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.

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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.

Summer Winds Bring Change and Abundance

©Jane A. Simington, PHD

 

Strong summer winds bathed me this morning in aromas of rose petals, honeysuckle, sage and wild prairie grasses. These sensations caused me to be aware of the direction from which the winds were blowing. While most of the Great Medicine Wheels place the element air in the East, the winds blow from each of the four directions. Years ago I learned a guided visualization that taught me to pay attention to the directions from which the winds blew; for each of the directions has its own gifts; and when the winds blow from any one of the directions, they blow to us the gifts from that particular direction. In that way, the winds can validate our own inner knowing and call for us to be open to receive in gratefulness the gifts being blown our way.

Here is a version of that meditation. I trust it will increase your awareness of the gifts to be found in each of the directions and, thus add to your abilities to receive the blessings of the winds that blow those gifts towards you.

 

green grass blowing

Begin by paying close attention to your breathing…in and out…in and out…in and out.

Exhale deeply and allow your eyes to gently fall closed. Now inhale deeply and as you do so, find yourself standing on the top of a very high hill. Take a moment to be aware of your surroundings. As you do so, become aware of being completely wrapped in a warm gentle wind. Know that this wind is blowing from the East for it brings with it the fragrances of spring. Breathe deeply of the spring winds and welcome the newness being ushered into your life by the Winds of the East.

You sense that the winds have now shifted and they are becoming warmer. The smells have also changed from the smells of spring to those of the ripening fruits of summer. Hints of melons, cherries and crabapples drift your way, carried on by these winds, the winds of summer, the winds from the South. Acknowledge that these winds are validating your fruitfulness, your productivity. They have come to remind you that with fruitfulness comes abundance. Breathe deeply and welcome into your entire being the abundances the South Winds are blowing your way.

Pay attention to a further shift in the winds and to the dimming light. Dusk is now upon you. Cooler winds wrap you in the brilliance of autumn colors. You capture whiffs of harvested grains, fresh wines and pumpkin pies being carried on by the winds from the West. On the Great Medicine Wheels, the West is honored as the place of healing and the place of the healer. What healing are the West Winds blowing your way? Are the West Winds asking you to accept your healing gifts and to accept your role as healer? The West is also the place of abundant harvest. Are the West Winds reminding you that this is your time to successfully harvest the good seeds you have planted?

One more time you feel a shift in the direction from which the winds blow. As you face these cold winds you wrap yourself in a blanket of white. The Great Medicine Wheels teach that the North holds gifts of ancient wisdom and makes the teachings of the ancestors available to spiritual teachers and leaders. As the North winds blow these gifts your way, are you being reminded that it is time to pay attention to these teachings and to acknowledge and accept your roles as a spiritual teacher, leader?

As you become aware of having completed the full circle, gently and easily open your eyes. Spend a few moments pondering from which direction the winds blew strongest on you. Then acknowledge the gifts you already have or that are now being blown to you from that direction and give thanks that it is so.

Each time I stand in the wind, I recalled this meditation and am also reminded of how in the Old Testament Yahweh was referred to as the wind. I love that symbol and because of it, I am filled with reverence of the wind from whatever direction it blows. I hope this meditation has helped in similar ways to increase your appreciation of the wind and may we each be more aware and grateful for the breath of Spirit blowing within and around us.

Honoring Darkness Prepares Us to Welcome the Returning Light

©Jane A. Simington, PHD. 2015

As the winter solstice approaches we are once again reminded of how the seasonal changes in nature mirror the cyclic rhythms within our own lives. When we pause to examine our interconnections in the web of all existence we acknowledge that times of darkness fall upon every life. As the light fades and cold settles in we recognize that each of us experiences times of darkness and isolation.16426_882031781829415_5278592370910128062_n

As the world around us lies mostly dormant, if we allow ourselves to seize the opportunity, we settle in and re-centre. As we do so we become aware that this time of stillness allows us to amass energy for our next great movement forward. Being thus connected with the seasonal changes in our own lives, as mirrored by the cyclic changes in nature, we bless the darkness knowing that the balancing messages of the Winter Solstice promise that it is always darkest just before daybreak, and that very soon a door will open through which the returning light will stream.

Winter Solstice celebrations are a meaningful way to gather with like-minded friends to honor the spirit of darkness and the spirit of returning light. The following ideas for a Winter Solstice ceremony acknowledge what has been gained from our times of inner darkness so as to find the new seeds to plant during the times when the sun returns to our outer and inner worlds.

Honoring the Darkness
Allow some time at the beginning of the celebration for participants to sit in almost total darkness as a way to allow them to ponder the dark times they have experienced during the past year. After this time of stillness invite them to reflect on and perhaps journal what they have gained from their darkest time/s. The following questions can help in their reflections and in the acknowledgement of the gifts and abilities resulting from that darkness.

1) How has your darkest experience of this year changed your life?
2) What strengths do you now have that you did not have before that experience?
3) How has that experience influenced what you view as important?

Honoring the Light
After each participant has responded to one or more of the reflective questions, pass a jar of seeds. Have each pick two seeds and reflect on the following question:

1) What new seeds are you now able to plant when the sun returns, as a result of having that dark experience?

As each responds, invite that person to light a candle representing the return of light into their inner and outer worlds. As each candle is lit, ponder the increasing brightness each light brings into the darkness.

As a parting gift, you might offer some of the evergreens and pinecones used to decorate your ceremonial centre. A small Rosemary plant can also be a meaningful parting gift since they were known to our ancestors as the “herb of the sun,” and were included in early solstice celebrations. To close your solstice celebration, a prayer of thanksgiving for the cyclic teachings of nature will allow each one present to ponder how year after year, nature generously repeats her cycle.

As a gentle mother, Nature annually reminds us of our interconnections and of our constant potential for renewal and regeneration. As we begin our winter celebrations, many of which are rooted in early solstice ceremonies, may each of us receive the blessings of both the Darkness and the Returning Light.

Autumn Gifts: Lessons of Death and Rebirth

©Jane A. Simington, PhD.

The gardens have lost their freshness and here and there along the path red and gold leaves show themselves, like the silver hairs that now appear among my blond ones. The autumnal changes that awaken the cyclic rhythm within my own life cause me to once again reflect on how the shadow of summer’s death turns me inward, tearing away the veil revealing all that is now a part of the past.

autumn leaves

My son died in autumn. He had been in the springtime of his life. I will never see his abilities in their summer or autumn seasons. Watching the gathering of the field grains reminds me of the many years of etching my sorrow into the prairie paths. Walking those same paths today I am able to acknowledge the lessons of death and rebirth revealed in the seasonal changes of nature. I have learned to gratefully appreciate the splendor of the autumn fields, the meadow, and the lake, for their numerous tales of the continuing process of life. Over the years their encouraging whispers of perennial rebirth have reminded me that life goes on despite visible signs of death.

While the awareness of autumnal decline holds a strange mystery which adds to the gravity of my moods, I believe that autumn offers opportunities for life review and reverie that only a backward glance can provide. The season allows us to take advantage of the gifts wedged between summer’s hectic beauty and winter’s harsh decline, and in so doing can make us more able to truly focus on and appreciate the richness of our personal harvest.

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.