Gŵyl Forwyn Hapus! (Happy Maiden Festival).
Today (February 1st) is the ancient Celtic/Gaelic festival of Imbolc (pronounced eem-olck), or in Welsh, Gŵyl Forwyn. In the Celtic Wheel of the Year, Imbolc, or winterspring, is the half-way point between Yule/Midwinter (Winter Solstice) and Ostara (the Spring Equinox).
Imbolc is also known as Brighid’s Day. It was a time to celebrate the ancient Celtic goddess, Brigid who, in pre-Christian days, was seen as the Divine Mother of the Celtic Isles (aka the British Isles), (and there is SO MUCH to know about Brigid that I won’t discuss now). However, according to my research, the word Imbolc has ancient references to both ritual cleansing and the pregnant ewes who will soon begin lambing. Hence, it holds deep spiritual meanings tied to both pregnant expectation and ritual cleansing. It is a time when we are deep in the darkness of winter and building a yearning and anxiousness to emerge from winter’s womb and into the new life of spring. I find this to be very beautiful symbolism, and it certainly fits with how I am feeling right now. Yet, I have definitely found a deeper appreciation for this winter season than I have in times past.
A.C. and I have been working to be more aligned with the cycles of the natural seasons. This is the first winter where we are both 100% self-employed, and that has brought several new dynamics into our lives (both beautiful and challenging). However, one of the most beautiful things for me is the way we get to set our own pace for the season, and in recent years, I have been learning about the important ways our ancient ancestors lived with a more natural rhythm and cadence aligned to the natural cycle of the year.
Winter is often a time people lament, dread, curse, and seek to escape. And for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s certainly understandable. I have certainly had my fair share of “winter woes” over the years, but this year, I have tried to find a deeper and more beautiful relationship with this season we call “winter.” Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t hold an anxious excitement for spring as the spirit of Imbolc invokes. Yet, there is still beauty in appreciating the blessings that winter brings to the earth and all forms of life.
Our ancient ancestors (and probably most indigenous peoples around the globe) held a much richer perspective when it came to the natural world. They understood the importance of the changing seasons, the shifting temperatures, weather patterns, etc. They understood their interconnectedness and how they all played a role in the shared overall health of Mother Earth. They also learned to hold a kind of relationship with those elements and honored their gifts and place in the cycles of the earth.
For many ancient peoples, winter was respected and honored as a time to slow down, rest, dream, and deeply nourish both body and soul. In the natural world, the trees and most plants rest and go dormant, and many animal species hibernate or shift into a restful state. But the rest is not a form of being lazy. To the contrary, the bodies of sleeping plants and animals are bustling with deep, internal movement. Trees, shrubs, and other perennial plants are migrating nutrients into the root systems, building the needed energy to re-emerge their visible beauty come spring, and they are even sharing their stored abundance with the microorganisms who share homes in their soil beds.
Because we are also a part of the natural world (as opposed to being “apart” from it), our bodies and souls have their own natural inclination to rest and slow down. Sadly, our modern world and Western culture do not provide us the with the expectation to honor that natural instinct. Instead, most of us continue running just as fast as always—maybe looking to a Spring Break or summer vacation as the time to finally take a break (and even then we often find it difficult to actually turn off the phone)! A.C. and I have certainly lived that way for much of our lives, so no judgement or shame to anyone!
Yet, perhaps our cultural distain and dread of winter is a result of the fact that we have not found the joy of allowing ourselves to truly REST, SLOW DOWN, and NOURISH our bodies and souls for the upcoming summer season (just like so many other non-human beings do!). So, this winter, we decided to try allowing ourselves to really slow down and become more in-tune with the spirit of the winter season and listen to our bodies’ natural instincts. Here are a few things we have learned:
Nourishing Body & Soul
As mentioned previously, most plants and animals use the winter time to build energy that not only sustains themselves for the season when food and sunlight energy are less available, but to also prepare to become fully alive when the spring season shifts into motion. For plants, their winter attention is mostly in the root systems, building inward growth, rather than devoting the energy to outward growth.
For us humans, winter can be a great time to bring our attention inward—building emotional, mental, and spiritual strength. It’s a profound time and opportunity to fill our minds with new information (reading books, online courses, group discussions, etc.), practice new skills, learn a new language, create things with our hands, and do nourishing soul work to confront and heal wounded parts of our selves.
Then, on a body level, winter has also been much more enjoyable for us this year because of the nourishing foods we have been able to store from our farm this past season. We have been learning to appreciate and rely more heavily on the nutrient-dense foods that have either been canned, frozen, or that naturally keep for the winter months (like squashes and potatoes). It has been a shift, for sure, to meal plan better with what we have stored rather than just rely on other produce at the grocery store (produce that was probably shipped from far away places and likely grown in ways that were harmful to lands and beings).
Dreaming and Planning
Resting involves more than just sleeping. Rather, it also means devoting energy to dreaming and listening to what the Divine wants to manifest through us in the coming spring and summer seasons.
For me, dreaming, planning and brainstorming have been welcome practices during the winter so far! Coming up with ideas and then really giving space to listen more deeply and ask better questions has been enriching and allowing me to, I feel, create more thoughtful plans that I will be able to execute much more effectively and efficiently!
One of the biggest new plans A.C. and I have been working on is expanding the gardens here at the farm and seeking to incorporate more biodiversity with many new species of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers! We even just received all of our seeds since some of them will need to be planted in-doors soon in order to be ready for transplanting in the later spring!
For me personally, I have devoted a lot of time listening to how to serve my clients better and how to create content that is more nourishing and meaningful (more to come over the year on that!).
Being better winter dreamers and planners has also reminded us that despite the slow pace the season imbues, time actually goes fast, and that before we know it, spring will be here and we’ll need to be ready to awake and get busy!
Learning to Confront the Uncomfortable
In November we welcomed three new baby alpacas to our farm. This has naturally added to the list of daily chores and periodic other outdoor tasks. So, we are finding the need to be working outside in the cold more than we have been accustomed to in winters past.
While it can certainly be uncomfortable to have to be out in the cold, there is a beauty in being able to learn to embrace discomfort. It helps us build resiliency and learn to confront other difficult and uncomfortable situations with strength and clarity. We’re learning to see the beauty, place, and purpose for the cold, so taking time to be in it more seems to be good medicine.
So, as the second half of winter begins, I invite you to join me in finding ways to allow your mind and body to slow down, rest, dream, and nourish your inner self! As I mentioned previously, it’s certainly natural (and okay) to get anxious for spring and warmer weather, but learning to appreciate the unique beauties of winter has been a healing practice this year.
Here are three questions I would love to offer as you consider your own practices and relationship to winter:
What is seeking expression through you this next spring and summer season that you can now begin nurturing in its ideation state?
What stagnancy are you ready to shed so you are ready to emerge into spring with a freshly cleansed and energetic soul?
What parts of your soul could use some love and attention? What wounded parts of the self would benefit from a quieted mind so they can speak their truth and find healing and renewed vision?
May your Imbolc season be nourishing, warm, cozy, restful, and inspiring!
Fendithion y Gaeaf (Winter’s Blessing),
Photo: “Cover Connection” by Hunter Page, used with permission; visit www.hunterpagephotography.com for more beautiful photos of the Southern Utah desert.