Contemplate the essential qualities of ebb and flow,
rest and activity,
cocooning and flying,
hibernation and awakeness,
stillness and motion,
activity and pause.
What comes up when you think about these qualities? Are you drawn to some of them? Are you averse to any of them?
Do you have a sense of a balance or imbalance of any of these qualities in your life at the moment?
Do you resent, or welcome, or feel neutral/ambivalent towards the invitation to contemplate these qualities? Notice what comes up – if anything.
These qualities, laid out in the quote at the top of the page, are part of a reflection point that I gave at the last Yoga For M.E. zoom class of 2020, which I’ll say a little more about later on.
Qualities such as ebb and flow, rest and activity, cocooning and flying, stillness and motion, and other variants on this theme, are needed and present all year long, subtly or obviously, in a balance.
This time of year in particular, around Winter Solstice, can highlight the presence of and the need for a balance of these qualities.
At the darkest point in the year in the part of the world I’m writing from, in the UK, we reach the time of the shortest day and the longest night, and the dark of Winter covers its biggest part of our days. At this time, there can for some be a sense of needing to rest into the dark. To hibernate. To reflect, to pause, to nestle into the earth like a metaphorical seed, and rest, and wait.
Like the pause at the end of an exhale. To exist in restful nothingness for a moment, or a time. To allow reflections of the year that’s been to trickle over our consciousness, without yet turning them into grand intentions or actions or summaries. To deeply rest, to be with ourselves, and to be still.
It can be challenging to come to a place of stillness, or to slow down, because of the necessities and responsibilities of modern adult life. Also because, in slowing down to stillness, you might become more aware of emotions or truths that you may find challenging, or of exhaustion you don’t feel you have time to tend to, or other tricky things.
It can sometimes be difficult to sit in the darkness, to settle into stillness, to pause, and the cold dark time of year can leave us longing for warmth and brightness of any kind.
This time of year can bring out a great need to busy oneself, to have fun, and to bring light. We see traditions such as gathering together, visiting dear ones, lighting candles, putting up decorations, cooking, eating and drinking, giving gifts, giving thanks, singing, celebrating, spiritual ceremonies, walking through the dark carrying lanterns, making merry, playing games, or filling the Winter’s dark with ‘stories by a fire’ – whether this be a literal fire or the glow of a TV screen, or a shared reading of a story.
Leonardslee Illuminated, 2020
At this time of darkness and cold, humans seem to have a strong dual pull towards both resting into the darkness, and igniting the light as far as we can. From our different situations, we might find different ways to meet these needs.
Certainly in 2020, our strategies to meet these needs, as well as our basic survival needs, have had to change and adapt drastically. It’s been a hell of a year for all humanity, and I think that those of us who have been lucky enough to survive are collectively exhausted.
The constant strain of things like risk assessment, risk management, isolation, fear and anxiety about catching or spreading the virus, job losses, loss of normal coping mechanisms, distance from dear ones, digesting difficult information daily, communicating about virus risk management with ones social and familial and professional circles, grieving, surviving, ruptures to community life, and making tough choices again and again without knowing when the pandemic will end, has been relentless all year, and shows no sign of truly letting up yet. Oof.
Short interruption to the flow of this blog post – if you need to talk to an anonymous, kind stranger about whatever you’re experiencing, then do call the Samaritans on 116123.
You may have to wait a few minutes, but if you hang on in there, there’s a compassionate ear from somebody outside your situation to listen to and support you, anonymously, and they are open 24 hours a day 365 days a year.
Alternatively if that isn’t for you, do seek out the support you need elsewhere. It’s totally okay to be struggling, and it’s totally okay to need support.
Back to topic of OOF WHAT A YEAR, and introverted/extroverted needs & inclinations at this time of year…
I do feel a heavy need to exhale and sleep for a long time, and to totally forget about time and responsibility and life’s realities, for something like a whole week. Mmmm… To nest and go extra simple and comforting and inwards looking. This doesn’t really feel possible, but I can do micro doses of restfulness, easiness or spaciousness, on most days.
In contrast I also have a wildly itchy itch to let my hair down and party, to dance round a fire with a gathering of people, to be in a sweaty messy club dancing it out, or even just to do simpler things I miss like hugging my parents, singing together with my dear GLOW choir folks in person, or going to a cafe/restaurant. It’s extra hard for people to meet their more extroverted needs/inclinations at the moment, because of the pandemic. Boo!
There are so many things I would dearly love to do right now, but I can’t, because I want to protect myself and others from Covid-fucking-19. My activities are also limited by having a chronic illness known as fucking-argh-why-do-I-have-this M.E. This illness is sometimes colloquially known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but this name highlights fatigue over all of the other symptoms and has dismissive/misleading connotations, so I, like many/some others who have to live with the varied and ongoing system-wide symptoms of M.E., do not like or use this name for it. I’m pretty tired (har har) of this illness and its impact on my life, and frankly M.E. can ‘do one.’ Please and thank you.
Unfortunately, lots of people who have survived Covid-19, have ended up with chronic or long term symptoms a lot like M.E. and other Post Viral illnesses. This really sucks for everyone experiencing it – I wouldn’t wish this illness or anything similar to it, on anyone. It’s also difficult to keep earning a living if you get struck down with something chronic, and the lack of support available for some people in some working situations when faced with covid and/or slow recovery, is pretty shocking. I wouldn’t be able to survive with M.E. without the current support I’m very lucky to have, and I wish this government would do better by all of us.
Chronic illness can teach us a thing or two about ebb and flow, hibernation and awakeness etc., though it’s not the way I’d wish for anyone to have to learn it. The experience of having M.E. has taught me a lot about balance, rest, privilege, and other things, and there are some hard lessons I have to keep repeating. But I wouldn’t wish this means-of-learning on anyone.
I would like to make Covid-stinking-19, and grumble-honking M.E., into some sort of super-villain / sub-par-villain cartoon. I’m not sure why and don’t think I have the energy to put it together. But maybe the impulse there is to help make it all feel more controllable, and more defeatable.
Perhaps I could then depict that villain losing their winning streak, and could get some catharsis by wreaking my author-ly / super-hero / sub-par-hero revenge, and saving humanity and myself by the end of the quite-short comic strip, so we can all get on with our lives, and sing, and hug, and survive, and be together in normal human ways again.
Sigh. I digress into fantasy. Back to my reflection point of ebb and flow, and thoughts on The Season that I’m writing this in.
This moment of Winter Solstice, the time of the longest night, also heralds the beginning of the gradual return of the light. The wheel of the year turns onwards. We can anticipate that Spring will come.
And so it is in the cycles and motions of things, that after deep rest there can come gentle easy movement, and a new awakening into a different moment or day.
After a sleep in the earth, there can come an eventual sprouting of seeds, and beyond that, blossoms and fruits and branches.
After a nourishing sleep (if you’re lucky enough to have those, hello other insomniacs out there, let me know what works for you ‘cos I’m still regularly an insomniac despite years of experimenting!) there can come a newness of mind that warms the ‘soil of self,’ in readiness for Spring and Summer’s eventual anticipated richness to arrive.
Sitting in the darkest point of the year, we might find the need for hope for different times ahead. Hope for light, warmth and colour yet to come.
2020 has been a year that leaves many of us desperate for some hope of respite from the global Stop-It-I-Scream Covid-19 Horrid-And-Mean pandemic. In a year that has ravaged and upturned the lives of every human on earth, hope can be a delicately flickering flame, easily extinguished, and potentially a much needed balm when alight.
Here’s what Emily Dickinson says about hope:
Hope is the thing with feathers (254)
By Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
A poem about hope, by Emily Dickinson.
How lovely to think of Hope as something that ‘never stops at all’.
That’s not how I experience it though. I experience hope as a feeling, or a state of mind, and therefore something that is transient. I might think of my experience of Hope as a warm, bright feeling place within my heart-space and my psyche.
Trying to think of something that “never stops at all” in this context, I might think of the Potential for hope, rather than Hope itself. As if the potential for hope is a candle that always exists within me, but my feeling or not feeling varying degrees of hope is the changing state of the inner candle. It can be dimmed, brightened, extinguished completely, and re-ignited, again and again, depending on outer and inner circumstance and experience.
I think hopelessness may have been experienced by many, and often, over this year, as the endless twists and turns of pandemic life and tragedy (both personal and collective) have marched on. Our ‘inner candles’ of hope and equanimity (or other positive-feeling states that individuals would describe differently) may have been extinguished many times; and perhaps have been re-lit by acts of kindness & humanity, or other things that bring us solace, if we are lucky.
Some people’s experiences of hope, and of having specific hopes, is of having those hopes dashed, and giving way to deep disappointment. Some people’s experiences have been such that hoping might seem a foolish thing to do, at times, or a difficult thing to access.
Sometimes it is other things than hope that see us through hard times. Sometimes it is doggedly putting one foot in front of the other until you’re out of the dark woods of difficulty and/or despair, rather than being able to imagine anything beyond it.
And sometimes it is hope that keeps us going; sometimes the only thing that gets someone through the freezing snow is the idea of a warm hearth and a hug at the end. Sometimes the only thing that keeps a tired soul going through mirk and mire, is the possibility of a bright field of flowers and sunlight or moonlight at the other side. Hope can be something that helps us to go on.
These things beg the question, what is hope, and how is it different from a wish, or from faith? I wonder… Perhaps hope might be described as a sense of readiness, or a feeling of possibility. Perhaps hope is a connection to a felt-truth that all things will change, with a wish overlaid on top of it about how those changes might go.
There’s the phrase “don’t get your hopes up,” which i suppose is a cautionary protection warning against having “high hopes” dashed against rocks of reality. Like the UK’s Christmas Covid Rules rollercoaster. Argh.
I don’t know the answers to these more philosophical questions, if indeed there are answers. But I do know that for many of us around the world, the arrival of vaccines has heralded great hope of ONE DAY, PLEASE, HOPEFULLY, being able to gather, sing, dance, work, embrace, survive and thrive and live as fully as we want and need to, without putting ourselves and our vulnerable human earth-siblings at risk.
Vaccines may be bringing Hope for many, and yet it also looks like there is yet a long way to go until these hopes can be fully manifest, until it truly can be safe to live fully again without putting ourselves and others in danger. We will have have to wait, and keep waiting. And breathe into the potential discomfort of it all.
A bit like the waiting and watching for the lighter and longer days to gradually return, from the longest night of Winter Solstice. Looking towards the Spring equinox when dark and light come into balance, and onwards beyond that towards brighter, warmer days.
I hope it won’t be another whole turn of wheel of the year before I can do my job in person, or hug my family, or have friends round for dinner. Not just so this metaphor holds up, obviously.
There’s another flaw in my metaphor – some of us love Winter and darkness and cool weather, and don’t enjoy summer at all. Stepped on my own blog-poetry there didn’t I? Haha.
As it happens the return of the light can be a mixed bag. For some people, including me, brighter and hotter weather can exacerbate symptoms and cause worsening in migraines, fatigue and other such stuff. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t also crave the mental uplift of a beautiful sunny day and the ease of gently warm weather – even if the brightness and heat also causes me difficult physical symptoms. It’s tricky! And nuanced. And especially now that most safe-socialising has to be done outside, the Winter can feel crueler.
Our relationships with the seasons are also greatly impacted by our privileges in terms of shelter, heating, air conditioning or other practical supports we may or may not have access to. Which makes relating to the seasons different for people in different financial situations, points in time, and other circumstance-based things too. So basically, it’s all more complicated than my simple metaphor might seem to imply here. Anyway – back to that metaphor:
Some of us (and perhaps, some parts of all of us?) love to nestle in the darkness. And some of us (and perhaps some parts of all of us?) can find a sense of rawness and sadness in the dark and chill of Winter, and the long wait for the light to gradually make its return can leave us needing reminders of hope, of light, of uplift.
And so we might switch on fairy lights, spark up candles and fires, make celebrations, enjoy music, and give gifts of love. And we adjust to the times, this year with most of us doing the best we can via zoom, with reduced income for most, and with a steady drip drip of cut finder AHEM I mean hand sanitiser, dettol spray and masks thrown into the proceedings. And occasionally, we might rest, or stare out of the window, or hug a tree and breathe a big sigh (provided everybody else is two meters away from us), and shout “WHAT THE FUCK?!” to the beautiful sky full of stars.
And we might at this time of year, feel into how much of nestling in darkness, and how much of invoking the light, we might need, overall and in each moment. Hopefully, in the right balance for us. Too much of one quality without the other, and we might find ourselves depleted or irritable, or other signs of unmet need.
Balancing these qualities it not a need specific to this time of year. All year round, we need a particular and changing balance of ebb and flow, rest and activity, hibernation and awakeness, cocooning and flying. Our needs may swing more one way than the other at particular times of year, and our circumstances may also push us in one or other direction – not necessarily in the same direction as our needs. When there is a conflict of circumstance and need, hopefully small do-able strategies can be found to address the balance even a little, in whatever direction is most needed.
I chose this theme as a reflection point in the last Yoga for M.E. online session of 2020. Reflection points in various forms, are something I’ve included in each Yoga For M.E. session this year, and for me are an important option to have as part of making practice time meaningful and/or nourishing for different aspects of self.
I brought in this reflection point as we practised some movement and breath sequences, and some resting poses, known to some teachers as “butterfly pose” or “butterfly flow.” This name for the movement practice hopefully led pleasingly into the theme of cocooning and flying. The embodied practices themselves include qualities of “opening” and “closing,” both in motion and in the still options, which I find to be a pleasing link with the theme.
I hoped it would be a helpful option to some, at this point in the practice, to invite reflections on “the essential qualities of ebb and flow, rest and activity, cocooning and flying, hibernation and awakeness.” I offered a thought point to attendees that, “Nature’s rhythms, and these poses and practices, can remind us to connect with and reflect on these qualities.”
I am careful to make all aspects of yoga practice sessions Opt-In, because not everything is good for everybody all the time. So I hope that this invitation was appreciated by some, and ignored by others if they preferred to put their attention elsewhere!
In this last class of the year, I enjoyed integrating other thematic aspects of the season into physical aspects of the practice too. Including looking behind us (into the past and literally behind us in our physical spaces), looking ahead of us (into the future and literally at what is in front of us), and turning our attention to the breath within us in the present moment, right now.
This made me think of Janus, who Wiki tells me is the Ancient Roman “God of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, frames, and endings. Usually depicted as having two faces, looking to the future and to the past.”
As I paused to be still on the morning of the Winter Solstice, I took some time to reflect on the tapestry of moments that have made up the past year. The change from one calendar year to the next prompts this type of reflection for most of us, even if it’s as simple as “2020 has been a crap year” – an apt summary that someone gave me from behind a mask at about three meters away, in town a few days ago, before we did a pretend-hug mime and waved bye bye from afar.
It has in many respects, been “a crap year.” There’s no denying it. Amongst the crapness of 2020’s shit bits though, there have been wonderous things, such as acts of love, moments of beauty, moments of relief, shared catharsis, appreciation and connection, huge lessons learned, humanity shared, and other things of great value, including a reduction in the pollution of our planet due to restrictions on modern human activities, increased accessibility to events through online options, and other positive human adaptations. And for those of us who have survived the year, we have been lucky to.
Looking ahead, to the new year, there are hopes and fears, some of them universal (“the hopes and fears of all the years” – a line from a Christmas carol), and some of them very specific to this moment in time.
Personally, at this moment, I’m hoping for vaccines, survival, connection, love at the driving seat of all life’s moment-by-moment decisions, better health, and meaningful ways to contribute and continue contributing.
And when it’s safe, I CAN’T WAIT TO GIVE MY PARENTS AND MY DEAR FRIENDS AND FAMILY A HUG! Bloddy hell.
I’d like it to be safe to sing, dance and eat with a gathering of people again. I’d like to be able to smile and chat to people in shops instead of shrinking, running away, and getting anxious/angry when people stand too close or don’t have enough protective gear on.
I’d like to replace our inefficient and uncaring government with kinder, braver, more intelligent, less underhanded people with more integrity and efficacy, honesty and humanity.
I’d love to see the rife inequalities highlighted by this pandemic, addressed and done something about, by individual humans, yes, but also by those with the privilege of being in charge.
If I’m hoping high, I’d also like my M.E. to go away, so I can live without the symptoms and limits of this illness. And I’d apply the same hope to my beloveds who suffer similar.
I also hope that those people who have survived catching Covid-19, can avoid the long post viral suffering that many of us with chronic M.E. or fibromyalgia are all too familiar with.
I hope that those who are grieving or celebrating or both, will be able to do so safely in the time honoured tradition of getting together with people.
Small rant about one of the many reasons I’d like M.E. to leave me alone: Managing health and work and life, as a person with M.E., I can sometimes get frustrated at the way that my limited spoons, and commitment to quality, can mean that it takes a lot out of me to offer a class or a session.
The energy it takes to prepare and deliver a small piece of work can take up most or all of my usable hours in a week, which can be hard if you’re a spoonie with high ambitions, a lot of passion, and bills to pay.
But I wouldn’t take back a second of any of the yoga, choir or vocal work I’ve had the honour to do since getting ill, or done on zoom since pandemic arrived in our lives. I’m heartily glad of every moment I’ve been able to spend engaged with these things.
I don’t have the words to express how grateful I am for the core of GLOW choir folks who’ve shown up on zoom every week since the pandemic started, kept a sense of community alive, and given me a place to continue contribute meaningfully. It’s so nourishing to feel connected to LGBTQIA+ community, at these times when we can’t gather together in person. THANK YOU GLOW CHOIR FOLKS! You are amazing.
It nourishes the soul to be able to contribute in meaningful ways to others, and for me to contribute especially to the lives of those whose experiences and challenges are similar to some of mine (eg being LGBTQIA+ identified, or having a chronic illness).
It means so much to me to feel that there are positive ripples from my actions, that people benefit from the care that I take in preparation and the presence I bring to holding these spaces. It’s been such a boon to have regular work commitments too, for structure and sanity.
I’m also glad to have the chance to adapt and keep my teaching practices alive, despite M.E. and pandemic. And I know that on my death bed, I’ll be so glad I did these things, and kept showing up for community and connection as best I’ve been able to amidst the challenges.
Woah! You said death-bed!! Yep. At this time of year, moving towards the longest night and the shortest day, watching Winter unfold, and with the events happening in the world and in the lives of myself and my dear ones, death is, as ever, a real thing and it shouldn’t be taboo.
Contemplating death and its beautiful terrible truths and mysteries, I know in my heart that every second spent in service of community, and essentially Love, has not been a second wasted. It’s good to remember this when I’m fretting over the realities of day to day adulting and the like.
One of the other reflection points I brought to a zoom yoga practice session this year was an invitation to “ask yourself what words you most need to hear right now,” and if anything came up, to speak or sing it to yourself, out loud or in your mind.
Exploring this intention for myself before and after the class I offered it in, led to me writing a brand new song, which dear GLOW choir folks have been bringing to life!
What I most needed to hear was,
“You are doing so well, good enough is good enough.”
It turns out I also needed to hear Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” poem, which has also been incorporated into my song titled “Good Enough.” Have a listen, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYJyweaDOWQ&feature=youtu.be
Here’s Mary Oliver’s poem:
Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
And incase this is what you need to hear right now, here it is again:
You are doing so well.
Good enough is good enough.
You are doing so well.
Good enough is good enough.
For those of us in a time of darkness, contemplating the year, holding loss and abundance in alternate hands, whilst navigating Covid Christmas Chaos and the prospect of an uncertain year ahead, I hope that you can go gently with yourself in some way, and know that “good enough” is good enough.
We may all have varying hopes for the year ahead, if any at all. Hopefully and probably, whatever happens, flowers will bloom, trees will burst forth with fresh green life, and Spring will come.
Whoever you are, thank you for reading my ramblings and thoughts. I hope that you find something of whatever you most need today.
Please imagine I have written a very pleasing and pithy summary tying everything back up with the Cocooning and Flying theme, and insert it here. Thank you! Take care x