Marking the Winter Solstice -Reflections on the year past & setting future goals

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When I was a teenager I became interested in the wiccan pagan religion. Not because I had watched ‘The Craft’ and wanted to cast spells on people, but because I was drawn to how interconnected to nature and natural cycles the belief was.  As I grew older by a few years and matured and developed in my own personal beliefs and opinions, I realised that any form of structured, organised religion or faith is not for me, but I still consider myself a spiritual, meditative person.

I still enjoy aspects of wiccan belief, particularly as I am from Ireland and it is a belief system that is deeply connected with ancient celtic pagan beliefs. I am therefore aware already of many of the ideologies, symbols and deities used and it feels familiar and natural to me.  As a lover of history, I enjoy observing this connection to the ancient tradtions of my country.  For this reason, and due to my deep love and reverance for nature, I still feel an affinity for many wiccan rituals.  Therefore rather than making new years resolutions in January, which are often short term and doomed to failure, I prefer to do my annual review of the year and planning on my goals for the future on this day -the festival of Yule, the winter solstice, and the shortest day of the year.

This is the deepest, darkest day of the year, but within this is hope, and forethought for the future and the coming year, as each day onwards from this the light will gradually grow each day, and the hours of darkness will never be this great again for another year.  It also celebrates the reflection, healing, hope, growth and new beginnings to be found in darkness.  The traditions of this pagan celebration, as with all other pagan festivals, are the roots from which Christianity was based on. The familiar Christmas symbols of evergreen trees, mistletoe, holly, and ivy are all aspects celebrated at Yule -a triumph of nature, growth, and rebirth even in the depths of bleak midwinter.

Of particular interest to me is how the ancient celebration of the winter solstice is poignantly highlighted in Ireland -at Newgrange, County Meath.  Newgrange is a prehistoric monument consisting of a large circular mound with internal stone passageways and chambers.  It was built in the neolithic period, about 3,200 BC, which makes the structure older than Stonehenge in England, and The Pyramids in Egypt.  There is much debate about exactly why it was built, but we do know that it was purpose built to align with the arising sun.  Every year, during the winter solstice at dawn, a narrow beam of rising sunlight enters through a purpose built hole in the roof of the structure.  As the sun rises higher, the beam of light widens and slowly travels along the eighteen metre passageway until it eventually floods the internal chamber with sunlight so that it becomes dramatically illuminated.  It fascinates me to think how those who built Newgrange achieved this amazing feat of engineering.  I am also fascinating by the fact that that ancient, intricate structure, built to highlight the winter solstice, is still functioning in the exact same way, over 3,000 years later, as year after year the cyclical rhythm of nature repeats it’s ancient cycle.

It is in the spirit of this reflective positivity that today I went to my favourite place, a place that always heals and soothes me -the seashore, to reflect on the year past and on my goals for the years ahead.

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Things which I am greatful for from the past year:

  • The wonderful people close to me -my boyfriend, friends, and family, and the love, support and fun times which I get from them
  • Maintaining good physical & mental health
  • Having a very pronounced yet easy, natural shift in the past year from being a ‘part time’ health conscious, fit, meditative person to naturally finding a rhythm in my life to incorporate health & well being constantly in my daily life without effort -and without being obsessive, inflexible & preachy -very important!!
  • Making the decision to begin this blog, and the overwhelming, exciting support and encouragement that I have received, from both people I know in ‘real life’ and complete strangers who have stumbled across it.

Goals which I will work on achieving in the next year:

  • Intensive regular yoga practice to get me on the way towards being ready for yoga teacher training (that’s a goal for another year!) -in particular to transform my super tight hamstrings which are hampering my progress in many poses.
  • Be ready to attempt a driving test -it has been a looong, sloooow process for me as ultimately I have no interest in cars or driving, but I do want the freedom to be able to drive -my inspiration is the ability to take weekend road trips in the beautiful West of Ireland and to more easily reach the Dublin and Wicklow mountains for weekend walks.
  • Continue to post regularly on my blog and dedicate time to developing it organically.  I have found in this a real passion and joy, it is  a great new hobby and I am loooking forward to seeing where it will take me in the next year!
  • Take a big, exciting trip -either to Columbia with my boyfriend and some friends, or if that plan doesn’t work out, a solo trip to Nicaragua to stay in an eco yoga retreat in a nature reserve and organic farm -heaven on earth! (if you are me anyway!)
  • Be able to run 10k by June -who knows if I will stop there, I have no desire to run a marathon at the moment, but the running bug does get under your skin! But at the moment my goal is 10km, as I consider that to be a really good level of fitness that I want to achieve and maintain.
  • Improve my meditation & mindfullness -as I have written here before, meditation is not easy, and I am still improving my technique to quieten the mind -mine never shuts up!!
  • Keep helping others, both humans and other animals, as my life’s mission -through my day job, my blog and my personal life.
  • Focus on the beauty and kindess of humanity rather than the negative aspects -believe it or not I have a natural tendency to be a more pessimistic, melancholy person, and the horrific actions of humanity towards each other, non human animals, and the planet severely upsets me daily. As I am powerless to stop this, I want to try to be more introspective rather than looking at the catastrophic bigger picture, and find the positivity in the little things, the baby steps, the positive individual actions. All you interesting, motivated and compassionate bloggers help me with this!
  • Develop my creative side -while the blog definitely has nourished my creative spark in terms of creating food, design and writing, I want to return to creating art -such as drawing, painting and sculpting, this year.

I hope that this post inspires you to focus on the positive, to celebrate the small things, to live a life true to your own self, and to work hard to achieve the endless wonderful possibilities which you are capable and deserving of.  Here’s to celebrating the end of this year, the positives and the negatives, and looking forward to what lies ahead in 2014.

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