Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Illuminate Your Shadows and Ignite Your Courage: Meditate with Fire on Winter Solstice

by Kate Lynch

This year, we need ritual more than ever. Every solstice and equinox, I set aside time to gain clarity and illuminate my emotional shadows. This fire ceremony helps me to shed fear and experience stillness.

Fire is not depleted by sharing it. This reminds me that the more generous we can be with our warmth, the brighter we each become. I see a spark of potential for a more courageous, compassionate, and self-aware culture.

This year on winter solstice, I will be practicing on Zoom with my yoga and meditation community. Trāṭaka(gazing meditation), svādhyāya (self-inquiry), and restorative yoga postures will precede a celebration.

In our collective grief, uncertainty, and anxiety, we can take refuge in community. We will each be gazing into our own candle, rather than a single flame, but by projecting our warmth we can ignite communal energy online.

Fire ceremonies are as ancient and global as humans are. From pagan and Shamanic rituals, to Catholic offerings, to Animist worship and Hindu puja, fire runs through all of our lineages.

Fire allows for rapid transformation. It provides the avenue to let go of the old story and drama, to transform, to renew and to be reborn. –Dr. Alberto Villoldo

I feel a visceral, spiritual connection to the power of fire whenever I attend a gathering which includes its warmth. This is the simple fire ceremony that I practice at home with a candle, or in a fireplace, or outdoors in a well-contained fire pit.

Try it during the upcoming winter solstice, on or around December 21. It is the longest night of the year. This time of year, our global traditions tend to symbolize returning to the light, and many rituals bring light and nature inside. You might choose some time after dark.

You can use this framework for inspiration, but feel free to be creative. Take ownership of the ritual, so that it resonates with you. Fire is powerful and can get out of hand, so it is not to be played with. Respect it, use your common sense, and please be SAFE!

Prepare: Make sure your space is well ventilated if you’re indoors. Have paper and pen nearby, and put your candle in a fire-safe container. Place it at about the height that your eyes will be when you are seated. I use my coffee table if I’m sitting on a cushion on the floor. Have some water nearby just in case!

Tune in as you would when practicing yoga or meditation. Invoke your mentors, ancestors, or guides in your own way, honoring their wisdom. Ask yourself, “Who am I inviting into the space?”

You may want to move through some āsana (physical postures) in a way that allows your body and mind to feel settled and open. As you practice, try concentrating your gaze and attention on a focal point, applying the technique called drishti (or dṛṣṭi). Do not strain your eyes, mind, or body. Use the postures to ground you in your body and turn your awareness deeper inward.

Drishti can help you draw your outward-looking eyes (and mind) inward, so that your asana routine becomes a moving meditation.--Jennifer Allen Logosso

Then, sit comfortably and light the flame.

Gaze into the flame, allowing your mind to rest on the still point even as it flickers. This is a form of 
trāṭaka meditation. Soften your focus. This can take a while. Take whatever time is needed to immerse your awareness with the flame.

Settle into your internal still point before you pick up your pen. (You may prefer to speak, draw, sing or simply contemplate your responses instead.) Write, asking yourself the following questions:
  • · What are my core values?
  • · What am I grateful for?
  • · What inspires me?
  • · What fires me up? 
  • · What do I need to create, in order to serve my values?
  • · Who do I need to become, in order to serve my values?

Write without editing. Contemplate your intentions, passions, and commitments. Every once in a while, pause. Gaze into the fire. Then, continue to answer the prompts in a stream of consciousness manner. When you feel empty, put down your pen.

Watch the flame, and pay attention. Objections will begin to arise.

Intention is a longing that has been living inside you, and is now ready to be more fully expressed. When you think of something you long for, it is natural for obstacles to come up. Otherwise, you would already have whatever it is you’re longing for.

It can be uncomfortable to stay with those feelings. Don’t force your way through any triggering emotions, but do be willing to peel back the layers of discomfort a little at a time.

Sometimes we think that courage means having no fear. In reality, courage means becoming very familiar with our fear and learning to act even though we are afraid. -Tara Brach

Invite your shadow side, your disowned selves, your limiting beliefs, and your obstacles into the space. Welcome them as part of your wholeness. There’s wisdom in the shadows that your intuition wants to share, if you are willing to summon the courage.

Sit with your whole self, in stillness. Watch the fire. Take some time to be with these feelings, and allow them to be present, before moving on to the next step...

Tear up small strips of paper. Write an obstacle or limiting belief on each sliver of paper. Carefully, feed each obstacle to the flame. Take as much time as you need. Burn them up.

Do NOT burn your intentions! You can keep them in your journal, or creatively rewrite and frame them, or whatever helps you stay focused on taking action in alignment with your values.

Pause, watch the flame, and notice...Check in with your physical senses. Scan your body, especially your skin and your gut. Ask, is there any agitation or frustration here? Discomfort, anxiety, or resentment could be telling you that there is something unresolved, which your nervous system is contracting away from. You may feel it as tightness in your body.

Feel where your fear is in your body… It might feel like you’re holding something in, or back, or up. Take a few minutes to inhale deeply and send deep exhales of softness and release into that contracted place. -Tara Brach

Observe your physical sensations, non-judgmentally. For me, unacknowledged emotions beneath the surface can cause a feeling of skin crawling, nausea, or a lump in my throat. My jaw might be clenched, or my fist. Then, I know, there’s a need for more self-inquiry.

Breathe and stay present. Keep checking back in with your breath and body. Notice what’s coming up. If you still feel stuck, irritated, or sad, there may be more.

Investigate the systemic, relational, and internalized obstacles you face.

Get them all out, write them all down, and feed them to the fire. Burn them all up! It may only be symbolic, but you may be surprised by how powerful you feel.

Sit in stillness and wholeness. Gaze into the flame again.

If you experience suffering during this process, you’re not alone. Send comfort to your vulnerable feelings, as if you were your own best friend. For example, say to yourself “I’m here, it’s okay” or “It’s not your fault.” The most nurturing words for you will come from within yourself. You may want to put a hand on your heart as you say them.

Listen for your quiet but courageous innermost voice.

What wisdom is your intuition sharing with you, through this investigation of your shadows? What illumination or warmth can arise when you symbolically turn your obstacles to ashes?

Reaffirm your intention. State your purpose clearly and strongly. Rewrite, refine, and display your intention somewhere that you will see it often.

Gratefully conclude your fire ceremony. Find a meaningful way to thank your guides, and the fire. Keeping the candle lit, you can mindfully place it in your window. This symbolizes generously sharing the warmth and the light.

In sharing light, I see a metaphor for the spark of potential: a new, more empathetic, and collaborative society. If we are to move towards a more evolved culture, there is inner work to be done. We need a way to relate to our longing and fear with open eyes, aligned with nature’s rhythms.

Winter solstice is an appropriate time to explore our unexamined shadows, and illuminate the darkness there. I’m not saying there’s nothing to be afraid of, I’m only saying that we can be courageous within our discomfort. As Tara Brach says, “Courage means becoming very familiar with our fear and learning to act even though we are afraid."

Remember to blow out your candle before you go to bed!!!

Kate Lynch
is a meditation coach and inclusive yoga teacher, who has been cultivating community since 2002. She specializes in supporting anxious parents of atypical kids with the mindfulness, resilience, and self-care tools that help her get through the day. Healthy Happy Yoga Podcast, Facebook, and Instagram.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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