A New Year Begins At Imbolc
Happy New Year!
You might think I am late but it depends when you decide a new year starts. The Celts started their new year at Samhain (our Halloween). The Romans chose their Saturnalia celebrations to mark one sort of new year. We’ve also recently celebrated Chinese new year (year of the black water rabbit, in case you weren’t sure) and now we have just celebrated Imbolc, Candlemas and St Bridget’s Day, all of which herald new beginnings. I stepped into the garden on the 1st of Feb to hear a wren trilling his heart out and to find a clump of snowdrops at the end of the garden under some of the apple trees. There’s been sweet violets blooming shyly in the front garden for at least a couple of months, sheltered from the cold in a raised bed overshadowed by taller, denser plants. Winter is receding but knowing the British climate, we’ll have snow later this month. But the light is returning, several minutes every day and the bird song has changed from contact calls (“Are you there? Did you survive? Hey, I survived too!”) to the first of the spring songs.
I did some clearing of old files a few days ago, mostly to keep myself from thinking about the insoluble problems my country faces right now. There’s a big bag of paper to be disposed of securely; old bank statements, medical letters and the like. But among the paperwork I found a printed-out email from my friend Dr Jean Raffa, from Feb 2012, about a dream I’d had. It reminded me first how long I have been working on my inner life, and especially concentrating on dreams, and at first it made me feel disappointed in myself that I seem to have made so little progress. I have had now over ten years of almost unremitting depression. Deep, deep depression that might lift a tiny bit for a week or two, only to be plunged back in, either by outside circumstances or by absolutely nothing. That feeling of sliding inexorably into the black pit is possibly one of the worst feelings possible. In this time I’ve dealt with major illnesses, surgery, serious bereavements and the chaos that follows in their wake, and the acquisition of a handful of chronic conditions that all include constant pain, low mood and little hope, plus the diagnosis of being autistic (which has taken time to process – it really makes sense of so many other things). With all that is the grind of ordinary life – cooking, cleaning, shopping, rinse and repeat. I have been so tired it sometimes feels like I need to rest constantly yet at least one of my chronic conditions is worsened by inactivity. I’ve walked this tightrope between too much and too little, and I have fallen off repeatedly.
I said that at first it made me disappointed in my lack of progress in this essential soul work, but over the following few days, I found I felt more proud that I have persisted. I have a brooch my dear friend Gill gave me, that says, “Still I rise,” and I wear it often, usually without realising its truth that is embedded in my every day. I have persisted. I am still here, I still get up in the mornings and face the day. Sure, I sometimes go back to bed later but that’s understandable. I show up.
About twenty years ago, my husband went for an interview to be minister to some villages somewhere south of us. One of the factors that had interested us was the place had a holy well, a wellspring that had healing powers recorded for many hundreds of years. We both felt that renewing the connection between that spring and the church was something that we felt was important. But the job wasn’t right and that was that; we went somewhere else entirely. I kept that spring in my heart, tucked away in a quiet corner, wishing that it might one day be recognised and rejoiced in by more than occasional pilgrims, and for the connection between earth-based spirituality and the core of Christianity to be renewed in that place. The other day, in one of those random coincidences, I saw a series of photos from the village with the spring that gave me a real lift: the local ministers holding a beautiful service for Candlemas, including mentions of St Bridget, at the spring. Lots of smiling people in the sunshine, participating in a gentle rite that connected them with both the past and the present, rejoicing in the clear bright sparkling water. The things that are meant to happen (I hate that phrase) find their way. Life, uh, finds a way. We’d tapped into something deep and old in our resonance with that spring, but it wasn’t us who did it. But it’s happening and while it’s twenty years later, I must believe that it is in its own right time.
I must believe that my own soul work is in its own right time, that I am not slow or pathetic or stupid for being stuck working at what sometimes feels like the same old same old for more than a decade. About 18 months ago, I began to receive help on this journey (not something I want to explain further) and sometimes it has felt as if I am walking through that dark wood of Dante’s, but sometimes I get glimmers of hope that something, something very different to what I might have expected, is taking shape. The last few days it has felt like there is more happening, as if the first gleams of light at sunrise are turning the grey garden to brighter colours. I didn’t want to let my long silence here go on without writing something; I have felt often so lonely, so excluded from the vibrant conversations I sometimes witness my online friends participating in, because I have not had the energy to respond, to comment or to reach out to the many friends I have here in this non-physical sphere. Friends who have new books out, new projects, exciting discussions; I feel some mild guilt I have not been able to support them better or indeed, at all.
So I say again: happy new year. I hold a tender bud of hope; let not the frosts blight it.