Brigid’s Day (also known as Imbolc, Bride’s day or Candlemas) has long been a Gaelic traditional celebration as a time halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. Happening on February 1st or 2nd, this event marked the welcoming of spring and was tied with the ewe’s lambing. Fire represented purification and the returning power of the sun’s warmth and water symbols represented the well from which life sustains itself. Butter and beer were traditional foods at this time. In Wisconsin, this allows for a great feasting theme!
Agrarian rituals like Brigid’s day tie together gratitude for last year’s harvest and wishes for the year to come. The wheat that was woven on this day in February was saved from the harvest the season before. The corn dollies burned in MayDay fires originated from the husks of summer’s corn collected on Lammas day in August. There was a distinct connection with time and space woven together on these days of ritual. But there was also an inherent connection amongst the participants. The wishes, unlike the birthday candle wishes for a pony or a new car, were for the collective abundance for the community. What serves me, serves you.
For a number of years, I’ve gathered friends on Brigid’s day to reflect on what matters most to each of us.
There is always a moment when guests have settled in and we have enjoyed our butter laden pleasures, like radish butter on a country sourdough, and Breton butter cake, and all the other offerings that fill the table, and we drink our beers, that I start to bring in the intention for the night. Awareness of the radish pulled from the ground, and the wheat, barley, and hops brought to full expression in our glasses, the pasture’s diverse ecology reflected in the butter would be enough. We can bring awareness to all that is, stay connected in that way. But there is a moment when I may have to nudge everyone into silence and reflection for the bonfire. I do believe that it’s potent, this act of being asked to come to the fire. It is a moment of being invited, of being asked the question of what matters.
I asked this group of women: What guides your highest self? What keeps the mental clutter at bay to allow you to shine? What supports, inspires, strengthens you?
I’ll share a bit about how I gave shape to the evening. May you find for yourself the time and opportunity to ask your questions and find what guides you. I am admittedly weaving together Eastern and Western traditions here, as I explore this universal desire we all share to find happiness and to live in connection.
Power of ritual
Ritual like this involves action and changing the pattern of our movements. We move from the comfort of the warm home, the food, the friends and into the dark (and indeed, cold) night, we stop to notice the clear winter night sky. Even though I live on a farm, my life can be so busy that even in this place I don’t stop to notice as deeply as I do when I find myself out of habit movement. We walk to a fire and suddenly, we are brought to simplicity. We notice the cold and experience gratitude for the fire’s warmth. We relearn an elemental connection. Warmth and comfort it not a given. The energy we use to fuel our comfort is a gift and we are invited to use it wisely.
Power of shared experience
Everyone around the fire seeks happiness and is finding ways to be in the world that brings forth the greatest gifts to others. Their happiness is your happiness. Yours is theirs. We are, truly, in this together.
This year we used this compassion practice to shed our disconnection and find the threads that weave us together.
The present moment
Stomp your feet into this frozen ground and allow yourself to feel the life that is below. The roots of this great tree stretch out under our feet. The tangled roots of the grass and dandelions and clover are resting here. There is life under us. Stars above us. Stretch down into that earth below and feel her support you while reaching up towards the sky that contains us on this earth. Gravity and expansion. Expand your lungs in an inhale as you reach up. Exhale as your hands come down to your sides.
To be fully in this moment, it can be of value to let go of experiences, habits, and burdens that no longer serve us. If you think about moving towards greater happiness in the year ahead, what obstacles are in the way? What is holding you back?
Write down anything that you want to clear out of the way. It might be immediately clear to you now or perhaps it will come to you as we spend a little more time together.
When we think of what we might let go of, the word forgiveness often arises. Forgiveness of others or forgiveness of the self for the situations we may have found ourselves in, the patterns we may have slipped into. It is only when we can approach ourselves and others with some gentleness can we soften our grip. It is such a courageous thing to do, this forgiving.
“ Forgiveness allows us to recapture some part of ourselves that we left in bondage to a past event.
Some part of our identity needs to die… so that we can reclaim the energy bound up in the past.”
-Sharon Salzberg, Loving Kindness
You may have a clear idea of what habits of thinking you might want to release. Either way, we might find benefit from taking time to consider events from this year past. It was filled with many experiences, perhaps joyful memories and sorrowful ones. Those experiences give us courage and intelligence when we face new situations. We can draw on what we have learned to live more aligned with who we are, to deepen our wisdom, to acknowledge suffering and to find freedom from it. By working with awareness and experience, we may live more skillfully.
As you think about events from the past year, perhaps as you go through the calendar year until this present moment, consider the experiences you had that have taught you something about yourself, about others, about the way you see the world around you.
Perhaps you called on courage, resolve, focus, to rise to those experiences. Emotions arose with those experiences. Anger, fear, sadness, excitement, pleasure…. The emotions or strong reactions told us, in some way, “this is not right for me”, or “this is the correct path, what I must do”. There was a lot of wisdom in you as you listened deeply to your inner self.
With each in-breath, rise up on your toes and reach towards the sky. Think about all of the strength that you need to rise to occasions like the one’s you’ve experienced. With your outbreath, sink back down and release and soften as much as you are able. Rise up to greet these memories. Breath out and sink down to let them go.
After reviewing the year and its lessons, focus for a few breaths on any experience, habit or obstacle that you would like to let go of.
With this same gesture of rising up and sinking down, rise up to greet this habit and acknowledge it, and then let go, relax away from it. Loosen your grip towards it.
You also received many things that expanded you, supported you, many kindnesses and gifts. Think back to those people, experiences for which you hold gratitude. Breathe them in deeply, filling each cell of your body. Breathe out all the goodness and kindness you brought to the world.
Moving with intention
As we walk towards the fire, let your steps forward be thoughtfully connected with the step that is just completed. Pay attention to that moment that has gone and briefly honor it, take from it the wisdom that you carry into the future steps you take. We’ll walk in silence as we do this.
If you have your symbol of what you would like to release, prepare it now. Stand with your left foot back and one forward. The back leg is your past and holds you up from all of the wisdom you’ve gained from your past experiences. When we clear out the emotion and attachment to the past, we are left with something that can be pure and guiding. Imagine all of your wisdom coursing up that leg into your pelvis. The leg forward is reaching into what will be in the future. Feel this place of balance as you ground between these spaces. This perfect moment. And with this intention, release what you no longer need to hold onto into the fire.
We end the evening with wishes for the year ahead. Our wishes and intentions are both for our own happiness but also reverberate in waves towards others. When we are aligned with our best selves, we are better able to serve others.
We lit lanterns, discovering that in the frigid cold, two flames gave more energy to light the fuel for each lantern. We helped each other with this process and watched the night sky fill with the lanterns. Our greatest wishes to be more clear, kind, and uncluttered rose with them.