Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oh. Um...yeah....

Goddess has been tapping Walhydra on the shoulder for several months now, saying *ahem, ahem* in her sweetest pretend-polite little voice.

Finally she has conked Walhydra on the head—in the friendliest way possible, of course.

"Um, Dear. You need to read this blog post."

The post to which Goddess refers is "The Dark," by Cat Chapin-Bishop, on the the blog she shares with her husband Peter Bishop, Quaker Pagan Reflections.

Cat writes:

It's dark, my friends. Yule is almost here, and the wheel is still turning....

Without the moon, the Dark is all there is.

Now, that's not a bad thing. Frightening to us sometimes, because we know Dark (we moderns) no better than we know Moon....

But, you know, you can walk a trail in the woods in the dark—in the full dark, the real dark, the dark without the moon—if your feet are wise, and if you know your way.

And you can deal with the dark, the growing dark, the Midwinter Dark, as our ancestors did, once upon a time.

How did our ancestors live, back in the days before electricity banished the darkness?...

Peter had read somewhere...a study of some group of humans...who lived communally, in a world without artificial light beyond firelight and the moon. And those who studied them noted how they dealt with the dark time of the year.

They slept. A lot.

Moderns are mainly sleep deprived. We nap, or sleep in for long hours when we vacation, but mainly, we do without. Unimaginable, then that entire groups of people would curl up and go to sleep when the sun's light fails. That, by five or six on a winter's night, whole families are at rest...and will stay so until six thirty or seven the next morning.

Except they don't. Sleep is different, it turns out, when it is not artificially staved off by lamplight, but allowed to run the full length of a winter's night. At times, it was more like a light doze, or a meditative wakefulness. And then, with little to divide it from waking, sleep would return again. People roamed in and out of dreams and waking several times each night. There was a different quality to it, not just a different quantity....
Cat then describes the experiment she and Peter did some years ago:

[To] the extent that we could, we decided to set aside the time between Yule and Imbolc--February 2nd--for the Dark. We would use no electric light, no computers, no television, no telephone except for emergencies, and no radio for that time. Oh, at work we would use such things, as we had need.... But to the extent we could, we did without them....

Whether it was the dimmer lighting, the quiet of a life without email and television, or simply ceasing the struggle against the Dark, we found ourselves aware of our sleepiness. We might not have gone to bed at seven, but we often were asleep by eight or nine.

It was good. The nights were soft, and the Dark was gentle.

And when, by Imbolc, the days were lengthening and the nights were growing shorter once again, we felt the returning light, in a way that's simply untranslatable unless you have also lived a season with the Dark. Each tiny sign of the return of spring--not the opening of the buds, but the swelling of them; not the disappearance of the snow, but the thinning of it, and the way it reflected the fire of the sunset later every evening--became pronounced.

This is the power of the Dark.
"Oh. Um...yeah...." Walhydra mumbles.

She realizes how much Cat's words speak to her condition.

"Yeah," Goddess murmurs, a little snidely. "I figured you'd notice that. You've not been paying much attention to body and spirit for a long time now."

"I haven't?"

"Um. You've stopped daily tai chi practice. You've stopped sitting meditation. You've stopped your morning prayers and devotional reading. You've stopped riding your bike...."


"You know, Dearest, that I'm all in favor of modern meds, within reason, but I'm beginning to wondering whether your SSRI experiment last November has gradually dulled your natural awareness?"


Now that she considers it, Walhydra realizes that she has gradually fallen out of the habit of all those deep self-care practices she was doing at the height of her grief-induced despair and anxiety last winter.

She didn't quit them as soon as she started to feel real again in February, when the meds had finally gotten her brain back to a healthy level of serotonin.

And it's not that she's stopped believing in the Divinely Real upon which those practices kept her focused.

But she sees in retrospect how, gradually, beneath conscious awareness, she has increasingly cut corners on herself..."because I'm too busy...because I've got to get to work...because I'm too tired...," etc., etc., etc.

Moon Over Half Dome, Ansel AdamsOn the other hand, since Fall Equinox, Walhydra has noticed Hubby Jim getting more and more cuddly at night and in the morning—and chosen to stay with him, rather than get up "on time."

It's so sweet, so full of good vibes, to stay huddled together under the covers. Playing spoons. Feeling the weight of the two cats, Sonic and Shadow, as they cuddle up...or bounce around wanting breakfast.

This exchange of cozy snoozefulness has increased as the days have gotten shorter. On non-work mornings, Walhydra lies in bed with JimJim for hours. Waking, deciding not to do tai chi, fading into sleep, waking....

About a decade ago, Walhydra realized that she no longer delights in fall and winter the way she used to. It took a few rounds of so-called "seasonal affective disorder" before she recognized that the shortening days definitely get her down.

At this time of year when everybody is "supposed to" be getting excited about the holidays, getting busier at work and at home, planning for family and parties and gifts and cards and....

Oy, veh!

At this time of year, Walhydra feels less than ever like being sociable and pretending to be nice to people (not a good thing for a public librarian). What she wants to do is hide out, eat, read and go to bed early.

A few years back she finally came up with a slogan for this, based on the same sort of anthropological and evolutionary biological studies Cat refers to:

"Between Samhain and Imbolc, our mammalian brainstems are trying to tell us to put on a layer of fat and hybernate until spring."


Goddess nods her head. "You see? I told you. Even though you know all this stuff, you haven't been paying attention to it. Again."


"Oh, don't grrr at me. You know I'm not into guilt-tripping. Just a friendly conk on the head."

Walhydra smiles reluctantly.

"Now, be a good girl and say 'Thank you' to Cat."

Thank you, Dearest Cat. Thank you for speaking in this great, unending, Meeting for Worship in cyberspace.

Love to you.

And to all the gentle readers.

And so it is.

Bless├Ęd Be.

1 comment:

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

*splutter!* *cough* *laughter!*

Thank you, Wallhydra. Oh, how you make me laugh... No wonder Goddess talks to you, hon. You render her voice just right.

*big grin*

There is something about yielding. I'm not posting about this on my own blog--at least not yet--for fear of sounding all, I dunno, non-materialist or something. Quakelier-than-though, which I'm not, not to mention I'm not 100% certain I'm going to follow through with this.

But at the moment, the plan is to have a non-consumerist holiday. We'll do the tree, we'll do the turkey dinner--I'll have time off, so I might as well cook turkey, which is actually pretty easy, after all--but token gifts only.

And I'm hoping to pool resources with my family and all make a nice communal charitable donation instead of the annual shopping and wrapping forced march.

I'm already feeling so much better. I'm enjoying non-festivating as much as I possibly could a grander celebration. Just those traditions that "have life" for me ( to use the Quakerese).

I'm liking your morning and evening snuggle tradition. You and Jim are onto something there, I think. Mind if I borrow that one?

Here's to the dark--to long evenings of quiet, and late mornings of no virtuous exercise and disciplined self-improvement! Time to bank the fires, go inward... rest and be filled.

Dark blessings to you, friend. {{hug}}