The Bright Spark: Holidays & Light

The world outside my windows glistens icily. A foot of fine snow fell the day before Thanksgiving and is not the least bit diminished since then. Fragrant junipers and tall pines stand fleeced in white, framed by a pale blue sky that has remerged at last. Admittedly, the scene looks something like a winter wonderland, yet I feel challenged to summon anything more than a modicum of cheer, either for snowfall or that the year-end holidays have arrived.

In 2018, having arrived back in my native Oregon from California and a dozen years of living elsewhere, including abroad, a long winter of heavy snowfall nearly knocked us flat. That it is only the first of December—not even technically winter, which doesn’t begin officially until the 21st—and we are buried in white, well, it doesn’t bode well for the coming months. Much as I savour the crispness and gentle, painted melancholy of autumn, that first gentle sense of turning inward and slowing down, when said crispness turns frozen my heart feels a similar effect. No child of winter am I, and my suspicion remains that those who wax rhapsodic about snow are ones who don’t regularly have to shovel it. 

I often wrestle with the holiday season, even in the best of years, even in sunny and warm locales we’ve resided in. Seeing the snow piled outside, which arguably could feel festive to some folks, in an all too familiar way, any ripple of thrill eludes me. 

snow_house
A winter wonderland… encore

On the first of December, not a hare’s breath earlier, I make way for winter solstice and Christmas, clearing from our dining table the mini yellow-green gourds and tiny pumpkin representing the gifts of autumn. I sit now at that well-traveled, rectangular, polished-wood expanse, its surface bare but for a pair of ceramic candlesticks with tall beeswax tapers, their natural aroma just a faint whisper of honey. Here is the place where I write most everything, my posts and books, scratching away with trusty fountain pen in a French notebook (silky paper that takes ink well). To my right, an English blue and white porcelain cup holds steaming, slightly smoky black tea (surely a bit of lapsang souchong in the blend) from a favourite tea shop in London. Three small, spiced biscuits (not to be confused with cookies) made of almond flour rest on a diminutive plate (they’ll soon disappear), and the slate-blue scarf wrapped round my perpetually chilled neck makes things feel cozy. Promising, even. Apart from the scratching of pen nib upon paper and rhythmic tick tock of the tall grandfather clock presiding in a corner of the main room, the house is silent and still. Somewhere our two English Whippets, the Sussex Duo, are asleep for their sixth nap of the day. 

“Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…”

Earlier today, I gathered up those lumpy little gourds and fairy-size pumpkin, tipping them into the garden compost bin. They’ll be replaced—eventually—with a wintertime table runner, some pinecones, and perhaps a few evergreen boughs and red holly berries as the solstice draws near. In the usual way, a few chosen, handcrafted elements will stand in as this season’s decor: two small ceramic bears with glossy-glazed coats, some delicate wooden snowflakes and curly stars made of birch shavings from Bavaria, and Phillipe, the bristly, rotund, holiday mouse with his jaunty red cap. A bit twee, perhaps, but he has presided tabletop each December for the past dozen years, and shows no inclination of departing any time soon. (Always challenging to get rid of mice.)

I simply cannot face the “holidaze,” with its accompanying clutter, until we officially cross into December. Suddenly, here we are. Similarly with Christmas music, there’s not a stanza or refrain in the house until this day. That said, resistant as I can be, George Winston’s classic holiday piano album, or Loreena McKennitt’s medieval-esque harp composition “Banquet Hall” (from her lovely and understated offering years ago, To Drive the Cold Winter Away), is almost sure to help me finally feel some cheer. These will be the first festive tunes I listen to. Indeed, so smitten was I—still am—with McKennitt’s piece, it inspired me to take up the Celtic harp that I might one day be able to play the song myself. (I am not there yet, though I’m proficient at “Greensleeves” which is always well-suited for this season.)

Admittedly, cheer sometimes seems like a rather tall order at the holidays. Part of the solution, I have discovered, is to keep things as simple as possible—house decorations and gift-giving, included. I really do my best to steer clear of Ebenezer or the Grinch mode, and I’m better at this than years ago. Truly, I am grateful for uncountable blessings, including a warm house (having lived in too many cold, draughty ones) with its gas-lit fireplace, in front of which I often find their Lordships dozing on their bed.

fireplace-whippet
Warm and toasty…

I probably won’t get to it today, the decorating thing. It mostly feels like a chore, even the modest show we put on in this house, and I tend to drag my feet about it. Yet like most jobs or duties, there’s a certain bit of satisfaction after it’s finally accomplished. I prod myself to get this sorted and done by the end of the first week in December, so there will be at least three weeks of festive. Many people observe the custom of keeping decorations and the tree until Twelfth Night or Epiphany, even those who aren’t Christian or religious, but in this house the trappings come down and will be packed away on New Year’s Day. Afterwards, I’ll celebrate our restored, uncluttered environment by enjoying a bowl of warming, homemade soup—my ritual for kicking off another Gregorian calendar year. 

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It is only just teatime (promptly 4:00pm, thank you), but the not-yet-winter afternoon light has already faded and the house is darkening. Snow outside shimmers silver blue, nearly the same as the frozen sky. Despite my lack of enthusiasm and cheer, I’m neither grumpy nor sad, simply a bit uninspired—searching for a bright spark, either in the landscape, heart, or elsewhere. Standing at the dining room window earlier, as I waited for tea leaves to steep, my gaze scanned for any last sparkle reflected from the all-covering blanket, icicles on the trees or hanging from the eaves, as if catching a glint might somehow inspire me. I inhaled a deep breath and focused upon a sense of gratitude; not merely thinking it but feeling it in my chest, consciously building an expansiveness in the core. Then I deliberately dilated it to the periphery of my physical body and beyond—noting a distinct vibrational shift in my entire being and energy field upon doing so. Involuntarily, a gentle smile curled up at the corners of my mouth. Now that feels better.

snowfall-stairs
December arrives in white

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I’ve been carrying the word “bright” in my mind lately, musing on it like a curious, polished stone in the palm. The ancient Greeks, in particular Homer whose classic The Odyssey I’ve recently revisited, highly valued the descriptor. From the root word argos (“glistening, shining”), it implied something more than merely a surface quality, but rather possessing a certain energy and being vividly there. The bright sea. A bright gleam in the eye. The gods descending brightly to Earth. A resurgent energy of life and essence exists in brightness

Reflecting upon it, I suppose that is what I’m looking to glimpse or kindle in these coming December days—a season so often given over to busy-ness and stress, excessive indulgence, and crass consumerism. I long for a sense of bright, as well as genuine celebration in the heart—not simply another glass of effervescent cheer at a holiday gathering. Moreover, nourishment seems to be frequently missing, replaced by copious amounts of refined sugar and saccharine sweetness, instead. 

As a healer, soul nourishment is what I’m after, the same as always—mirroring my ongoing work and giveaway this past decade on both personal and public fronts.

milky-way

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A year ago at this time, I had just released a new book, To Kneel and Kiss the Earth: Inspiration from the Soul Artist Journal. I felt a good deal of cheer in that, for the little collection—a gathering of posts from the SAJ, my once and former e-column/blog—is really all about nourishment. My intent was to deliver another book into the world by now, December at latest (despite that I swore to never again release a book at the holidays due to queues at the Post Office). Well, it’s been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. All I can say is the manuscript is essentially complete—a companion book to my signature 10-week Evolutionary BodySoul program—but due to what I will simply describe as a quantum leap in the past month(s), a major rewrite is currently underway. [Read November’s post, “Evolution: Deep Embodiment & Soul Circuitry”] C’est la vie. Such is the nature of creation and evolution, I know. Moreover, I’ve decided to set the work aside for a spell, allowing the chapters to further incubate and assume their more evolved form. 

In an unforeseen twist, I DO have a fresh book arriving in late winter, if not the one I expected to release. A Life for the Senses, the second compilation from the Soul Artist Journal, rolls off the press in February, 2020. (More about that in a future post.)

In the meantime, lacking a shiny new book in hand as we slowly count down to the winter solstice—my chosen holiday rather than Christmas—I’ll look to other things for a spark of brightness and to celebrate.

Sneak peek adapted from the new book cover

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As a French-trained cook, one place surely I will find that brightness is my regular atelier. I am nearly always most content when puttering in the kitchen: chopping a bunch of freshly pungent herbs, a heavy-lidded pot of something aromatic simmering on the stove—au coin de feu, as the French would say, a nostalgic expression implying the warm sense of hearth, sustenance, and homely goodness. In this house, we’ve entered soup season, full on, and at least three nights a week some sort of potage stars for our simple supper, a handful of favourites repeatedly making the rounds, interspersed with new experiments like tonight’s vivid green creation of blended celeriac, leek, and kale. (Recipe follows at end of post.) Nomads that we are, typically lacking friends or local tribe to gather at table for a holiday feast, there is still an element of celebration, if not necessarily for a gathering of kith and kin. Here let there be good food, made with love. 

It seems almost essential at this time of year that there is something sweet to reach for, yet as a healer who teaches clients how to regenerate body and brain, such treats won’t be anything with refined sugar. Let’s add grain-free, gluten-free, and low carbohydrate to the list of requirements, as well. Bleak and dire this may sound, but I will vouch for the natural, low-glycemic sweeteners as worthy substitutes. (Stevia-sweetened dark chocolate routinely saves the day around here.) I’ve already a half dozen “ketogenic” cookie recipes, such as gingersnaps (absolutely required for the holidays), and have been tinkering with adapting my Rosemary & Pine Nut Biscuits (different than cookies), of which I was once rather proud—a very grown up, sophisticated nibble for tea time. Thankfully, organic butter is not off limits, and the new version is good enough to put a bright spark in my eye again. 

cookies-on-rack
Rosemary and Pine Nut Biscuits for tea time… or any time

A bit of butter in baking aside, I consume little dairy anymore, not even my beloved cheeses (preferably ewe’s or goat’s milk, and very occasionally that from cows). However, I may just indulge myself with a wedge of Colston–Bassett Stilton (exported via Neal’s Yard Dairy in London) spied the other day at Whole Foods Market. “The king of English cheeses,” Stilton has become firmly a part of Christmas for me (as well as for countless thousands in the United Kingdom), and is generally milder and creamier than the other great blues (Roquefort from France, Gorgonzola from Italy, Cabrales from Spain). Despite its gloomy weather, I dearly miss living in England (readers will note my preference for British spellings, style of grammar, and sometimes punctuation), never more so than at the holidays. Having some of that country’s very best, small-farm Stilton seems just the ticket for a savoury taste of cheer.

As things stand, I’m unsure what will star on the table when winter solstice and Christmas arrive (there are two holidays celebrated in this house), especially given that a fresh goose, my favourite festive meal, isn’t available for order, not even from Whole Foods Market. (Where am I living these days?!) Most likely, we’ll have duck, as I know I can get my hands on one that hasn’t been frozen (it’s actually what we dined upon at Thanksgiving). I don’t consume pork or other meat, and I cannot see any reason to cook a turkey, the most uninteresting bird to eat, brined or not. 

Should inspiration find me, tomorrow I’ll haul the singular tall carton of holiday ornaments and decor up from the garage, along with the hobbit-sized faux Christmas tree from Pottery Barn, snug in its box. Whatever column I’m currently writing, I seem compelled each year to share that I stopped purchasing cut trees long ago, as if I need to offer some sort of apology or excuse that our tree—very symbol of the holidays, with misty pagan origins—is fake. I, one opposed to anything artificial (or plastic, for that matter) and whose work centers around soulful authenticity, have a phony tabletop tree at the holidays. Yes, it’s a paradox. One of many. At least where we currently reside, simply opening an exterior door brings a waft of resinous juniper through the house—not that anyone wants a portal open when it’s freezing outside. And it’s still nowhere near the same as a fragrant Christmas spruce, fir, or pine, I admit. 

Still, once the spindly synthetic branches have been adorned with a few deliberately chosen heirloom and childhood ornaments, the tiny white lights switched on, our little tree is modestly festive… in a laughable sort of way. It’s enough. In a world given to excess, where nearly everything is overproduced, I take comfort and reassurance in the simpler things—a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, included. Who knows, perhaps if I dwelt in an imposing house with a grand entry hall I would feel differently, desiring something of more significant stature, but then I’d surely lose the golden thread of keeping things simple. My dear mate has been gently suggesting that perhaps we could go back to a real tree, despite that we don’t even own a stand, nor more than two dozen decorations. Possibly I’ll concede and we can go in search of a living, potted green being at a local garden shop, to be placed outside after the holidays and nested in the cold, dark earth. 

Can we gather all this as soulful nourishment? Yes, I think we must.

The faux Charlie Brown Christmas tree rides again

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Two years ago for this column, I wrote a long and rambling piece (nothing really surprising in that!) titled “A Winter Solstice: Angels Among Us”. Rereading it recently, my inner editor noted that it ought to have been two separate posts. I confess that I knew it at the time, yet given the constraints of writing just once monthly, I wished to share more than simply about the holiday itself. I was reflecting on the higher nature of angels and elevated consciousness of the bodhisattva—one who is able to reach nirvana, but who delays such enlightenment and ascension out of compassion for other sentient beings on Earth—and further, the tremendous difficulty in awakening during a lifetime. (My congratulations and deep admiration to any of you who actually made it all the way to the end of that narrative.) 

Chalk it up to the nature of the season, but I find myself again musing on angels—primarily the ones upon Earth in human form, along with those Ascended Masters and enlightened ones who walk among us. Yes, I assure you, they are here. At risk of again veering far off-course with another near-endless missive like two Decembers ago, let me simply say that angels, whether or not you believe or perceive them to be real, embody what is most bright: love, generosity, protection, guidance, healing, joy and forgiveness. And while they can also be fierce, they personify the highest and most expansive frequencies of the heart; emotions that, when we experience them in our own energy field, trigger the greatest opening and personal evolution. 

In every moment, each of us has the power to choose how we will react or respond to any given stimulus—even when it feels like such a response is largely out of our control, as with patterns of the sympathetic nervous system (fight–flight–freeze) related to trauma. Embodying that choice is the ongoing work to become conscious, to wake from the trance, and evolve into our true, higher nature as creators and beings of pure essence. And light. 

Similarly, we can choose to look for and see goodness. Truly, it is all around. Even something as simple as the little brown-winged sparrows clustered on the branch beyond the window. A crimson-veined orchid blooming in winter. Laughter in the smile of a friend or lover. And I promise you’ll find a great deal more grace and delight once you stop reading headlines and listening to the so-called news.

The more we undertake the deep work to become clear—to heal body and brain, to restore and realign our energy field, to build “soul circuitry” that activates our innate abilities and healing—the more do we become luminous and bright. It isn’t something we can think our way into being; it must be embodied and felt, largely with the tools of breath, sensory awareness, repeated practice, and loving presence. 

bird-in-hand
May all be fed…

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In the coming weeks, as daylight shrinks to its shortest duration and shadows reach full glory, may we recognize the gifts of both. Many times over the years, I’ve written that darkness is not merely the absence of light; it carries its own mysterious powers and attributes, essential for life. Necessary for germination and gestation, whether for a plant seed or an unborn in the womb, its fecundity generates a powerful creativity. 

Personally, this has been the most radically evolutionary year of my life, and much of that transformation has transpired recently as shadows lengthened. We are, collectively, spiraling endlessly forward into the Void of creation and new beginnings—where all possibility and abundance exists in every moment.

What will we dare to bring forward? How will we say yes to our evolution?

Where do we find the bright spark?

On 11 December, the last full moon of this calendar year illuminates the long darkness. And while that celestial body will be but a sliver of glowing pearl when we reach the winter solstice on 21 December, even now there is something to celebrate as we anticipate the arrival of slowly lengthening days in the Northern Hemisphere. 

The light returns. And truly, it is us… especially when we choose to embody it.

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As these year-end holidays gather us in, like old acquaintances we’ve known for ages, here’s hoping that you will find the bright spark. Look for it in each day and night, one moment after the next—within your own heart and the eyes of others. It glimmers in the spirit of this season itself, despite our distractions and outwardly dispersed energies. May you discover it in the joy of giving, and equally in the gift of receiving.

Gentle reader, here’s to celebrating the resurgent energy of life and essence. The brightness of grace. And love.

It might be a tall order, but my wish is that we may all be of good cheer and filled with radiant gratitude like starlight. That your very soul feels nourished by the conscious choices you make daily.

It helps when we keep things simple, I’ll offer. 

Blessed be, friend, and be the light. Merry and bright.

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Celeriac, Leek, and Kale Soup

Americans tend to be unfamiliar with celeriac, a homely, round vegetable closely related to celery (it is often called celery root), but it is a different variety, grown specifically for the root. Blended in a soup, it lends a creamy, velvety texture and earthy taste that I adore. Perfect for a cold winter’s night.

Vivid green! Celeriac, Leek and Kale soup

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or a thick pat of butter, or combination of both

14oz (400g) celeriac, peeled and cut into cubes

1 leek, trimmed, washed, and sliced thinly

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 quart (or litre) of good quality vegetable or chicken stock, preferably homemade

1 bunch of lacinto kale (also known as Tuscan or dinosaur kale), center stems removed, leaves roughly chopped

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Pine nuts, for garnish, optional; toasted, chopped hazelnuts are also nice as a substitute

Grated Parmigiano–Reggiano, or Parmesan, optional

Method:

Peel the celeriac. Rubbing the cut surface with a lemon will prevent it from discolouring, but for this recipe where the root will be blended, this is not essential.

Heat the olive oil or butter (or a combination of the two) in a large, heavy pan over medium heat. Add the sliced leek and a pinch of salt, reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid, and allow to soften/steam until tender, about 7–10 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and stir for a minute or two, then add the celeriac, cooking for a minute or two more. Add the stock and bring the contents of the pan to a high simmer or low boil.

Cook gently for 8–10 minutes until the celeriac is tender, then add the chopped kale. Return to a low simmer, and cook for a further 10 minutes until the kale is softened through. Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool a bit.

Working in batches, purée the soup in a high-speed blender or food mixer until smooth. It will be vivid green! Return the soup to low heat and simmer for an additional five minutes. Taste for seasoning, and add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavours. 

Serve topped with toasted pine nuts (or chopped hazelnuts) and grated Parmigiano–Reggiano atop, if desired. Enjoy!

Nourishment for a cold winter’s night

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