Today marks All Saints Day, Wszystkich Świętych, Fête de la Toussaint – and with Dia de los Muertos tomorrow – it offers a rich reminder of how this time of year is celebrated across the world, in many different cultures.
Whatever we might call it, whichever tradition we’re from, the roots are connected, and the meanings and symbols are so much the same…
This time of year marks our transition from autumn to winter. The falling of golden, red, yellow, and auburn leaves marks a change. 🍂🍁🍂
It marks the darkening and shortening of our days, and our collective descent towards the shortest day of the whole year. To me, it’s a pretty magical time. A time for remembering my ancestors, and a time for remembering the regenerative power – and absolute necessity – of rest.
First, to the ancestors and beloveds we have lost. At Samhain, I enjoy making and taking the time to remember my ancestors and loved ones who have passed. We can do this at any time of year, but Halloween is a potent time – when the veil between the worlds of the seen material world and the unseen spirit world are said to be at their thinnest.
Remembering might take the form of a few candles, a moment to pause, perhaps digging out some photographs, sharing stories, smiling with memories, and laying an extra seat at the table.
To re-member; to bring together pieces and patches of the past.
The simplest way for me to think of ancestry is that I wouldn’t have my life if my ancestors hadn’t had theirs. Each and every one of us is standing at the front of a long, long line of people who came before us. Tens, hundreds, thousands of years of human beings. Can you imagine? Pausing to remember them feels like such an honouring thing to do. In our ever-busy world, it’s a powerful piece, and it offers a very rich perspective. And hey, one day, we’ll be ancestors too…
And so, now, to speak of rest.
This time of year is about rest. It is nature’s lore, that in order to regenerate in spring, we must first embrace the darkness.
Acorns know all about it.
A few weeks ago, walking in the woods on the edge of the Forest of Dean, an acorn fell – through the branches – tuk, tuk, tok – and then clean through the air – sssssshhhhhhoooooop – and thunk! – hit me straight on the shoulder before rolling down between the leaves.
Acorn knows that to become oak, she must first rest in the darkness, warmth and nourishment. She knows that in the decay of the leaves from the very tree she fell from, lies the secret to new life.
We look at bare trees in winter, and they appear dead – no life is showing. But underneath, the roots are busy transforming decaying leaves into rich nourishment, alive and engaged and growing.
It’s death and rebirth. Darkness and light. The ending of one cycle, and the beginning of the next. Hope and affirmation jostling with decay and despair.
Stillness, rest, and trust.
So many of us hesitate and recoil in the face of winter’s darkness. It’s understandable – in 2022, with all of our electricity – even in our pockets and palms – it is unimaginable for us to remember that for more than 99.9% of human history, we have lived only with the light of the sun, and of the fire. No lightbulbs, no torch, no screen.
This time of year has always drawn us inwards. It’s had to; we’ve had no choice but to slow down and rest. We’ve not been able to go about our daily activities with the aid of artificial light. We’ve had to come in early, and work gently in the low light before resting in our evenings by the light and warmth of the fire. Sharing stories, singing, talking – but not ‘doing’.
Rest isn’t a ‘nothing’ time. It’s a rich time, healing time, a growing time, a strengthening time, a wondering time, a dreaming time, a tending time, a repairing time. Your dreams are where your days go to make sense of themselves. It can be a gentle time. It doesn’t have to be an alone time, it can be a together time! Either way, it’s an essential time.
As the pace of modern life dictates, most of us plan to plough through this time, weathering the bitter and the cold and the dark, holding out until spring. Many of us worrying about the sharp and stark changes to mood and energy that we experience at this time of year.
But, perhaps remembering the seasonal cycles may help us some?
Perhaps we can heed the invitation that: as the light outside grows dimmer, the light within glows brighter? This is the very literal view of our homes over winter, but it can be true within ourselves, too. Can we listen inwards for a season, and heed the invitation to take a look and see, bravely asking ‘what needs tending to in my heart, in my soul, this season?’
Our society glorifies action, busyness, productivity and movement. It demands it, constantly. Every day. As if humans are machines. As if regularly missing sleep in the name of keeping up with our routines is expected and justified. This system that is exhausting us is exhausting our earth. And we know it is unsustainable, we know it isn’t okay. Very simply, our outer lives have become more important than our inner lives.
But what if we say ‘no’ to that? What would happen?
In the context of our modern world, rest is nothing less than radical.
This time of year challenges the way things are, and invites us to welcome in this time of rest. It invites us to be radical. To dial down our activities to the extent that we can, and to make spaced for stillness, naps and slowness.
What if we cancel a few plans this winter, have a few more naps, prioritise getting to bed on time – or even early! – when we can, and adjust our expectations? Get in sync with the season a little?
This year, perhaps ‘rest’ doesn’t become yet another thing that we just ‘do’, but a state we can try to be
If it feels overwhelming to make any big changes, take a leaf out of the 1% book: ‘What can I do to make my evening / day / week 1% more restful?’.
On that note, a few offerings to support your rest…
🕯 Candlelight is a great friend to me in the winter. The soft, gentle and flickering light of fire before the blast of a bulb. How would your day change if you lit a candle for yourself over breakfast in this coming season? Or perhaps in the evening, as you relax? Maybe spend an hour one evening, switching off all the lights in the house, and sitting with only a few candles? What would it be like to sit with the dark, rather than bemoan it, or wish it gone?
📖 If you like to read things, I can recommend ‘Wintering’ by Katherine May. She offers us the word ‘winter’ as a verb – to winter – and in telling her own story of rest and retreat, she normalises rest, and offers the permission many of us so desperately need: https://katherine-may.co.uk/wintering
🎵 If you like to listen to things, check out this podcast: ‘No More Grind, How to Finally Rest’ – author Glennon Doyle interviews Tricia Hersey of the Nap Ministry: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/no-more-grind-how-to-finally-rest-with-tricia-hersey/id1564530722?i=1000582486920 – offering us some big truths that living at 100mph isn’t normal, or healthy, or helpful; it’s exhausting us, our planet, and our species.
As ever, as the world swirls and turns and dances around the sun, I’m sending love, warmth and a huge hug. May you take pride in your rest this season, and may your ancestors keep cheering you on as you boldly continue your line…