Winter’s Embrace

by Angeliska on December 21, 2017

Our Winter Solstice bonfire: a massive tower of flames burning 30-40 feet high. The tangle of mossy oak branches stood taller than me. The incredible heat and blaze was so intense after beginning our Solstice ritual in the cold and darkness - to better ho
Photo by Clint Redden

Today, the sun stands still – the scintillating convergence of the Winter Solstice is upon us, and at the darkest moment in our winter, the light begins to return to us. That light, the little candle flame inside us needs to be protected – so keep it close, let it build, and shelter it carefully against strong winds, because in these times, if your light goes out, it can be hard to get it going again. A year ago, I gathered with close friends in the country for a ritual to honor the solstice that ended with the lighting of the gargantuan bonfire pictured above. It was one of the most incredible fires I’d ever seen – looming above us nearly forty feet high. The tangle of mossy oak branches stood taller than me! That fire was started with a single spark, one lit candle burning in our hearts, passed from hand to hand around the circle, alighting a massive conflagration that towers to the heavens, the soaring flames illuminating the treetops. A cascade of shimmering embers, fire fairies flit around our heads like haloes and wink out into the cold night air. The incredible heat and blaze was so intense after beginning our Solstice ritual in the cold and darkness – to better honor and value the return of the light! We rang bells, howled and danced around it, calling in that light, soaking up that brilliant warmth. Opening our hearts to that magic.

I’ve been thinking about fire, lately: it’s not the element I feel most connected with, or have been very comfortable exploring. But I’ve been learning about its power, and how much we need it. Fire is sacred creativity, the vibrant spirit, an alchemical force. It keeps us warm, cooks our food, and is necessary in so many of our creative processes. I’ve been thinking about all our elements, and how essential they are for our survival, our balance. And I’ve been thinking about how when we are living out of balance, they react with a fury, often destroying what we’ve built up, tearing down buildings, incinerating forests, drowning the roads, and obliterating the structures that once seemed so permanent and fixed, ripped asunder in the blinking of an eye. I’ve been thinking about the terrible forest fires in California that are changing the face of the land and turning so many homes to ashes. The earthquakes and mudslides, avalanches. Tornados and windstorms. The hurricanes, floods and torrential rains that have been subsuming our cities. We need our water, the blessing of the mother, her tears – the earth, her body – the air, her breath – fire, her spirit. When out of balance, her gifts become terrifying. And yet, perhaps they are still gifts, in some way. Change is happening, and our old ways of being are falling away. We can resist it, but we’ll just exhaust ourselves. Like trying to swim upriver – you can fight the current, but after awhile, when you’ve completely exhausted yourself, the water will take you where it wants you to go anyway, whether you like it or not.

Power like this can be sustaining and nourishing, or consuming and destructive. Staying present, in clear integrity with our higher selves, with open eyes is the only way to retain or regain any sense of balance. I feel that this is also true of sexuality – Eros energy, our creative, generative spark. That passion can keep us warm, support and nourish us, stimulate and inspire our magic and creativity, and open our hearts. Or it can become, like any of the other essential elements, consuming and destructive.

On the Winter Solstice last year, I completed a vow of celibacy that I had initiated on the Summer Solstice. It was only half a year, and yet in those six months, I learned so much about myself, my sexuality, and my approach to love and relationships. But the real work and growth began in the year after I made that vow to myself and took it full circle. From the end of last December until now, I have experienced such radical change and internal growth, that has transformed nearly every area of my life. It feels very vulnerable, and a little scary to write about this here, and yet, I feel moved to share some of my experience, in hopes that it might be helpful to someone who finds it here.

I took a vow of celibacy because I wanted to find a way to channel and focus that erotic energy into my creative pursuits, namely my writing – and because I was in the process of doing some deep healing work on my relationships, and the wounding that I discovered was the origin for many of the unhealthy patterns I had developed around sex, love, and romance. I’m not going to delve into excruciating detail elaborating all the ways, for so many years, that I managed to keep beating my head against the same walls, and finding myself entangled in the same traps and pitfalls, because it would take forever, and really is just too embarrassing to enumerate. What I do want to share is how I discovered that it was possible to break these patterns, and with a lot of self-love and patience, feel like I have finally made some big headway in changing that way of being, and shifting into a new stage of growth. It can happen – but it does take work. Thankfully, there’s really nothing better than doing that human work on this earth. It’s why we came here – to learn, to grow, and to love.

This is the first time in my life where I have felt completely content with my current romantic status – which is, utterly and entirely, wholeheartedly and gratefully single. I think my heart had learned, ever since I was very young, to be in a constant state of longing, of wistfulness and wishing – regardless of whether I was in a relationship or merely burning a fervent torch for one elusive lover or another. It’s a hollow feeling, longing. And one I no longer wish to carry or resonate with. What is it, to be whole – to feel at home and happy with yourself, to be with yourself consummately – and to have that feel like more than enough. I’m discovering that feeling, and delighting deeply in my solitude, in my own company – with no more room for the tugging ache of loneliness in my heart or at my table. Sometimes it’s much lonelier when someone else is right there – so close, and yet so far away. I am right here, and I’m glad to be finally fully embracing these lessons in ways I had never before been able to really grasp. It look a lot of painful twists and turns to arrive at the threshold of this place, and I’m still learning the path. I’ve been thinking about a concept that I believe is from Rumi (as many wise truths are), that the goal is not falling in love – it is to BE love. That’s what I’m after. Starting with learning to be immensely compassionate to myself, even with all my many flaws and failings, all my gifts and shinings. I’m here to embrace my own sweet heart, that I shunned and neglected, ignored and spurned in favor of others, for so, so long. Coming back home, to my own sacred temple, long abandoned, now restored: my heart, my heart, my heart.

But how did I get from there to here? I spent years – years and years and years looking for love in all wrong places. Searching the world over with a hungry heart, hunting for someone to love me, to nourish me, to provide me with comfort and safety and stability. A baby bird looking desperately for unconditional love and validation, for proof that maybe I wasn’t the most awful, pathetic, unlovable creature in the world. Scanning constantly for security, for that person who could be the ONE who would save me, love me, stay with me forever and never leave, never die, never abandon me. And, yet – that loss and longing is all I knew of love. That was my polarity, a familiar home base. I craved love like fire, like water, like a drug. The thing is: that kind of love is actually essential to our survival when we’re little. Human children don’t tend to stand much of chance of survival without their parents, or if their parents (for whatever reason) aren’t invested (via that intense bonding that creates and sustains unconditional love and care. It’s not just a desire – it is actually a need. And I felt that I might die from the lack of it. If it hadn’t been for my amazing father, I very well might have. He has always offered me that unconditional love and care, but after my mom died, he was very overwhelmed trying to provide for us, and dealing with his own grief and broken heart. It was a hard time for us. I was alone a lot, and that loneliness became home for me. It was a place I knew.

From a very, very young age, I developed an unconscious plan for survival: my number one modus operandi became a quest to find the person who would offer me the unconditional love and care I lost when my mother became sick and died – and that in some ways, for various reasons, I never really had enough of before that. I was a practical child, an old soul who figured out the equation early on, and used my kid-logic to deduce that the next best source of unconditional love if you’ve lost your mom, according to all the fairy tales I devoured was, of course – TRUE LOVE! Prince Charming, on his glorious steed, ready to sweep me off my feet and adore me forever. Problem solved. I would be their priority, their everything! And I would finally be safe. As you can imagine, once I hit puberty, this led me to some deeply passionate obsessions with movie stars and later, to many (what I realize now) were seriously messed up interactions with unsavory, predatory people who zeroed in on me like wolves to a lost lamb. I was so desperate for love and affection, and so naive about what love and sex were all about, that I repeatedly ended up in situations where I was taken advantage of because I thought that if someone was paying attention to me, that meant that they loved me. Unfortunately, this continued more or less constantly until I reached near-adulthood. I eventually did wise-up a little bit, but I was still this totally precocious big-eyed starveling who threw myself into relationships and entanglements like my life depended on it – because on a deep, internal level, I believed that it did.

I did have some really wonderful relationships in all of that mess, with a few lovely, kind-hearted people who treated me right, or tried to. Usually though, I ended up feeling stifled and stuck with the people who were actually capable of loving me, and tended to eschew people who were too sweet, not cold or unavailable enough. I’d tell myself that I didn’t feel that magic spark with them – but truly, I was mistaking the sensation of being activated, that push-you/pull-me intense longing for chemistry. They aren’t actually the same thing at all. I’m learning that, and learning so much about my attachment patterns – about which, if any of this is resonating for you, you might really want to delve into studying your own attachment patterns in relationships. Understanding this piece has unlocked so much awareness for me around the loops and stuck places I found myself trapped in for so long.

Taking a step back from all of those patterns and getting some space for myself to establish a new perspective was another goal I had in taking a vow of celibacy. It really had less to do with having sex or not, and more to do with examining what happened for me when I engaged in that kind of intimacy with another person, and my own hidden motivations in finding connection. I want to make something very clear about this: I am extremely sex positive, and believe firmly that everyone’s relationship to their sexuality is entirely their own. What works for one person may or very well may not work for another. All I can share is what has worked for me, and what I’ve learned for myself.

When I was in New Orleans recently, I overheard a voluptuous lady walking by in the French Quarter talking into her cellphone say, “Estoy teniendo tremendo sexo con todo el mundo”, which means, “I’m having tremendous sex with the entire world!” I loved hearing that, especially as I was sitting on a stoop, making out with a very wonderful person at the time. It was a beautiful moment, where the air felt infused with sensuality and magic. I know there are many people out there who thrive by having many partners and exploring their erotic energy with a lot of freedom and playfulness. I respect that so much, and often, I wish it could be that way for me. For a long time, it was. And then things really needed to change. Because I was allowing myself to be in unhealthy situations, and I was getting hurt. I was connecting with people for the wrong reasons – and I wasn’t being especially conscious or present in my choices. The definition of an addiction, as I see it – is when we’re seeking a physical solution for a spiritual problem, and when we’re doing something that we know isn’t good for us – but we don’t seem to be able to stop ourselves from doing it anyway. I saw my six month vow of celibacy as a period of sobriety, during which I was still having great sex with myself (because let’s be real, I’d probably have ended up homicidal or definitely broken my vow, otherwise!) I wanted to be able to come back to physical connection with others from a place that was centered, and compassionate to both myself and them. You see, I’d made a lot of bargains for good sex in the past. I tricked myself into believing that in order to receive that good physical loving, I had to put up with a lot of bullshit from my partners, in their treatment of me. I came to believe that no one else was going to be into the way my body looked naked, or find me attractive or desirable. We find incredible ways to lie to ourselves, and then trap ourselves in feedback loops, get hooked into partnerships that aren’t sustainable or even particularly enjoyable.

It’s like this: when you’re starving, you’ll eat almost anything, right? If you go into a convenience store when you’re really hungry, almost any crap in there seems like it might be delicious. But there’s no really nourishment in a bag of Cheetos, and it doesn’t tend to last very long anyway. When you stop by the gas station with a nice full belly, you’ll find yourself realizing that there’s really nothing in there you want to eat, nothing you want to put in your body. A lot of the relationships we end up in when we’re operating from a place of inner hunger are the equivalent of junk food: addictive, extremely flavorful and delicious in the moment, but ultimately – they just end up making us sick. Learning how to feed my own heart and tend my own inner fire helped me have much more discernment around who I choose to share myself with than I ever had before. Sex on the first date was just a matter of course for me, and I would leap into situations with people without knowing them very well. I used to have basically little to no restraint, when I would actually meet someone I was attracted to – which is a rare enough occurrence, that thankfully I didn’t get have too many opportunities to create havoc for myself. It was much worse when I was way younger – and had no idea what I was really even attracted to. I have a lot to unpack about that time in my life, and what those experiences were really about. I’m working on trying to understand it, and heal it.

As Saturn moves into Capricorn this month, we’re being given a message about truly taking responsibility in the way we move through the world, and realizing how our actions effect other people. This is a good time to examine your boundaries, and your own personal rules about sex and relationships. A sense of soberness and a more serious approach may be replacing some of the unabashed hedonism of our past exploits. It’s a good time to perhaps be more judicious in our interactions, particularly because we’re really talking about consent, about boundaries, and about desire. This is a powerful time to have these conversations together – about what we’re really doing when we’re sharing the experience of sex and intimacy with another person. We’re finally having the conversations about how often we’ve had sex in the past we really didn’t want – or felt pressured into. When just doing it was easier, (or felt easier at the time) than saying no, or extricating ourselves out of these situations. In creating strong boundaries for ourselves and our partners, and making space for clear communication about what we want, and what we don’t, we are shifting the paradigm. There’s a lot of power in reclaiming that energy for ourselves, and in healing the wounds around our sexuality, and the ways that it may have been abused, exploited, coerced, or mis-used.

Our world is changing so much, and so quickly. I see so many of these changes being for the better – especially as we shift into a new way of relating. I think about the fact that for ages, if you wanted to get to know someone, and especially if you wanted to have sex with them, you had to get married. In this era, we have the freedom to take things slower, to really get to know someone. It’s been said that you really don’t know someone until you’ve spent four seasons with them, and I think that’s true. What would it be like to not make any big decisions about a relationship until you’d taken that time? When we start getting high on love drugs, which is what happens when we start doing stuff that releases oxytocin and vasopressin, like having sex, it makes us a little crazy. And it makes us bond with whoever we’re doing that stuff with. Which can be awesome. Or catastrophic. Because sometimes those bonds are not really appropriate – for various reasons. It’s very, very difficult, from even just a biological standpoint, for casual sex to stay casual for very long. So, as much fun as that can be (and often was, for me in the past) I’ve chosen now, after everything I learned from just hanging out with myself for awhile, that casual sex doesn’t work for me. I’m too sensitive, and too serious, and I just really don’t want to share myself in that way with someone who may not really care about me, or care to get to know me. And vice versa.

Sex is a ceremony, a mingling of our essential energies. It is sacred, if you approach it from that place. I’m interested in exploring, in getting really curious about a lover, and experiencing the same from them. I realize now that when I was coming from a place of need, and needing my partner to fulfill a space of lack in me, I didn’t allow much room to just discover them, and to be curious about really getting to know them as they were. I was just expecting them to uphold a certain way of being to make me feel safer, and then would get upset when they would turn out to be someone different from who I really wanted. It turns out, there’s something to be said for really taking your time! I’ve been relishing that, and also relishing saying no – something that was so hard for me to do, for so long. It gets easier and easier, and it is very empowering, to have that choice for myself, about what feels right for me – to get a clear sense of what works, and what doesn’t, without making a lot of concessions. I’ve been dating, for the first time in my life – a little bit, here and there. It’s pretty fascinating, honestly. And a little odd to be in a place where I’m not looking for casual sex, or a hookup – but also not convinced that I’m interested in getting into a serious, committed relationship again. Being partnered takes a lot of work, and it really is an enormous responsibility. It’s not something I ever want to take lightly again. Until I meet someone that really feels right, I’ll keep channeling eros energy into my creativity, into my writing. Sometimes, I fall into the fearful belief that I can’t be focused and productive if I have a lover in my life. I get afraid that if I meet someone I really connect with, I’ll lose myself again. I imagine scenarios where we get so high on from lovemaking that I’ll want to do nothing else but roll around in bed and then make blueberry pancakes and spend all day feeding them to each other and then rolling around some more. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad? Everything in moderation, right? It feels good to wait and see, and not to settle in the meantime for something that feels like a compromise. Compromise really means that one person gets what they want, while the other one doesn’t – and it’s interesting to me how often we’re told that we need to compromise in our relationships. I’m interested in collaboration – where we can both figure out how to mutually get what we want! It feels good to hang out in this space of not-loneliness. I still crave touch, of course – and sometimes that skin-hunger can be a little distracting! We need touch, as humans. But there are ways to receive it that feel healthy, and allow me to stay focused. I know I’ll touch and be touched again when the time is right, and when the stars align to put the person or people into my path who will teach me the next round of lessons: this time on true intimacy, on receiving love, on trust. I think that will probably be a little terrifying, or maybe a lot – and I’m excited to get out of my comfort zone of being alone and discover what real connection feels like.

As the sun is returning – the warmth is flooding through the earth’s body, and I feel it too. I went dormant for a long time, last year. Trauma can do that, sending the body into freeze mode. I shut down a bit, buried my spark deep beneath the earth, like a precious seed. But all this time, it’s been gestating, growing invisible roots, deep and strong. The ice over the water is breaking, and I’m cracking open like a pomegranate.
My sexuality is mine, and I am my own best thing. I preserve my sacred inner fire, honoring it for the precious thing that it is, and build it, stoke it so that it will keep me warm on cold nights. For now, it is for me, and me alone. My choice to share it will be based on mutual understanding, instead all the old reasons. How exciting it is to approach love now with this discernment, and to enter winter’s embrace with a bright flame in my heart, a beacon, calling in the new ways, the new loves, the new lessons. May your Winter Solstice be full of warm embraces, and may we all learn more this year, and throughout our lives in these bodies, about how to love, and to be loved.

32757318332_d93b02f067_o

My writings from Winter Solstices of yore:

NORNS OF WINTER – SOLSTICE WISHES

SOLSTICE SISTERS

PERCHTA

POMEGRANATE STAR RITUAL FOR THE WINTER SOLSTICE

COLD WINTER MOON, SOLSTICE BLUE

WINTER SOLSTICE – BRIGHT STARS + FIRELIGHT

WINTER SOLSTICE – BLOOD MOON

Winter Solstice – Messe de Minuit

Winter Solstice – Dark Season

4 comments

Thank you for this beautiful, inspiring piece. It has hit home with me in many ways, and I will be thinking on it (and re-reading it) for some time. Love and thanks, Sophie

by Sophie on December 22, 2017 at 6:59 pm. #

thank you for sharing your story. It’s inspiring and comforting.

Blueberry pancakes sound great!

by Yamil on December 23, 2017 at 10:38 am. #

It took me ages to get around to this but I’m so glad I finally did! So many lines I want to print out in zillion-point font and put up in my space to remind myself. Thank you.

by Christina on January 5, 2018 at 11:04 am. #

Thank you thank you. As always. Always the medicine and fire needed, words and heart so true to yourself and to this growth beneath and above the earth. Love to you!

by Lena on January 6, 2018 at 8:47 pm. #

Leave your comment

Required.

Required. Not published.

If you have one.