The time after the holidays is one of the toughest for writers and creative types. When we have just spent love and light-filled days or even weeks with family and friends, all of a sudden it ends, the lights come down, and we are propelled back into our self-imposed patterns. The problem is, the pattern is not one dictated by others, one that includes co-workers laughs, structured meetings, video conferences — this pattern is one that includes solitary time alone at a desk trying to produce written material; this pattern is hard to recreate because it is enforced by no one but the artist alone. In fact, the truth is, this pattern leaves me lonely, and it is hard to employ after these days of camaraderie.
Getting to the desk is the first hardship. The days are cold here this winter, and getting out of bed is in itself a courageous move. Getting breakfast, going for a walk with the dog, cleaning – all of these things take motivation. So once the daily chores are done, how to find the motivation to go to the desk? How to find the motivation to sit down and write?
I find that at this time, in early January when winter seems so long still ahead of me, I think more about making and eating chocolate chip cookies than I do about sacred inspiration. I dwell on the lack of people in my daily life. I ponder how my life would be had I not left my teaching job to start my own business in energy healing. At this time of year, when my classes are at night or on the weekends, and the days have few appointments, I wonder if I made the right choice. I envy my partner in her office plugging away on any sort of project with her co-workers. The topic doesn’t really matter, I realize, it is the collaboration that matters. I celebrate crossing paths with a neighbor as I walk our dog. Obviously, the grey, grey sky gets to me and I struggle beneath its weight.
From there, I begin to wonder if there is something intrinsically wrong with this Western culture of which I am a part. Perhaps I should be in a pattern more tribal, more indigenous, with more longevity in time. Perhaps something is wrong with the system, not with me!
I turned to Ken Cohen, author of Native Wisdom, Seven Keys to Health and Happiness, for insight. Cohen’s Indian name is BearHawk, and he has studied indigenous cultures the world over, American Indian, African, Siberian, Aborigine, and others, looking for common wisdom among their teaching. Here is his list of the seven keys common to all indigenous cultures and my take on our culture’s manifestation of it in me, individually:
1)Practice silence. Wisdom is a state of emptiness, listening, and attentiveness.
Silence is something I am learning to live with. After 38 years of distraction and constant entertainment from our ever-connected world, for the first time I am inviting silence into my life. I am working to incorporate prayer, meditation, and walking meditation into my daily practice. Cohen reminds me that the most important thing I am learning from this stillness and this silence is the art of listening. After years of teaching and intensive social interaction, I realize I am used to presenting rather than listening. Perhaps it is time to learn to listen and to receive guidance on a daily basis, from something greater than my rational mind. The space is a gift.
2) Learn from nature: Every tree, every animal, every stone has a lesson to teach.
Yes – this is exactly what I meant when I said I am learning to listen. Listening to nature is like listening to the wise Mother who guides you in every step of your life. Did you see a coyote shadow between the trees just ahead? Did you see a turtle in your path? Did a hawk call to you on the morning walk? All of these moments and actions are guidance – we need only listen, interpret, and then express our gratitude. Our more ancient human cultures have always understood this, and we, still, have some semblance of this understanding in our culture. I am learning from nature in an intentional way now.
3) Find and honor your life purpose. Your purpose is a gift from the Great Spirit.
I must remember that the reason I left public eduction was because I believed in the importance of a different sort of subject matter than that mandated by traditional education. As a high school teacher, I found myself teaching about shamanism, indigenous culture, and the wisdom of nature much more than I ever discussed the nuances of grammar. I wanted the students to understand the wisdom all around them and leave with their own sense of purpose. Cohen’s third principle reminds me that I am here to write and teach about this basic truth I have learned: that we are all connected, that love is the glue of life, that we can influence other life forms powerfully in an energetic way.
In one of Willa Cather’s books, she describes a brilliant man, gifted with great intelligence, whom, she says, squanders it all away trying to delight and impress others through conversation. I’m sorry that I cannot remember the book – I believe it was My Antonia – but I do remember the line as I have often realized that I, too, squander many of my thoughts by talking or writing to others. Perhaps now I am finally setting things down to the best of my ability in a more permanent way.
4) Respect your ancestors and ancestry. All people have indigenous roots, and no culture has a monopoly on wisdom.
Interestingly enough, as I have moved into this quieter, more introspective time, I have found myself connecting with my ancestry in gentle ways. My two grandmothers feel close to me even though they passed away when I was ten or eleven. And both lineages from which I descended feel strong and hale. Sandra Ingerman writes about this in her book Medicine for the Earth: How to Transform Personal and Environmental Toxins (Three Rivers Press 2001), saying that any lineage from which we arise today must be a strong one to have endured these thousands of years. I agree, and I believe I will become even closer to my own ancestry through ceremony, ritual, journeying, meditation, and prayer. I believe that our ancestors help us as we create life and purpose here in our living time on the planet.
Our modern culture is lacking in the attention and respect given ancestry. I once read about a tribal culture in which the children were taught a song in which they learned the names and occupations of their thirteen previous generations. Can you imagine? We are lucky to know the names of those who came just one or two generations before. What grounding this would give, and likely what inspiration and connection for those who felt different from their immediate family. Surely within the thirteen previous generations there would have been one somebody like you!
5) Maintain emotional balance. Keep your emotions calm and cultivate humor.
Ah, here is the great challenge for a depressing early winter! I do believe that maintaining emotional balance is multi-faceted. Other people can help us balance, and friends and daily connections are absolutely necessary. Lifestyle can help us balance. Eating well and sleeping well helps us stay balanced. Notice when you are slipping into the abyss of rumination, victimization, and depressed thoughts and do something to shift. Cultivate humor! If nothing else, go to a website that makes you laugh. Find a youtube video that has gone viral due to the laughter it provokes. Watch a movie. Read a book. Create something! Do anything but slip further into a negative spiral.
6) Eat according to your genes, following the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Our local newspaper has just finished a series about obesity in America, and it was rather depressing to realize how out-of-control we are with our eating. I truly believe that loving our food, understanding the miracle of life that is within food, and trusting yourself to know what you need and when is the beginning to a healthy relationship with food. We must ingest life to remain alive – knowing this should be enough to treat food as sacred, with ceremony, ritual, and deep respect. Yes, here, certainly, is a place where Western culture has failed.
From a personal perspective, having more time to myself has changed my relationship with food. I am cooking more, and I am appreciating the time I have to interact with food when I am not in a rush. It is a blessing.
7) Get plenty of exercise. Stand and move with dignity, and breathe slowly.
I feel incredibly lucky that I have always loved sports and activity. For me, it is not a chore to exercise, it is a joy. I love chasing a tennis ball or a soccer ball! I also love the opportunity it gives me to create friendships and to laugh. Again, Western culture may not be amply successful in promoting the joy of activity, but I do hope that you have something in your life that brings you joy through movement. Perhaps it is dance, perhaps canoeing, perhaps walking in the forest. Whatever it is, hold to it tightly, for it is your health and the health of your body! It is not just good for your muscles and sinews, either: in the latest Newsweek, they noted that a year of physical exercise could make the brain of a 70 year-old equivalent to the brain of a 30 year-old in a variety of abilities. Our bodies are made to move! Our physical bodies, our energetic bodies, our emotional bodies, and our intellectual bodies – all are made to move.
So, yes, winter is a tougher time to exercise, and just this week on a cold morning I had the thought that I wanted to just drive south until I found a place warm enough to run around in the sun. It is worth it, however, to find ways to exercise wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whatever time of year it is. You will find that the movement of the body shifts the emotions and the thoughts. Play and in doing so create humor and laughter!
Life is not so bad as a grey, wintry mind might paint. Though it is a struggle, I will stay on track!
Blessings to you on your journey as well.