As a culture we prize all things brightly illuminated. We cherish the summer and grow bitter in the cold. We electrify our homes to be white as daylight and build with the biggest windows pointing south. But here in the mountains, where old homesteads are short and dark as shiitakes and often set into the north end of things (leaving the scant scraps of southern exposure for fields of tobacco or grain) there is an old standing appreciation of northlight and the particular brand of diffuse illumination it can bring.
Every shade of light has its own gifts and abilities to help us see. If southlight is fluorescent— direct, overhead and uncompromising— then northlight is phosphorescence itself. A gentling force that can coax up the surface the light that lives within the bones of things. Northlight is the muted green of lichen on a quiet tree. It is unglazed porcelain. Northlight is the diffuse incandescence coming through your blankets in the morning— and it is a cocoon for creativity.
A Gathering of Bloodroots by luminous local artist Stephanie Thomas Berry
In our mountains, it is the north-facing coves that birth the most diverse profusion of spring ephemerals and medicinals. They need the gentle indirectness of the north in order to thrive. Artists, like our rare flowers, are also devotees of northlight. Studios with northfacing windows are often the most esteemed spaces for creating as northlight is so ideal for capturing the nuances of color, texture and tone. Southern light may be bright, but it is a volatile pour— ever shifting, casting shadows and contrast with every turn. Northlight, in comparison, is as consistent and gently illuminating as the ambiance of a forest floor.
In the milkglow of northlight we can experience a wider, quieter gradient of life. We can touch the texture of things, tend to the subtle. Northlight helps us to appreciate what often goes unnoticed, to attune ourselves to feeling tones. In the north we are given time and space to come into our realizations. Like a chai steamed with milk and sipped over a long morning, revelations can come in slow.
In winter we are invited to bath in the gentle dilution of all northlight. To step away from the harsh spotlight of major life overhauls, the big harvests of beginnings or reapings. And to experience a bit of consistency, simplicity. Northlight nurtures an appreciation of the littlest things. Warm china and soft hands. Well-worn flannel and the tiny echo of the stars.
We all move through times of winter and its northlight. Winters of the land, winters within our relationships or emotional lives, the wintering of our bodies into elderhood. In our culture we are conditioned to resist this wintering with every resource available. But what happens when we can embrace the light that lives there? When we can see such times of round-about illumination, of quieting and survival, not as condemnations of dimness or lack, but as spacious stretches where we can explore the texture of our own beings. To appreciate the full gradients of our feelings, without judgement and without despair. To hold our lives like a palm of moonstone, gentle, opalescent and full of their own meaning.
Try this season to immerse yourself in northlight and all the gentle creativity it can bring. Sit in a room with north facing windows or go for a walk on the north end of your street. See what feelings arise when you allow this diffusion to enter the pores of your being.
Interested in invoking and embodying your own pole star of creativity this winter? Check out my new youtube video: Stones for Creative Flow
I’m what you might call an “enthusiastic celebrator.” I can’t help it, I just get a kick out of life a lot of the time. I recently sent my friend a funny gif of Will Ferrell in Elf playing hopscotch with the white lines of a New York crosswalk and she immediately texted me back, “Asia… you know that’s you anytime you go to the city, right?!” And I realized… she’s probably right. That’s also me the exact day (December 1st, in my opinion) that it becomes “appropriate” to start playing holiday music. And also when I get into the kitchen to whip up some homemade tea blends, cordials or cookies. And anytime anyone mentions Santa…ever.
I’ll admit it, I’m a rich optimist. I believe in things like miracles and magic, and the good in people. I believe in peace on earth— even if it was never supposed to arrive all at once, but meant to cycle like a constellation, sometimes hidden, sometimes obscured, and sometimes appearing over the horizon just as you thought to look up. A momentary grace that you realize, remarkably, was there all along.I believe that no matter how bleak things appear, somehow there is a greater wave of good moving through it all. Like cinnamon marbled through dense pound cake. Sometimes it just takes a few forkfuls before you can taste it.
After my grandmother died my mom was the one who carefully went through all of her things. There were lots of treasured items, but the most unexpected of all was just a little slip of paper. Written in my grandmother’s hand and tucked into the back of her day planner, the small note card said “everything is always working out for me.” My mom donated many things, but the note became an heirloom. Since then, it’s become a kind of mantra in our family, especially when things seem like they are decidedly not working out for us (try this when you are in the gutter and I promise at the very least it’ll make you laugh at the ridiculousness of it all). And it’s been a beacon for me in a world, and a time, where the news seems to foretell doomsday, everyday.
What if, actually, everything is working out??
I believe that even in the absolute darkest times, there is light. And so did our ancestors. They believed it so fully, that they placed their festivals of light (Yule, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa) directly during the time of the year when the nights were the longest, and the days short and bleak. The reason why we celebrate the myriad of holidays that mark this time across the Northern Hemisphere is because our ancestors were, in truth, wild optimists. Not only did they trust that the light would return, that the soil would warm, that life would continue again, they truly believed that their rituals were an important part of keeping the earth’s magic alive. And maybe it’s true… what if our optimistic engagement with this living planet is an actual part of the sun continuing to rise? I would be surprised. After all, we know already how deeply important it is for our own inner sunshine.
New scientific studies have found that believing in the good things coming feeds something incredibly important inside our beings. “Dispositional optimism,” a mindset where you simply tend to expect positive outcomes for the future, has been shown to have a wide variety of health benefits— reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, infection, and even a longer life span! Optimists literally live longer to see all those positive projections for the future unfold.
Optimism isn’t frivolity or naivety. It’s is a life saving, world saving, sanity saving magic. And I truly believe that it is what will help us rescue the grace of our collective destiny as humans on this miraculous planet. To be able to keep on believing in the possibility of magic, generosity and healing.
I have always loved this time of the year for the rich storytelling and spices simmering on the stove, the twinkle lights and togetherness. But what truly makes this season come alive for me is the way in which, as a collective, we come together to shelve our heavy skepticism (if even for just a few weeks) and invite in a truly altruistic optimism.
No matter how dark things get, I continue to believe. I mean, you’re talking to someone who defended the existence of Santa Claus wayyyy longer than most of my classmates. I mean, I heard their arguments, I just didn’t buy it. (“Thanks for your input Steve Wunderkund, but I’m not convinced!”). Because what’s “real” isn’t always what is physical or tangible. Sometimes the “realest” things— like love and relationship, the interconnectedness of a landscape or the life force of an evergreen tree, can only be experienced.
Real optimism is about trusting that there is more, so much more, than what our limited human eyes can see. And that we can believe, and trust, in all the magic of the unseen.
If you are wanting to reclaim the bright embered light and optimism of this season come join me online for one of my favorite all-time classes: Holiday Magic + Medicine Making. It is seriously chock-full of cheer as well as an exploration of the history and lore surrounding this time. Come meet my favorite holiday herbs and learn how to make a whole host of herbal gifts. Also, sign up now and you’ll receive the *brand new* bonus guide to Stones for Solstice: Minerals, Rituals and Elixirs for the Darkest night of the Year. I’m so excited to see you there.
A quiet has settled over these hills in the past few weeks. A hush that rises from the fading amber of the landscape and its open-limbed winds. The ebb of everything speaking to a deep need to withdraw and rest; an ache to refind one’s inner space.
For the Celts, the time following Samhain marked the waning of work, and the waxing of winter’s magics. Traditionally, harvesting ceased after Samhain. The squashes in the field left as food for the unseen. As life drains back to the roots, many of us are feeling this call to cease the ceaseless doing and reclaim the quietude of our inner terrain. And at the center of our ache to create this space is the desire for something that looks so very much like sovereignty.
I’ve been having a bit of a love affair with this word recently. Samhain, in the Celtic calendar, marks the beginning of the new year. With each new turn of the wheel, I like to choose a word as my personal emblem and yearly theme. For this new year my word is: Sovereignty.
Wikipedia defines sovereignty as “the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies.” To be sovereign means that you imbue yourself with the full right to take care of yourself, your energy, your needs. It means crowning yourself as the maker and maintainer of your own destiny. Claiming your power as well as your responsibility, and acknowledging that the two are one in the same.
Sovereignty creates boundaries where there were none, marking the outlines of where everything else ends and you begin. Sovereignty is about tending the borders of your own fields. Curating what you welcome into your space (including news and social media) and deciding, once and for all, that you are willing to take care of your own inner landscape. Sovereignty gives you back to yourself in a time when you feel scattered to the winds.
It reminds me of a historical truth I heard long ago about Celtic peoples and their governance. Traditional Celtic male rulers were very literally wedded to the land in a ceremony called banais ríghi. In their crowning, they agreed to uphold a sacred covenant between human culture and the more-than human world. And it was from the land, the bride who contained all the powers of the fertile and feminine unseen, that they were given their sovereignty. Their right to protect, guard, rule, govern and decide all came from their ability to commit themselves to the power, potency and desires of the unseen.
Our personal sovereignty lies within our ability to connect to our own inner landscapes, the fertility of what lies in the terrain of our personal unseen. When we take a step away from the outer world, we can access the regenerative soil of our connection to Otherworlds and sow the seeds of our own sovereignty.
So how does it feel to put on the crown of your own being? To know that you have the ability to claim the throne at the center of your own existence? That you can chose yes or no? That you can decide how to feel, or where you want to give your energy? That you are the ruler of your own destiny? This is self-sovereignty. And it is how we protect the chalice of our days.
In a time where the subtle come in quick as dusk the land itself is asking us to reclaim our own sovereignty by connecting to the unseen. To learn how to listen to the terrain inside of our own being and recommit ourselves in a sacred marriage to our inner fields.
So, take this time before we enter into the holidays to ground, center, and become sovereign. Decide where your boundaries lie. Mark the corners of your fields, with time spent in quiet solace and warm solitude. Take time to listen to your deeper needs. Time in the bath or with your hands in well-kneaded dough. Time to brush out your hair or massage your feet with sesame oil. Time to realize what you truly crave, so that you can stand strong in your own crowning, and be at peace.