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

Being Grateful for Post-Traumatic Growth

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

During the month of October, many of us who live in countries of the Northern Hemisphere will gather in celebrations of gratefulness. For those who are newly bereaved, these days can add to their sense of loss and feelings of injustice. I clearly recall the first Thanksgiving celebrations after my son’s death. The closer the holiday came, the louder my inner voice chided, “What do I possibly have to be grateful for?” Now years later and only after much sorrow and having left few stones unturned in search of healing, I am aware that there are two aspects to grief: the destructive aspect, and the transformative aspect. While those who are now still in the early stages of grief, do not want to hear that their suffering will change and transform them; many who remain committed to achieving healing; and while it may take a long time, will at some point be able to acknowledge the personal and soulful transformation that resulted from their tragedy.

jane gratitude centre 1

Empirical research demonstrates that many people experience personal and spiritual growth following extreme trauma and bereavement circumstances.1  My own experiences and those of many I have helped through their grief and trauma, parallel the research findings. For most of us, the struggles to cope with the tragic events changed our priorities. What was once important became unimportant and what was once of no importance had become paramount. This shifting of importance seems especially true related to an increased appreciation of meaningful relationships.

For some of us, the shattering of specific religious beliefs was replaced with the acceptance of a broader and more flexible spirituality. For many, the need to rebuild shattered assumptions created an enhanced sense of the meaning of life and of the need to fulfill our life’s purpose. This ever-growing existential awareness led, in turn, to an enriched relationship with the Divine in self and in others; and after an initial period of being angry at God and feeling a deep sense of injustice, many developed a deeper and more personal relationship with the “God of now.” For many, this resulted only after there was a major reshaping of long-held ideas of God, of the Universe and of the Universal Order. In my particular case, the shifting and reshaping of these views deepened my sense of belonging within the greater plan of life.

After a time most who stay committed to their healing, recognize that the journey has changed them in many positive ways. Many report that they would never again want to go back to being what they were, personally and soulfully, prior to their tragedy; and while most of us wish we could have achieved the same personal and soulful growth in any other way, we are extremely grateful for all the experiences our suffering and healing has brought.

During October celebrations, many altars and table-centers will be decorated with fruits of the season. Prayers will be recited in gratitude for the abundance of the harvest. This Thanksgiving, let us also raise our voices for the greatest gifts we have received. Let there be songs and hymns of gratefulness for the post-traumatic growth and healing that we and each of our loved ones have received.

  1. Shaw A, Joseph S, Linley PA (2005).Religion, Spirituality and Posttraumatic Growth: A Systemic Review of the Literature, Journal of Mental Health, Religion and Culture, March, 8(1):1-11.

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.

A Time to Begin Anew: Applying Lessons of the East

Jane A. Simington, PHD.

© May, 2015

Help me celebrate as much as you help me mourn.

sunrise

Many training and practice models designed to guide therapists use as a framework the three phases for healing trauma described by Judith Herman.1 The three phases are: Safety First; Remember and Mourn; and Reconnecting with Life. Clients often report however, that while their trauma experiences tore them apart, and their healing processes reshaped them in ways they themselves often did not recognize, their therapists paid little attention to helping them through the processes of Reconnect with Life. For them, that would often have meant claiming a new identity and taking major risks as they tiptoed through doorways of the numerous new beginnings awaiting them. Clients also indicated they would have perhaps moved further and more quickly along their journey toward transformation had their therapists helped them acknowledge the forward movement they had already made, and helped them recognize the signs indicating their souls were urging them to celebrate the healing they had done and that they were ready to reconnect with life in new ways. A number of years ago, one woman stated this clearly. “Jane, you must help me celebrate as much as you help me mourn.” In this article I will describe symbolic indicators of readiness to reconnect with life in new and exciting ways and I will offer strategies for affirming in ourselves and others progress made along the healing journey.

1)    Pay attention to the rhythms and the cycles of nature and align with these rhythms.

Some years ago a client commented how strange she found it that on each of her daily walks she seemed drawn in an easterly direction. Listening to her awoke within me a similar memory of a time following my son’s death, when regardless of the path I had chosen for my morning walk, I would end up heading East. I still recall the excitement in her responses as I described my discoveries of the significance of the East and the symbolic reminders it holds. She positively connected with the teachings surrounding the Teutonic Goddess Ostara, after whom the East was named. Ostara was celebrated as a Goddess of new beginnings because of her associations with dawn and springtime and therefore the increase of sunlight. In helping this woman recognize the connections between her internal rhythms and the energy of the East, I recalled how affirmed and validated I had been when during my own time of healing someone reminded me; “It is often darkest just before sunrise.”

I also remembered the “awe” of another woman, who had similarly related being drawn to the East when she related her discovery of the Medicine Wheel teachings associating the East with new beginnings. One of these teachings emphasizes the value of making a morning journey into the East to allow the goodness of the new dawn to enter our being. According to this teaching, the golden rays of dawn energize the energies required to live in wholeness.

The Medicine Wheel and various other cultural and spiritual teachings also associate the element air with the East. Based upon this, I love to encourage people to pay attention to the direction from where the wind blows so as to absorb the related teachings. Winds from the South remind us to pay increased attention to the maintenance of our physical strength; winds from the West encourage healing; the North winds bring wisdom and remind us to be grateful; and winds that blow from the East encourage us to welcome newness into our lives.

2)    Pay attention to the birds and other symbols of transformation.

In most ancient societies, people studied the natural world to understand themselves. This knowledge lingers within many cultures. One common belief is that birds are messengers from the spirit world. The Eagle, one of the noblest of birds, is placed by some in the East of their Medicine Wheel.  A rooster is also a symbol of a new beginning. To have one appear in a dream or in art work forecasts that a new day is dawning. The crowing of a rooster reminds us that from the darkness comes the dawn.

3)    Pay attention to the colors worn and the colors used in art work.

As we awaken to the powerful symbolism surrounding us, we acknowledge the many forms in which we are being provided guidance. We begin to see that colors are significant; we pay attention to their mirrored reflections and ponder the meanings of those reflections. On most of the Medicine Wheels, yellow is placed in the East, and is therefore the color associated with new beginnings and with the gaining of clarity. The color yellow resonates with the third chakra, the energy centre associated with risk-taking. When I feel drawn to wearing yellow or notice myself or someone else using a lot of yellow in decorating or in art-making, I believe it is important to ponder the color and its message of encouragement to take the risks required to move life in a new direction.

As we pay more attention to the symbolic messages being continually given and as we align more closely with the rhythms surrounding us, we acknowledge our capacity to recreate ourselves anew and welcome our journey into the East for we can now accept that we can transform ourselves and our lives, regardless of what we have been through.

 

1). Herman, J. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror . Basic Books.

Solstice Nights Offer Winter Dream

©Jane A. Simington, 2014

Those of us who live in the Northern hemisphere will soon be experiencing the longest nights of the year. While interpretation of the ever-increasing darkness surrounding the Winter Solstice varied among ancient cultures, archeological findings indicate our ancestors believed that during the Winter Solstice the Earth is more closely aligned with cosmic forces and thus prayers made during these times are more likely to be responded to than are those made at other times of the year.In many cultures, during the winter festivals, symbols of the Great Bear were used to depict the Earth’s closeness to the cosmos and the appeal for the rebirth of the sun. Like the bear going into its earthen cave to hibernate and to digest during the long, dark nights what was previously ingested so it can burst forth hungry for newness when the sun again shines brightly, we, too, with the lengthening darkness spend longer hours in deeper sleep. For many of us, the longer hours of deeper sleep result in an increase in dreaming.

 winter sunrise

Dreams have been a topic of fascination and intense study throughout history. Carl Jung, the first psychotherapist to view dreams as soulful messages noted that a dream that is not interpreted is a letter from the Gods we have not bothered to read. Today, dream therapists recognize that the dreams which capture our awareness during the long winter nights are frequently those that hold symbols of change. The need for change is often symbolized by dreams of death. To dream that you or someone you know is dying rarely announces a physical death, but usually symbolizes that something is dying (or must die) so something new can be born.

Our Winter Dreams often come in three parts. In the first portion the dreamer is generally provided an overview of what has been. The second part symbolizes what needs to change so that, with the return of the sun, we, like the Great Bear, can charge forth from the darkness of our inner cave into the dawn of a new beginning. The third portion of a dream gives us a glimpse of what will happen if we take action on what is being symbolized by the middle portion of the dream.

The fading light causes us to acknowledge 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.

Join me on Friday evening December 19 as I lead a Winter Solstice ceremony to open the workshop, Exploring Our Winter Dreams taking place December 20 and 21.

 

Wind and the Seasonal Changes of Life

 ©Jane A. Simington PHD, September, 2014

As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone;

And the place thereof shall know it no more.

– Psalms ciii:15-16

Early this day, as I stood to welcome the sun, I was acutely aware that the whispering breezes were announcing “change.” I lingered to identify from which direction it came. I believe that Spirit rides on the wind and the message Spirit brings depends upon the direction from which the winds blow. This morning, the winds of the West announced that one season was ending and a new was about to begin. I pondered how, during my career as a nurse, I was so aware that when the Wind of Spirit ceased to blow, one way of being had ended and a new way was about to begin.

Autumn trees by Jane's lake

The following information and strategies has assisted many caregivers who choose to help the dying free up their Spirits, so when they cease to breathe, their breath is freed from its restless tides to rise and seek God unencumbered.

1) Recognize the three stages of dying.

Outward focused: The person continues to be interested in the outside world, especially in anything related to their family. Visits and conversations about present events are still desired.

Inward focused: The dying person is reviewing every aspect of life to determine what yet needs to be said and done. During this stage it is helpful to share “remember when” stories. Describing shared experiences can help the person feel a sense of satisfaction with the aspects of their life being reviewed. During this stage, the dying person finds the radio and television annoying for these “noises” distract from, and interfere with, the important task of reviewing life with the goal of bringing a peaceful closure to relationships.

Future focus: The person who is close to death is focused almost solely on the afterlife. During this stage many have dreams of a spiritual nature, and visitations from loved ones who have already crossed-over. Listening respectfully, with an open mind and heart, to anything the dying person chooses to share about such experiences is of great value to the dying person as well as to the listener. Being gifted with sacred stories can alter life in many positive ways.

2) Recognize the difference between pain and suffering.

Both from a clinical and research base, it is recognized that suffering is more than physical pain. When the dying person’s spiritual, emotional and relational concerns have been addressed they can relax and focus on what is of immediate importance, which is to bring peaceful closure to this life and move toward the next. When there is pain that is uncontrollable, even with medication, often the source of the suffering is a need to forgive or be forgiven. A question that can be helpful during such times is: “What do you want/need and from whom do you want/need it?

3) Use the Hand- Heart Energetic Connection –

A loved one can give a lot of energetic support to the Spirit of a dying person by using this Therapeutic Touch technique. To do so, hold the dying person’s right hand with your left hand and place your right hand in the middle of his or her chest. Then using your breath to draw on the light and love energy from above, bring this energy into your own heart’s energy centre and send as much love and light down your right hand and into the dying person as possible. Sending positive energy in this ways helps the dying person feel connected to the energy of the light source. Many energy practitioners who are also nurses testify to the value in using this technique during times of suffering and during times when the Spirit of the dying person is getting ready to transition.

In Conclusion

Because of my varied life experiences, I have been gifted to witness many infants take their first breath and have been with many of all ages as they took their last. I am grateful for these opportunities to witness the Wind of Spirit and its association with these times of great change. This morning as I pondered the wind and reflected on these associations, I recognized that as the West wind whispered change, it was not only announcing a change of the seasons in the natural world, it was reminding me that the Spirit of the Wind blows through each of the seasonal changes in life.

Spring Offers Opportunities to Reconnect With Nature

©Jane A. Simington, PHD. March 27, 2013

Spring is the perfect time to reflect on the Divine in all of Creation

    This morning as I watched the spring sun stream through my kitchen window I felt a surge of newness, a sense of being reawakened after a long winter slumber. Breathing a prayer of thanksgiving for the new beginnings that are taking place in nature caused me to reflect on how the changing seasons mirror the changes in my life, and the need to once again celebrate the teachings and practices that consecrate the universal marriage of matter and spirit.
Little by little, more and more of us are remembering, “We are nature. Long have we been absent. . . . We have circled and circled till we have arrived home again.”1 In coming full circle, we are reconnecting to the transformational power of the landscape, the elements, and the directions. As we do so, some feel bewildered by the deep and intense need to create sacred ceremony and practice sacred rituals that honor this connection.    Continue reading