Feb 09 2013

Return of the Light – a toast to Imbolc!


Light is returning. As most of us brush off our Christmas and New Year indulgence and sloth, and reluctantly struggle not just to fit into our work clothes, but our slower selves into industrial rhythms again, it’s good to feel even a gentle ray of sunshine on the old face once more. So many people I’ve been speaking to, as well as myself,  look back on 2012 as a year of massive upheaval and change in all sorts of unexpected ways. There’s a lot of hope that 2013 is going to be better. 2012 was quite a roller-coaster for me, to say the least, so this year the focus is on developing inner happiness, stability, acceptance of the good and bad in life and my own being..all of which dedication to a regular yoga practice conveniently helps with! A visitor to Edinburgh from Seattle suggested that 2013 would be a year of cleansing. I need to remember this every day. I arrived back in the UK with just one suitcase, having shed all other possessions, so it’s scary to see how quickly the clutter is accumulating again. One day perhaps, I might be like Gandhi or Einstein and not be like a magpie collecting shiny little objects for my nest, that will just clutter my house and my brain all over again. Cleansing negative and self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours would be good too, but that takes more patience and persistence..and faith that it’s both possible and worth doing. Cleansing of course, is a natural inclination after the Christmas period. It’s great when you naturally reach for a piece of broccoli because you actually prefer it to some foul radioactive-looking sweet left over from a child’s stocking!   The ancient festival of Imbolc (pr.Imolc)  just came around on February 1st-2nd. Most people have never heard of it – its memory has been overshadowed by the equally ancient festivals of Yule and Hallowe’en. The poor forgotten Imbolc is also a special time, where traditionally people began to welcome the return of the light after the darkness of winter. It’s a time when the cold earth becomes warmer and more pliable. Those of you who’ve seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray might know that there is a vestige of this celebration left in North America. It may have been influenced by traditions  from Ireland and Scotland, as well as Germany, as the traditions here lasted longer than in most places. In Ireland, Imbolc became incorporated into the Christian celebration of St.Brighid’s Day, where girls made a ‘biddy’, an effigy of St.Brighid to parade around houses in the community, and receive food from families. In the Highlands of Scotland, the young women of the community went around with a figurine, collected food from all the homes with which to hold an all-night extravaganza of feasting, singing and dancing. Exactly what you need to get you through a potentially grim February. Just like with Groundhog Day, Gaelic legend has it that if Imbolc is sunny the winter’s going to last a while..it was a beautiful day, so we’ll see! My son is still longing to play in ‘proper snow’, so maybe he had a quiet word with the Cailleach, the divine hag of Gaelic tradition…who becomes reborn into the young maiden at this time of year, and will try anything to make her winter last as long as possible…to make sure it was sunny on the 2nd February. By this time, hopefully we are all becoming more outward facing, optimistic and productive. Here’s an old Candlemas carol that expresses this tradition: Christmas hath made an end,              Well-a-day! well-a-day!               Which was my dearest friend,               More is the pity!               For with an heavy heart               Must I from thee depart,               To follow plough and cart               All the year after.   The message is “hold on, there is hope…the bitter days of winter are near their end..” A wonderful article in the Huffington Post brings this idea of hope to a personal, psychological issues. Here’s the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/teo-bishop/imbolc-2013-faith-made-of-fire_b_2591318.html It was the perfect day to hold my first workshop in Scotland, with the help of my yoga student and friend, Marge Mather, who is a long-time mindfulness meditation student and teacher. We had a small group, but, in the way that these things tend to naturally go, there were many points of connection between the participants which boosted the general feeling of well-being. Apparently Imbolc is a traditional ‘women’s day’ amongst Wiccans, and the time for initiations into groups for spiritual practice.  Everyone gracefully excused my slightly croaky voice delivering the opening chant – thanks, ladies – the chant that I never have time to do in a normal class.  Some of you might be glad of the usual time restraint! We could actually feel the rays of sunshine on our skin as we performed the Surya Namaskar (Salute to the Sun). After yoga class, we had a tea break; once we’d shared our Yogi Tea amongst us in delicate china cups we were ready to hear about the importance of mindfulness in our everyday life – from remembering to lock the front door in the morning to noticing our incessant flow of thoughts without judgement. Marge led us through two meditations, which everyone related to in personal ways and found very useful,including me. Thanks, Marge! We just had time to chat briefly about the 8 limbs of yoga, beginning with yamas (the moral restraints of non-violence, truthfulness in word, thought and deed, non-stealing, moderation in all things, and non-possessiveness) and niyamas (the positive qualities of purity, contentment, austerity, study of sacred or inspiring texts, and living with an awareness of the Divine, in what ever personal form that takes) which form the basis of a yogic lifestyle. None of these things are easy to follow to the letter: but rather than letting them seem like a looming set of burdens impossible to achieve; rather remember they’re a result of thousands of years of  trial and error, intuition and accumulated wisdom in facing the perennial human condition. They’ve been handed down to use – like an intricate map of a well-trodden path towards peace and happiness. The joy of it is that any small, sincere effort towards any of them reaps massive rewards. Lunch was delicious – thanks to Jon and Rachel and staff at Just the Ticket. Everything was cooked along yogic nutritional guidelines – vegetarian and well-balanced – to aid one’s yoga practice and physical and emotional equilibrium. We had corn bread with split pea soup, and a wonderful array of rice and salads; topped off with incredibly moist carrot cake with herbal tea. Everyone was slightly reluctant to leave, I think – so we’re going to do it again on the 2nd March. Come along, and bring a friend to add to the amazing mix of personalities and nationalities whom I’ve been privileged to meet and teach since my arrival in Edinburgh… Namaste Lisa