Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to give ourselves permission. Permission to rest. To do the bare minimum. To keep it simple. To not be at our best all the time. To care for ourselves first.
We have arrived at the most stressful time of year. Constant pressure to spend money, socialise, be productive, cope with family dynamics along with increasing darkness and cold- these create the perfect recipe for burnout.
Often, we just kind of push through it and forget it happened by January. Sometimes our body forces us to hit the pause button. But what would happen if this year we did something different?
What would happen if we slowed down enough to feel our deepest feelings and desires?
What would happen if we put our self-care ahead of our holiday shopping?
What if instead of resentfully going through the motions this year, we set boundaries that felt good for us?
We won’t likely get the permission we need from outside of us, so we need to give it to ourselves.
The Universe Wants Us to Slow Down
If you are like me and have a hard time giving yourself permission to do less, then take it from the authority of the Cosmos and the Planets- they want us all to slow down right now, too.
Currently, Mars- the planet of our energy drive and passion- is retrograde and has been since Oct 30th. Since then, you may have noticed your energy has shifted- you may have lost motivation for something you were full steam ahead on. You may feel more tired, frustrated or just lacking in momentum or drive. Things have slowed down, or obstacles have come up for you to deal with.
Traditionally, Mars retrograde is not a good time to initiate anything new or make strides forward in our lives, because our will may not be in alignment with our deepest desires. It asks instead that we turn our awareness inwards to better understand our true motivations and uncover what we really want. Mars also rules the body and sexuality. What is our body truly needing right now? Where does our energy naturally want to go when left to its own devices? Are their energy leaks? Is energy pent up or stifled somehow? Are there more satisfying ways in which we can channel our energy? This reflection process continues into mid-January.
Mars Retrograde is overlapped by Mercury Retrograde from Dec 28th – Jan 18th. This is another invitation from the universe to slow down and reflect. Mercury is the planet of communication, ideas and planning. During this time, it is best to be flexible and set nothing in stone. We often need to process memories from the past that come up for review. New information can come to light during this time that changes our plans and goals. While it encourages reflection and slows down progress on goals, doing things that begin with ‘re’ are favoured- such as renew, revise, reflect, research or redo. It is not ideal to sign any contracts or making permanent commitments, as we are likely to change our minds later- and remember, others are re-thinking things too, which adds to the mix.
With all of this happening, we may as well surrender to the process of inner awareness and renewal. As annoying as they can be, retrogrades are very helpful and have our best interest at heart. They ensure we are in alignment with ourselves. They prevent us from going full steam ahead in the wrong direction. They want us to make decisions based on our most authentic self and full awareness of the situation. We will not go forward blindly once we come out of this cave. We will be assured of ourselves and better equipped.
So, take heart, and remember the internal work is the most valuable work we can do. It is what stays with us on our deathbeds. Our outer accomplishments mean nothing if they aren’t rooted in our authenticity.
The Darkness Beckons
It is completely natural to fear the darkness. We are hardwired to survive, and darkness puts us on edge. We can’t see what surrounds us, what’s ahead of us, we are ultimately afraid of what we don’t know and cannot see. Darkness means nighttime, and nighttime means cold, predators and vulnerability.
It is also natural to feel at home and at peace in the darkness. We begin our very lives in the darkness of the womb. The comfy, warm darkness in which we have everything we need. We like to go to sleep in the darkness, temporarily letting go of our mortal coil to dream and process all we’ve experienced in the day.
The darkness goes hand in hand with vulnerability and surrender to something greater than ourselves. This surrender is actually necessary to our body and psyche. We are hardwired to rest, recuperate and dream in the dark.
The darkness is a womb of potential and possibility, like the night sky shimmering with stars off in the distance.
What dreams, visions or new pathways can we make space for now?
What would happen if we embraced the darkness as a blanket of quiet comfort and potential?
Darkness offers us the opportunity to process our life experiences, and to dream- both consciously while we’re awake, as well as when we sleep.
Taking Our Dreams Seriously
Our society as a whole has trouble sleeping, which isn’t a surprise. We’ve moved away from nature’s cycles in favor of keeping lightness and productivity constant. Embracing the darkness is something outside of dominant culture, yet something deeply important to our survival.
Dreaming allows us to process all the emotions and undercurrents of our day, gifting us with deep self-awareness if we remember them. It is important to write down our dreams or tell them to someone in order to decipher their symbols.
Dreams are taken very seriously in many cultures. They are a reflection of our subconscious as well as a channel of communication from our Spirit. To be honest, most of my life’s biggest decisions were made based on dreams I’ve had. I know that sounds kind of impractical, but I put a lot of stock in my dreams and they have never let me down yet. Whenever I’ve been in a time of transition, on a wrong path, indecisive about something- my dreams come to the rescue by giving me big clarity and putting me back on path.
My only regret is when I didn’t listen to them. I eventually learned the lessons I needed to, but they came at a price- a ton of wasted time and energy going down the wrong path. So, I’ve learned to value my sleep and dreaming time, to write down as many dreams as I can remember, as soon as possible after having them. I have enjoyed working with dream books that give exercises on how to go more deeply into the dream and decipher its messages. I have also worked on some of them with my therapist over the years. I avoid dream symbol books and websites because dreams are so much more complex and personal than those general interpretations.
What are ways we can maximise our sleeping and dreaming potential?
- We can spend less time on our phones, especially at bedtime. Try a dim light, or even candlelight in your bedroom before bed. Take some time to meditate, journal your feelings, read a book, or simply reflect on your day before going to sleep.
- Some recommend drinking water before bed so that your bladder wakes you up in the night, helping you to catch a dream.
- Placing a few drop of lavender oil on a Kleenex beside the bed can be helpful for relaxation.
- You can also create a dream pillow by filling a pouch with herbs such as chamomile, mugwort, lavender or sweet gale.
- Drink a relaxing tea before bed, such as chamomile, lavender, mugwort or sweet gale. One of my favourite bedtime teas is ‘Lucid Dream Tea’ by Algonquin Tea company, made with sweet gale.
For those who can’t sleep or remember their dreams for a variety of reasons, you can give your psyche more processing time, by placing more importance on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. This can be challenging at times, but so helpful in raising our self-awareness and regulating our nervous systems. Sometimes I just like to putter mindlessly around the house or take a nice long stare out the window to allow for internal processing.
I try to take inspiration from my cats who relax, sleep or daydream at least 15 hours of the day. Cats are masters of the art of doing nothing!
Winter holds Wise Elder energy.
In the life-death-rebirth cycle of the seasons, we celebrate the trailblazing energy of youth in spring, the manifesting energy of adulthood in summer, the harvesting energy of midlife in fall and the wisdom of elderhood and death in Winter. The Elder energies are present in many mythological characters and deities globally, as well as in our ancestors.
I connect with the Elder in several forms, such as the Crone Goddess and specifically the Goddess Cerridwen. Working with a Crone Goddess or deities that carry wise elder energy, ancestors, or a living elder can support us with their wisdom and integrity.
The Elder is about wisdom gleaned from experience. Community and family elders are the ones who give the wise, sage advice to the young. There are some things that can only be learned through experience, and when passed on by elders, they help strengthen the younger generations.
Nowadays, it can be hard to decipher true wisdom from fake wisdom. One basically just needs to know how to make a pretty website and be social media savvy to position themselves as an ‘expert’ on anything they wish! This favors younger folks, of course and makes it easy for people to be fooled by appearances.
Unfortunately, too many older people who have decades of knowledge and experience in their field who don’t possess the same level of tech-savvy-ness can fall off the map. Meanwhile, the younger folks who haven’t even studied in the field, have minimal knowledge or experience on a subject take the recognition, clients and opportunities that they do not really deserve. I’ve seen this in the Astrology and Tarot world too frequently. Plagiarism, lack of knowledge and misinformation abound.
It is also true that being in one’s elder years doesn’t automatically endow wisdom or authority. There are plenty of younger folks who’ve done the work, who carry knowledge and integrity, and older folks who behave childishly, selfishly or get stuck in their ways. The dark side of elderhood is resistance to change.
On a symbolic level, I choose to see the archetypal Elder energy as free from toxic human behaviour, but still relatable, like a loving, wise grandmother or grandfather. We all have our unique relationship to this aspect of ourselves, to the elders in our lives, and this is something to reflect on.
Embracing the power of quiet, slow and simple
Tis the season for slowing down and simplifying. Here are some questions you can journal with or reflect on:
Where can you give yourself some permission to move slower or more mindfully this season?
Are there extra demands on your energy that you could shift or let go of? How can you simplify?
What brings you comfort? Can you give yourself permission to comfort yourself in whatever way you need without guilt?
How can you better prioritise rest and dreaming in your life at this time? Can you give yourself permission to take a nap or go to bed earlier?
If you have trouble giving yourself permission- take it from the Elders, the Ancestors, the Crone, the Spirit of Winter and the Cosmos:
You have permission. You have permission to rest, slow down and do less. You may simply be. You are enough.
May your Solstice/Yule/Holiday be restful, supportive and soulful,
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As a Witch who makes her home and practice in Tkaronto (Toronto) Ontario, I deeply thank the original stewards of this land: The Mississaugas of the Credit, Mississaugas of Scugog, Alderville, Hiawatha & Curve Lake; The Chippewas of Beausoleil, Rama & Georgina island, the Haudenosaunee and Wendat nations. I acknowledge the resilience of the First Nation, Inuit and Metis people who live and work here in the present, in a system of inequity and oppression. I am working on uncolonising my own practice, amplifying Indigenous voices and supporting Indigenous communities in whatever way I can.