Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Solstice Ritual (Navel Gazing)

On midwinter, I went and watched the sunset over the water, and as the longest night began, I considered the road ahead and my own moment of rebirth and renewal.

[The start of this post is repurposed from last year, but the goals themselves (below) are new.]

As much as I've never really done resolutions, and I'm not a particularly big fan of this time of year, I have found a lot of comfort in creating a little solstice ritual that involves a bit of a mental and emotional unpacking and Inventory, and the setting of new goals to start the new year. I was going to just post the goals themselves on Facebook in a cross between accountability and telling my friends what I'm up to, but it ran a little long for FB, fit a little TOO well under "navel gazing," and it seems to me that sometimes the posts I think are almost gratuitously personal and uninteresting to almost everyone turn out, apparently to be surprisingly universal and compelling to many people. So I figured....what the hell. Let's make a post of it. 

As a disclaimer, both these goals and this ritual are intensely personal. I don't think everyone "ought" to do any of them. I don't think they have moral value. I don't think they bring me any closer to humanity's true nature. At the most, I think they involve listening closely to myself and trying to move closer to what would make me happy. Your mileage may vary. You do you.

Woo Factor

I keep most of my metaphysical thoughts pretty close to my chest. There's a filter within a filter within a private account on a social medium where I talk about the things I sometimes experience or dream that are difficult to put into dismissive language. Once in a while, a peep buys me lunch (or just kisses me so often that I have a big soft spot for them), and if they're curious, I'll spill the whole tangled mess. Suffice to say that if they don't know what Unmanifest Brahman or Taoist metaphysics are, we probably end up talking about Babylon 5 and Star Wars more than anything.

The important part to understand––why I'm running around on solstice with a necklace overloaded with charms, and trying to both bend and be bent by "the will of the universe" or some shit, is this: I don't capital-B "Believe" in very much (outside of widely agreed upon cross-cultural empirical human experience). I don't waste time making sure everyone knows I DON'T believe either. But with most extraordinary claims, I consider the verdict to be out until/unless more extraordinary evidence is presented.

Perhaps I'm just too skeptical. Perhaps I also found one too many atheists insufferable to be willing to count myself among them. But one thing I've seen evidence of, time and again, is the focal power of symbols and metaphor, the reorienting strength of ritual, in human lives. I know that sounds pretty woo, but all you have to do is change the language, if you want to tuck your resident atheist into bed without giving them nightmares. The Placebo Effect is a real, measured phenomenon of the mind affecting the body. Our "Rorschach Inkblot" interpretations of random patterns around us provide personal psychological insight into ways of thinking we might not even be consciously aware of. Our ability to focus on an idea can be enhanced with a physical object that jogs our sensory experience with tactile and visual reminders, or by repetitively doing something that reminds us. You can talk about meditation reducing cortisol inflammation and anxiety levels without ever getting into balancing your energies or your third eye.

So that's what's going on. If you're one type of person, I tell you that I'm going to clear my head and mindfully focus on some symbols while I enter a non-drug-induced altered state of consciousness through mindful breathing. If you're another type of person, I tell you I'm going to take my fetishes up to a place of power to do some solstice magic.

Of course, to a third type I say only, "I'm going to do a blasphemy. Pure unadulterated, Claude-Frollo-sentences-you-to-be-lashed-in-the-public-square-for-heresy blasphemy."

Now, When I Say Goals....

Some people are taskmasters with their goals. They are going to quit this. Learn those. Lose that. This is the day their life changes, by God. I think that's one of the reasons I'd rather leave "resolutions" to other people to suss out at the flip of the Gregorian calendar, and find a day a little more personally meaningful for me than one where I'm mostly watching everyone nursing hangovers and being appalled that the brunch place isn't open until 2 p.m. Most folks want their goals to hurt because it's time to live life differently (goddamnit), and if they have to wear leather with spikes and yell German at themselves, they're going to make it happen.

It's not that kind of movie, kid.

I mean, I could do that. I certainly have in the past. I am nothing if not overdo-it capable. But I find the Venn diagram between people who set taskmastery goals and people who are back to their old ways by Jan. 8th is aaaaaaaaaalmost a perfect circle.

For me, solstice goals are more like fiddling with the knobs. Slight adjustments. I may have a goal to get something done but I'm not going to stand over myself with a riding crop. (I let other people do that if they negotiate....erm perhaps another time.) These goals are not supposed to alter my entire lifestyle or be hard to keep up with. Often they're things I want to do––those things encouraged of me by little inner voices throughout the year, saying, "You should do more of this," or "You should do less of that."

I feel like most resolutions––certainly of the New Year variety––consist mostly of people slamming themselves into a wall in hopes that they hit it hard enough to break through like they're fucking Bugs Bunny. They hope to leave a little them-shaped hole in all those obstacles. And usually they end up smashing themselves more than anything. For me, solstice goals are more like redirecting the force of what's already there to something a bit more aligned with my objectives and values.

The Candle

Timing and a knee that still needs a bit more rest from an injury last month prevented me from doing more than a brief sojourn into the green outdoors. Instead I lit a candle. I listened and focused and occasionally spoke only the most carefully chosen words. And between my life of busy and my ADHD and my desire to immediately synthesize everything into language, I so rarely do any of those things. Being still enough to hear myself is sometimes a conscious effort. 

I sat and thought about the past year and the one coming up. I thought about how this year has tested every coping mechanism I've had, and they cracked and sometimes buckled, but (barely) held.  I thought about what I want my life to look like––not pipe dreams but actual hopes. This time next year. In five years.

I thought about the pandemic and all the ways it changed what I had intended to do from last year. I talked to a thing. I don't claim to have the answer as to whether I was talking to myself or something was listening.

I thought about where my time and energy have gone, and places where those things do not align with my values and objectives. I thought about what would make me happy. I have kept up with cooking. I have enjoyed photography. I have gotten my sleep schedule under control. I **NAILED** my mental goals, and in many ways it was a testament to the fact that, as badly as I did this year reaching last year's goals, I actually did hit MOST of them in which the goalposts didn't change. 

I thought about where my time and energy should go and the person I want to be. I visualized closely a life I desire in both form and function. And again, if you are one type of person, I would tell you I am envisioning goals and objectives to assert my will consciously to inform my small and sometimes "less conscious" choices to help me manifest those goals as well as to see avenues to said goals that I might otherwise miss. And if you were another type of person, I would tell you I was casting a spell. 

I thought about some things I have not the heart to tell you. And if that sounds like I should be Legolas pouring a pitcher of water into a pool, you have exactly the right inflection. 

And when the candle sputtered and began to die, I put it out with my fingers like they do in the movies, and I had a slice of orange chocolate before making dinner.


Last year's goals basically washed. They washed HARD. I was making good progress on most of them by the equinox, but at that same time it was clear that we were in for a bad global pandemic. Lockdowns were in place, and a lot of things didn't look like what I imagined they would when I set the goals. I became my chosen family's only nanny, and overnight, my hours went from 8-10 to 30 and sometimes more. That impacted everything from my writing to how exhausted I felt as I walked through the world. Plus the pandemic itself took its toll mentally and emotionally. And whether it was the forever ramp up to the 2020 election and the rapidly accelerating fascism or that AND the pandemic working in tandem, I barely even kept up with some of my basic writing habits (like a decent blog article twice a week).

Also I was living alone when the airlock doors came down. I had just begun to cast about with an eye on a nesting partner or a polycule family. And this year has been, at times, desperately lonely in that regard. 

This year I can't take anything for granted. I don't even know when the vaccine might change our lives. So I adjusted my goals to include what I want to try to expect from myself before the pandemic ends and included goals in parentheses that I might try to incorporate if the new normal reaches us before late next fall.


  • 2 solid posts per week
  • Reading Fiction
  • (Work hours)
  • (Prioritize novel)

I essentially work as a part-time nanny and write when I can. This arrangement keeps everyone SLIGHTLY miserable, but we are surviving. As I have begun to feel my sphincter unclenching a little about Trump and fascism, I notice I am regaining my ability to write. I don't want to assume I'll be back to my old self (and I certainly can't assume my hours will cooperate with my ambitions) until there is a vaccine, but I think with some weekend effort and my renewed vigor, concentration, and discipline, I can make sure I get at least two "good" posts up a week.

Like many people, I found my ability to read fiction was severely impaired after the 2016 election. I just could not get into it. And I have probably read something like ten books a year since then. (That is like....almost a tenth of my usual rate.) I still read voraciously, but mostly non-fiction articles, think pieces, news, and such. I still ENJOY reading fiction when I tie myself to the mast and ignore Facebook's siren call. So I'm going to start slow––one book a week––and if I'm not quite up to that, I'll readjust, but just thinking about it as a low-key obligation might help crowbar me off of screen time. 

I had to give up on my novel this year to help my family. We all made sacrifices (including those poor kids). That one was mine.  If the pandemic hellscape gives way to a vaccine, I will return to working work hours each weekday on writing.

In addition, acknowledging that I have severe ADD, I must make a tweak. I will always expand to fill up as much time as I give myself for this blog. After seven years I must admit this and attempt a redirection of force instead of trying to meet it head on with willpower. While on occasion, there isn't 
enough time, there is never too much time. There is only ever just enough time. Because my brain doesn't work very well until the screws start turning. So if I have six hours to write a post, it gets done in five hours and fifty-five minutes. If I have EIGHT hours to write the exact same post, it gets done in SEVEN hours and fifty-five minutes.

So if (or dare I hope..."WHEN") I end up returning to my old schedule, I do my novel first. I have to, or I will never get to it. The end of the day will always be getting something in right under deadline, and I have not managed to rewire my brain to finish blogging with an hour or so to spare. The fiction must come first. I'll probably start with a page a day and see how that feels. The important thing is that novel writing happens first.


  • Hiking/Walking (10 miles/week)
  • (Hiking/Walking [25 miles/week])
  • (Tai Chi-Once a week)
Last year I started with some wonderful hikes and unfortunately, between my schedule and the cavalier attitude of my fellow hikers to wearing masks (but mostly my schedule), I pared it down considerably. I'd like to get it back up to 10 miles for sure and, if the pandemic's effects are mitigated, increase it beyond that. I still want to build up to some big nature hikes. 

In college I took Tai Chi to fulfil a physical education requirement, and that chuffed my Maguffs. My ADD brain is not good with the sit-still brand of meditation ("Oh good luck with THAT!", my brain says), but the kinds that involve repetitive moving are really quite wonderful. (I think that's half the appeal of hiking.) I could probably find a distanced one in a park that wouldn't be risky, but my client is immunocompromised, and I'm not taking any chances.


  • Less "dribble"
  • More fun
  • Keeping up with calendar
My online life is an amazing balancing act. I'm not amazing AT it, understand, but if I didn't spend most of my time flat on my face, the act itself would be impressive. I can't walk away from "online" because that's where I promote my work and most of the reason I get paid. (I also wouldn't want to because that's where 95% of my social interactions are.) Any effort to reduce online time usually lasts only a couple of days. And yet I am often "stuck," refreshing Facebook or reading ONE MORE article. And while I am comfortable with my political and ethical convictions, I know that my biases are being stoked to make me angry all the time by algorithms that monetize my anger. 

What I want is for my life to be more deliberate. So much springs forth from that. From more writing time to reading to potentially taking up an instrument. But when I'm stuck online, I feel like I'm dribbling. I'm not really working. I'm not really playing. I'm not really enjoying myself. I'm just....THERE. Scratching that itch, sometimes for HOURS. I don't know how much it will work to just think about this and commit to "not getting stuck as often," but if that doesn't work, I can install some Facebook monitor app or something. Sometimes just being aware of something helps. 

I did not do well with this last year. The pandemic and election exacerbated these behaviors. So I'm still working on it this year.

To that end I want to "play hard." Or at least harder. Instead of four hours doing nothing on Facebook as reruns play of shows that I've seen multiple times, I want to close the window and do the things I want to do––that I LIKE doing. Watching new shows that I must sit and pay attention to. Playing video games. Reading. I have so many things I really do WANT to do, but so often I sit and refresh FB over and over while Supernatural or House MD or something grinds through a season every week or two as little more than ambient noise. I'm going to start putting PLAY time in my daily schedule to help encourage me to spend more time away from FB. Maybe I can't do it by just willpower and have never had much luck from simply saying, "Must.....not.....Facebook!" However, it's very likely that working WITH my brain, I can find success in saying, "Oh that's my 4pm alarm. It's Fallout o'clock!"

My 2019 day calendar was perhaps my most important tool in keeping myself from feeling too much like I was spinning out of control. Therapy was great, and one of the enduring lessons I took from it was to do what kept me feeling in control before I felt OUT of control. When I kept up with all the little aspects of my day calendar (scheduled posts, planned writing, budget, adulting), I knew how much money I could spend and be okay. I knew what blog posts were going up and when. And I knew when I was going to take care of that thing. When I let it slide, some of those things made me anxious. ("Someone canceled a $5 Patron. How will I afford food this month?") Having a thing I can look at that basically says "That fear is unfounded. Chillax!" helps profoundly. In 2020, I was absolute crap about keeping that calendar. So I'd like to start again as (the first) part of a daily routine.


I'm not going to make mental goals this year. I did well on the ones from last year that weren't time sink sensitive (learning piano), and right now I'm going to put that energy towards a combination of maintaining what I've managed and working on the other "spheres." Sometimes you can bolster emotional development with a little extra braining.

I will take inventory of my progress at the summer solstice and on the equinoxes and probably find I'm doing well with some things and need to be more deliberate about others. Plus at some point in the next year, life will probably start to go back to normal as many or most of us start to have Covid antibodies. 

The world will keep hurtling around the sun. 

The days will shorten again, and this year will come to a close and I will again think of where my life is, where I want it to be, and how I can get there. 

But for now, the longest night is over, and my heart and ambition begin to unfurl again.