Embracing the Power of the Winter Solstice to Heal Self and Others

©Jane A. Simington, PhD. 2017

 

The darkest day or the longest night of the year is near. This annual planetary event is known as the Winter Solstice, and occurs this year on December 21. At the Winter Solstice, the sun begins to return, shifting the balance of dark and light, bringing promises of increasing warmth and new beginnings.

 

  • This is a powerful time to reflect on our seen and unseen darkness, so we can release some of that pain.
  • As we come to the close of this year, let us heal our emotions and spirits and thus release the darkness within ourselves to make room for the returning light that can bring with it, and fill us with, what it is we desire to manifest in 2018.

1. Embrace the calmness of winter evenings and nights. As you sit alone in the darkness, allow yourself to feel the peace within the stillness. The quiet calm of a long winter’s night provides a great opportunity to look within and nurture Spirit Connections. Acknowledge how much energy gets poured into the external preparations for the winter holidays and then use the stillness of a quiet calm winter night to honor your inner world, and to refresh and renew your Spirit.

2. Reflect on the need for change. As the sun changes course, ponder the direction of your life and determine if you need to, and/or are ready to change direction.

 3. Awaken to higher consciousness. The return of the sun following the Winter Solstice has long been compared to the growth of inner light and thus, to the awakening of higher levels of consciousness. As we shed our darkness and brighten our inner light, we are more able to contribute to the healing so needed in our world; and by so doing, we honor the energy of the Winter Solstice.

4. Connect with Universal Energies, Spirit Guides and Angels. Many spiritual masters teach that the Solstice is a time when there is an increased alignment between the Earth and the other Universes, creating an opening that allows for easier entry of Spiritual Guides and Angels “bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold,” and thus increasing the possibility of our prayers to be heard and answered in more immediate and miraculous ways.

 5. Enjoy the Celebrations of the Season. Since ancient times, the returning of light has been held as a sacred time of the year and marked with festivals and celebrations.

6. While it is unclear for how long people have been celebrating the Winter Solstice, we know that ancient stone structures were designed to align perfectly with the sun at dawn and dusk, during the solstices. Some believe that the Winter Solstice was more important to the people who constructed the Neolithic stone structures, than was the Summer Solstice, for their livelihood depended upon the returning sun. Stonehenge located in the south of England, is aligned on a sight-line that points to the Winter Solstice sunset. New Grange, in Ireland, points to the Winter Solstice sunrise. The Winter Solstice was a time when most cattle were slaughtered (so they would not have to be fed during the winter) and, most of the wine and beer were ready for consumption. That in itself seems like a great reason to celebrate the season.

7. Wear Amber The ancients thought Amber to be a power stone, for they believed this fossilized resin trapped the sun. They wore it to maintain their personal power and to draw the power of the sun god into their lives.

8. Use the Power of Light and Fire. Mid-winter was a time of concern for our ancestors. They believed the darkness to be filled with dark spirits. To keep them at bay, they lit many candles and built their fires high. They swept their homes with pine branches to cleanse it of darkness and to make room for good luck and prosperity.

 

 

Revisiting the teachings surrounding these seven ways to honor the Solstice can help use the power of the solstice energy to rekindle our inner light and to help brighten the glow in those we walk beside in both our personal and professional lives.

 

I wish you a joyous Solstice and a very blessed holiday season.

 

Christmas and Helpful Communication In Times of Loss

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

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December is upon us and during this month, many will spend time with loved ones for whom Christmas does not bring joy but instead exaggerates their grief responses. While we tend to associate grief with the death of a loved one, there are actually four major types of losses that those in our workplaces and personal lives may be grieving. These are: the loss of meaningful relationships and include losses resulting from death, separation, divorce, abortion, or of children taken into foster care. Losses of meaningful objects are the second major category and include the losses of a home or treasured objects; and can result from a house fire or relocation such as what happens when someone enters a long-term care facility and can take only one box and one suitcase of possessions. A loss of context is the third major type of losses and includes losses of routine and the familiar; these losses can also include losses of goals and dreams and a loss of a sense of one’s past, such as happens when a parent dies, or a loss of a sense of one’s future, as what happens when a child dies. The fourth major category is losses of parts of the self. These losses include sensory losses, loss of a body part, a loss of identity, or a loss of a sense of self, self-worth, or dignity. These major categories of losses are not mutually exclusive, for many who experience a significant loss in one category will subsequently experience losses in another or even in all the other categories.

Many who desire to be helpful, struggle with the best ways to communicate with a griever, especially with those who are in the early stages of grief, or with those who are experiencing a renewed rawness of their grief and of all the memories of what they no longer have and will never again have. A renewed rawness of grief is often triggered by an anniversary reaction, such as what happens at Christmas time. The following points on helpful ways to communicate and not-communicate with a griever can allow a caring person to become one who is capable of knowledgeable caring:

  • Create opportunities that allow the griever to speak about the losses or about the person who has died, since a great fear for grievers is that their loved one will too soon be forgotten. Relating any positive life events and memories of your experiences with the griever or of their loved one who has died can boost the griever’s self-worth and help them to know that their loved one or their contributions are not forgotten.
  • Be comfortable with tears for they are a normal part of grief and can help grieving persons release deeply felt emotional and soul pain. It is also okay to shed a tear as you listen to the griever’s tear-filled stories. Remember however, that crying and weeping are not the same things. When we have a tear in our eye, grievers can sense our empathy. When we weep however, we have altered the relationship for we are no longer able to support the griever for something about what they have said or done has triggered unresolved feelings within us and the griever may end up comforting the one who should be providing the comfort, but is no longer capable of doing so.
  • Remain focused on the griever and on the griever’s experiences. Many people have a difficult time remaining “other-focused.” The moment a griever attempts to describe a portion of their grief experience, a listener that is unable to be other-focused for more than a few moments, will piggy-back on the griever’s story and interject into the conversation, a life narrative of their own grief. To do so may make the griever feel that the listener does not hear the significance of, nor really care about, the griever or about what the griever is attempting to communicate.
  • Allow the griever to describe their beliefs about their life circumstances rather than offering “false reassurance.” False reassurance is delivered in expressions such as: “It was for the best.” “It was God’s will.” “Something good will come from this.” While these phrases may seem comforting, they are considered by grievers as the least helpful words spoken to them. Expressions such as these come from the speaker’s belief system and may not match the beliefs of the griever. False reassurance has been shown to increase anger at God as well as at the conveyor of such expressions, and thus interferes with the therapeutic relationship.
  • Offer the griever undivided attention. A griever’s life and sense of self have been destroyed. Grievers deserve the full attention of their listeners. To give full attention that conveys care, support and empathy, turn your entire body toward the person, make direct eye contact and drop everything else you are doing as the grieving person is speaking. My youngest daughter taught me the power of facing the speaker and making eye contact while listening. One afternoon, while I was busy at the stove and she was excitedly relating her kindergarten day’s events, she stopped mid-sentence to retort. ”Mom you are not listening!“  “Oh yes I am,” I replied, and repeated some of the things she had said. “But,” she cried! “You’re not listening with your eyes.” My child’s honest expression made me remember that the eyes truly are the windows of the soul and to make eye contact when someone is attempting to share deeply with me communicates that I am emotionally and soulfully present to them.
  • Keeping our eyes connected also keeps our eyes and hands off technology devices, such as phones or iPads. Focusing on devices when another is relating their feelings indicates in numerous nonverbal ways that we are more interested in what we are doing on the devices than we are with the person who at this moment needs our undivided attention.
  • Encourage the griever to create a nonverbal signal that communicates when they are becoming overwhelmed in a situation where they may not be able to tell you this in words. The nonverbal message can be anything from pulling on their left ear lobe to rubbing their right knee. Once the nonverbal communication strategy is established, it will then be an indication for you to find a way to excuse the griever from a situation in which they are becoming physically and/or emotionally exhausted.

Christmas is for many, a time of family gatherings. Contained within such gatherings are often reflections of the joys and family gatherings of past Christmases. These reflections, the season itself and all it contains, including the expectations of what it should contain, can add to the emotional emptiness felt by grievers. Many of us will, over the holidays, spend time with one or more persons who are experiencing grief. While we may not be able to make their lives joyful, we each can communicate in ways that convey care and support, knowing that feeling cared about is a first step in regaining a sense of hope that may one day lead to inner peace, the true gift of a joyous Christmas.

Beyond Christmas Grief: Reducing the Anniversary Reaction Effects

©Jane A. Simington (2013)

 Anniversary reactions can be times of intense emotional struggle for the newly bereaved. Anniversary reactions are experienced usually for a number of years following a death. These often occur at times that held a lot of family time and are often associated with ceremony and celebration. Following the death, the bereaved will often feel an increased sense of loss during such times. Each anniversary makes the more aware of the finality of the relationship they have had.

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Here are some activities I have used both personally and professionally helpful. While I have titled this handout as Christmas and Grief, most of these strategies can be applied any time there is a need to prepare for an anniversary situation. It is well recognized that “preparing for” can alleviate much anxiety. When we are “prepared” we tend to move through the experience with more emotional ease than when we are “ caught off guard.’

 

    

1) Acknowledge that Christmas is coming and that this may be a difficult time for you and your family.

 

I find that acknowledging and planning help us get through difficult times. It is when we allow things to simply happen, for example, if we just “float” into Christmas, that we can more easily get caught off-guard and become overwhelmed.

 

2) Avoid being caught up in what you should do and waste a lot of time and energy on feeling obligated.

 

Instead, decide what it is you really want to do and then place your energy into planning for that, by making a list, letting others know and perhaps even asking for help to ensure what you want to take place does indeed happen. If you do not plan ahead it will likely not happen.

 

3) Remember there are no right and/or wrong ways to celebrate Christmas.

 

There are many lovely restaurants that now offer a beautiful meal. Some even have soft music, gentle songs and harp playing on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They are becoming so popular you must make sure to have a reservation well in advance. A week at the Ocean, relaxing in the sun at an all-inclusive resort may be better than any amount of grief therapy you could receive this season. What about a ski weekend? One older woman decided to spend her first Christmas alone serving meals at a community kitchen for the homeless. She told me it was one of her most fulfilling experiences.  Could someone else do the cooking this year? Is it essential to have a turkey dinner; would a roast of beef work as well? Can you serve buffet style instead of a sit-down dinner?

 

4) It is okay to create new traditions

 

After my son’s death, I found it important to acknowledge that Christmas would never be the same for my family. Once I acknowledged that I was able to make the decision to do my best to make the season and the day as good as possible. And from then on, even though it was not “great,” it was “okay.” Making that decision, freed me up to make the choices that were right for me and my family. Part of making those choices involved creating new traditions. In making those choice I discovered, that the best way to make it “okay” was to create new traditions. 

 

Remember, all traditions started by somebody changing the order of the way things were done. If you don’t like what you do this year than you can change it again next year. You may try hanging a new ornament in memory of your loved one. Donate money to a favorite charity using the amount of money you would have spent on your loved one’s Christmas gift. Create a collage of favorite past Christmas pictures and honor the good times had. Decorate your loved one’s picture frame in a beautiful Christmas motif. Place a planet on the grave-site, or donate a plant to be placed on the altar in your church.

 

5) Honor your feelings and let others know you will need to do so.

 

When you accept an invitation, it may be important to tell your host and hostess, this is a difficult time of year for you and that you may only be able to stay a short time. Then allow yourself to leave when you need to.

 

6) Spend your time only with friends and family who can support you.

 

You do not have the energy right now to pretend. Be with those who are comfortable with your need to cry and to sometimes be withdrawn and alone. Be with friends who are comfortable when you talk about your loved one. Friendships change during grief as do family relationships.

 

7) Spending money on yourself and looking nice, does not dishonors the one who has died.

 

Buying a new outfit, wearing makeup or jewelry, and spending money on a massage, manicure or pedicure or even on travel are all excellent self-care strategies. These in no way indicate you are not grieving, nor do they say you do not treasure the one who has died. They do say you are trying to move through this difficult process in the best way possible

 

8) Honor your true feelings

 

Cry when you feel sad and lonely and also allow moments of joy to creep in. It is okay to smile again. It is even okay to have a laugh or two. 

 

9) Take good care of your physical self

 

Eat nutritionally; get some physical exercise. Limit alcohol intake. While it can initially make you feel relaxed. It can quickly depress and make your feeling erupt out of control. It is also easy to make it a habit of “drowning” our sorrows. Limit caffeine intake; it can interferes with sleep which is so needed during times of grief.

 

10) Find beauty in the season

 

Let the sights and sounds and smells ofthe season enter your empty spaces. While this will not evaporate your grief, it is a step forward – and that is what grief recovery is all about…one small step at a time.

 

11) Go for a winter stroll.

 

Spending time in nature is a very healing strategy. Nature helps us remember the cycle of life and death and by doing so brings new hope and promise into our lives. Many find nature to be the greatest healer. It was for me, personally. Beginning a “walking out of doors program,” was the best thing I ever did for myself. I can now honestly say “ I walked my grief away.”

 

12) Give yourself permission to add some peace-filled moments to this Blue Christmas

 

This particular Christmas will be a part of your life story for the rest of your days. Make a conscious effort to include aspects, that many years from now, when you recall this season, you will be able to encourage another, by telling them of the things you did which helped you make this very difficult season a little bit brighter.     

The Winter Solstice: A Time for Inner Reflection

© Dr. Jane Simington Ph.D., December 2012

 

The winter solstice occurs when the Sun is at its southernmost point in the sky. This usually takes place on December 21 to 22 and creates, in the Northern hemisphere, the longest night of the year because the hours of darkness on that day are greater than they are at any other time of the year.

While interpretation of the ever-increasing darkness surrounding these days varied from culture to culture, the physical remains in archaeological sites such as Stonehenge in England, and Newgrange in Ireland indicate that the winter solstice was acknowledged. The primary axes of both these monuments are aligned with a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise in Newgrange, and the winter solstice sunset in Stonehenge.  Some believe that these exact alignments indicate a belief by these ancient peoples that during the winter solstice the earth is more closely aligned with cosmic forces and that prayers and offerings made during these hours are more likely to be received and responded to than if made at other times of the year. Evidence also indicates that these and most other cultures in the Northern hemisphere held ceremonies in recognition of the event. Common to most cultures were rituals appealing for the rebirth of the sun gods because during the winter months when the sun did not provide warmth and light for the growth of grains, starvation was common.

solsticetreeCeremonies honoring the return of the sun after the longest night continued into ancient Greek and Romans times. The festivals most commonly occurred on the night of December 24 and December 25. Christmas, the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus the “Son of God,” is also observed on December 25. Many celebrations attributed to Christmas eve and Christmas day are rooted in the ceremonies and festivals held during the winter solstice, including the advent preparation of letting go of the old so that the new can be birthed.

As the longest night approaches we are once again reminded that the cyclical rhythms of nature, are also within us and affects us deeply. The fading light causes us to acknowledge that darkness touches every life. Each of us experiences times of metaphoric coldness, yet when we allow ourselves to seize the opportunity, we settle in and re-centre. As we do, we become aware that this dormant time 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 it is always darkest just before daybreak, and that very soon a door will open through which the returning light will stream.