On Friday I woke to a radio program about ceremonies people create for themselves. A caller described a women’s winter solstice ceremony she had been conducting for some years. The Winter Solstice marks the moment when more light begins to fill your days. It is the beginning of a new cycle of growing then diminishing sunlight – it’s the nadir. The caller’s ceremony involved acknowledging the events of the past year and letting them go while looking ahead to future plans. It got me thinking.
I’m so keen to close the door on the past year – to set aside both what was bad and what was good and say of it all: done. Let more light shine, let new challenges present themselves, let’s go. I began to mull over a little ceremony for myself.
Of course the winter solstice in Sydney is not exactly a short, dark, cold day. Anything but – we had a gloriously sunny warm weekend. As a one-time resident of colder climes I find Sydney’s winter deliciously decadent and I was happy to incorporate the next beach in our tour into my Solstice plans.
Great Mackerel Beach is about 50 kilometres from home. It took just shy of three hours for me to get there by train, bus and ferry. The beach is backed by a small community of mostly-holiday homes – no shops, no cafes, just the beach and a few houses.
When I arrive other passengers from the ferry make their way up the beach to the walking track into Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and an elderly man is fishing with his grandson, otherwise the beach is deserted.
The ceremony I settled on is this: I will take a few minutes to write down all the bad stuff which has happened in this past year – and then burn it; I will then write all the good stuff – and burn it too.
The thing about ceremonies is you don’t know if you’ll feel different for doing them, you just do them as a way to mark something. I didn’t really expect to feel differently for having burned some bits of paper.
After the ceremony I went for a long walk in the National Park. The first long walk by myself in the bush in way too long. The last was probably in December when I visited Uluru. And I have to admit to feeling released, feeling like that the past year was really over that I could say “Right that’s done now, what’s next?” and mean it.
It helps to feel fresh air in my lungs and my body working hard; it helps to look out to a turquoise-to- lapis-lazuli sea which glistens in the sharp sunlight of Sydney’s winter.
The walk takes me to a shelter used by Aboriginal people for thousands of years and also a site of Aboriginal rock carvings. I sit on a rock in the sun and think of how long people have sheltered here – experiencing love and loss, the rising and falling of hopes.
Such places help me put things in perspective: my problems are not original or unique to humanity, my life is but one infinitesimally small strand in the story – what I say and do is unlikely to matter much beyond me and the people I know and love. And that, for me, is both a liberating idea and one that brings the focus back on making the most of my time and not stressing too much about the concerns, the rules, and the expectations of others.
As I walk I think about plans for the future and commitments I might make to myself about the coming year. I’m not looking for resolutions or to-do lists but something more general and here’s what I come up with:
To cherish and nurture my existing friendships and leave my heart open to beginning new ones; and to cultivate habits which are in alignment with my values and serve my goals.
That’s it – a pretty good way to think about life, for me, for now.
Great Mackerel is in the Pittwater Council LGA, Pittwater State electorate (Rob Stokes, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Mackellar (Bronwyn Bishop, Liberal).