. To do this, I encourage you to use a circular form of questioning. A circular form of questioning is to simply repeat the same question over and over after each answer. In your case, now that you have examined the details of the event and the actions you took, please ponder…“and then what happened?” When you find the answer, ask again…“and then what happened?” When you find that answer, ask the same question. Repeat this question and answer process until you are able to see how the choices you made at that time changed the course of your life. Then spend some moments pondering this question: “Did my actions at the time of that event result in some positive outcomes?

3)    List at least three things you learned from making those particular choices. Now conclude what is the greatest lesson you learned from taking the action you took. Reflect on these and then journal in detail your responses. There is great value in taking the time to externalize in written form the thoughts and ideas that are free-floating in your mind. Writing them down rather that just thinking about them will make the process more concrete and real, thus adding to the healing benefits of this exercise.

4)    To conclude this therapeutic activity, memorize and use frequently this affirmation. “I have grown and changed since those days. I made the choices then that were right for me. If I am ever again in a similar circumstance, I may make different decisions because I can now make choices that are right for me at this time in my life.”

Has the above therapeutic exercise to release guilt and regret made you more compassionate with yourself? Self-forgiveness is an exercise in compassion. Self-forgiveness is an exercise in freedom. As the past is released, space becomes available for the planting of seeds in ground rich and ready to support new life and growth.

Nature as Healer: Reestablishing Sacred Connections

©Jane A. Simington, PHD

“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can
comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking
person with a feeling of humility.”

Albert Einstein

 

Summer is upon us, and for many, this season awakens a yearning to reconnect with the natural world. Deep within us, what is stirred as we watch a thrilling thunderstorm, gaze in awe at a majestic mountain range or marvel at the roar of a great waterfall?

Banff rainbow trees

Early peoples associated their own bodies and their spirituality with the Earth and with naturally occurring events. Carvings and stone monuments remaining in many parts of the world remind us of their beliefs that the Earth was their benevolent Mother; from her womb all life emerged, and into her loving arms all life returned.

Our ancestors believed that the Earth Mother provided places of the in-between where they could more readily connect with the spiritual forces. At these places they conducted sacred ceremonies in an effort to keep Her fully alive and thus ensure their own physical and spiritual survival and growth.

As did our ancestors, Earth people of today acknowledge that many of our most sacred experiences occur during times and spaces that are in-between, spaces such as where the shore meets the ocean, where the grasslands meet the water’s edge, where the mountains meet the sky, and where the prairie meets the forest. The in-between times occur at dawn and at dusk, at the change of nature’s seasons, as well as at the turning points that mark the changes of the seasons in our lives. The in-between times and spaces are sacred times, holy times. An energy surrounds these times that can be built upon and used as a catalyst to heal, for during these times we can be more readily tripped into sacred experiences, ones that help us recognize the sacredness of these spaces and which show us that we do indeed have support and help from the spirit world, and that we do indeed live, work, and play in parallel realities.

During my bleak mornings of grief and my dark days of depression, days when I felt abandoned by everyone and everything even by the universe; during my evenings of soul pain, when I lost all understanding of the God of my childhood and had not yet shaped the God of my now; and during the nights when I felt miserably alone and often somewhat suicidal, a teacher whispered, “Spend time alone gazing at the clouds, walking in the meadows, experiencing the forests, and lingering by the water’s edges. It will renew your spirit and rekindle your desire for life and to be among the living.” Acknowledging her wisdom, I trod many paths to fill the deep need for my soul to reclaim its relationship with the places where human life and the spiritual worlds meld.

As a therapeutic helper, now working with those who have experienced significant grief and trauma, I recognize that their difficult experiences have interfered with their abilities to be grounded in the Earth Mother, leaving them feeling out of balance and disconnected from everyone and everything, even from the Divine and all sources of spiritual help. To help those I work with reestablish their grounding and spiritual connections, I encourage them, once each day and regardless of the season, to get their feet on an outdoor path.

Connecting with the Earth helps us more readily connect with the seasons and the cycles within our own lives: spring, summer, autumn, winter, birth, growth, decline, and death. As we change and grow, the seasons offer constant reminders of the transformational forces all around us.

Becoming more aware of the Earth’s processes and seeing ourselves as part of the whole helps us let go of our need to control life. We are reminded to accept the seasons and changes as a part of the unfolding of the universe within and around us. Just as the fertility and newness of spring have been celebrated for tens of thousands of years we, too, can plant the seeds of newness, the ones we sorted during the days and nights of our long and bitter winters. We, too, can feel our own power as we rise to greet the summer morning’s sun. We, too, can gather the fruits of our harvest as we once again prepare for our quiet times in hibernation. Being thus connected, we are more able to recognize that there are really no beginnings and no endings. Being thus connected, we recognize that, even in death, there is no real separation.