In the old Celtic calendar, the first day of November was the beginning of the New Year.
The harvest was in; the ground was beginning to freeze, and the land was becoming still and quiet. It was the ending of one season and the beginning of the next.
In this turning of the seasons, the Celts saw another example of the eternal cycle of death and rebirth, and they celebrated it in story, song, and ritual.
In many contemplative traditions, November was seen as a time to acknowledge death and loss (the outer darkness) and enter into the nourishment within—the quiet leading to new birth.
This outer darkness can come in many forms, both physical and mental. It can come through bereavement, through loss of a friendship, a way of life, or loss of health.
In whatever form it takes, when it strikes, many of us are ill-prepared for the inner journey that follows.
Here is where our spiritual discipline is important, because we come to know who we truly are by willingly going beneath the surface and facing our pain and loss.
This process is what David Whyte suggests in his poem The Well of Grief:
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief
turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe
will never know the source from which we drink…
This journey within to the place we cannot breathe is the only real path, for when we try to cover up our pain, it only increases.
Often what happens is that when we experience deep pain we substitute emotions that put the focus outside of ourselves, for example: fear, hatred, or resentment.
However, when we take the time to experience and work through our pain, our lives can become lighter.
Our recovery can be slow and painful, because it means that sometimes we must lie dormant for a while, just as the fields are lying dormant now.
The fall season has much to teach us about the wisdom of rest, and about just allowing things to be.
Here’s a meditative exercise adapted from the work of Joan Borysenko that you might find beneficial.
- Begin by sitting comfortably.
- Then quiet yourself with a few moments of deep breathing.
- Next picture yourself being surrounded by the loving light and energy of the Divine Mystery. Bathe in it, and try to relax as much as you can.
- Now allow “what is” to rise to the surface of your awareness. (Remember, however, to be gentle with yourself, viewing whatever arises with compassion, not judgement.)
- As you observe any pain or loss you may be experiencing, ask your deep knowing within to show you the path toward healing.
- As you open to whatever emerges, just remember— if you are not ready to deal with whatever arises, that’s okay. Accept it. Just let it be for now, knowing you are loved and cherished. Also, you can always stop the exercise at any moment by coming back to focusing on your breath, and the light and love of the Divine.
- Before getting up from this exercise, take time to just be in the moment, giving thanks for whatever has emerged.
In the days to follow, be patient and be open to new birth and joy in your life. In the words of Helen Jaeger:
I have been in this place;
and perhaps it is a place you, or others you love,
My message to you is this:
I entered the furnace of grief unwilling and afraid,
yet I emerged with my soul singing.
And so, I hope, may you.
Until next time, Shalom (and remember to breathe!)