Brigid’s Day (also known as Imbolc, Bride’s Day, or Candlemas) is a traditional Gaelic celebration marking the halfway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. Happening on February 1 or 2, this event marks the welcoming of spring. As part of the celebration ritual, fire represents the returning of the sun’s warmth and water represents the well from which life sustains itself. Butter and beer are traditional celebratory foods and, 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. Traditionally, wheat is woven from the harvest the season before, and corn dollies burned in May Day fires originated from the husks of summer’s corn collected on Lammas day in August. There is a distinct connection with time and space woven together on these days of ritual. But there is also an inherent connection among the participants; the wishes that are bestowed are for the collective abundance for the community. What serves me, serves you.
I recently gathered some friends together to have a Brigid’s Day event. Friends came through another winter storm to arrive at the farm. After the guests had settled in and enjoyed some appetizers and had a drink in hand, I invited them together to join me outside in front of a fire and to create a ritual together. I asked this group of women: What guides your highest self? What keeps the mental clutter at bay to allow you to shine?
I admittedly weaved together Eastern and Western traditions, as we explored this universal desire we all share to find happiness and to live in connection. But, I’ll share a bit about how I gave shape to the evening in the hopes that you may find the time and opportunity to ask yourself these questions and walk through a similar experience to find what guides you.
Power of ritual
Ritual like this involves action and changing the pattern of our movements. We moved from the comfort of a warm home, among food and friends, into the dark (and indeed, cold!) night. But, we made a point to stop and notice the clear winter night sky. Though I live amidst much beauty, my life can be so busy that, even in this place, I don’t stop to notice my surroundings as deeply as I do when I find myself out of habit movement. We walked to a fire and were suddenly brought to simplicity. We noticed the cold and experienced gratitude for the fire’s warmth. We relearned an elemental connection.
Power of shared experience
Everyone around the fire sought happiness and wanted to find ways to bring forth the greatest gifts to others. Their happiness is your happiness. Yours is theirs. We were, truly, in this together.
This year we used compassion practice (Just Like Me) to shed our disconnection and find the threads that weave us together. As we stood around the fire as part of our own Brigid’s Day ritual and celebration, we focused our attention on the present moment, we allowed ourselves to let go, spent time reflecting, and concentrated on moving with intention.
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.
Letting Go. While it is of value to be present, perhaps it is of value to let go of experiences, habits, and burdens that no longer serve us. If you think about moving toward 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, 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 or 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
Reflection. You may or may not be clear about what habits you want to release. Either way, we can find benefit from taking time to consider events from this year past. It was filled with many experiences, perhaps joyful memories or sorrowful ones. Those experiences give us courage and intelligence when we face new situations. We can draw on what we learned to avoid suffering, to live more aligned with who we are.
As you reflect, consider the experiences you’ve had that have taught you something about yourself, about others, and about the way you see the world around you.
Perhaps you called on courage, resolve, and focus to rise to those experiences. Emotions arose with those experiences – anger, fear, sadness, excitement, pleasure. The emotions told us, in some way, “This is not right for me,” or This is the correct path, and 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 toward the sky. Think about all of the strength that you need to rise to occasions like the one’s you’ve experienced. With your out-breath, 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.
Now focus for a few breaths on the 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, then let go. Relax away from it. Loosen your grip towards it.
Moving with intention. As we walk around 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.
Illuminating Intention. 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.
On this night, we lit lanterns and discovered 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.