The change of seasons can bring in more than a shift in temperatures and sunlight. Over the years, I’ve noticed a pattern around the spring and fall equinox: people also make changes in their lives. Sometimes these are small things – they choose to get healthier, they clean (or purge) their houses, they finally boot a toxic human out of their inner circle, etc. Sometimes the changes are large, though. People shift careers, end long term relationships, step back from organizations they were deeply committed to, physically relocate… Add to that the seasonal affective disorders beginning to act up for various folks and you have a recipe for a very bumpy season.
Even when we are not directly in the blast radius of a big change, holding space for others and supporting the journey of those we love can be challenging. Friendship means nothing if it will not pass through darkness, and no passage through darkness is easy.
So, how do we stay grounded and centered when the world changes? How do we hold space for others without getting sucked in ourselves?
I have some ideas that spring from many years as a self-described ‘foul weather friend.’ I’m not always the first choice for happy stuff, but when everything shatters, I’m the one that gets that phone call. If you’re not already familiar with spiritual hygiene, I recommend you start there. These practices stack on top of those. They’re useful for those of us holding space as well as those of us in the middle of a big transition.
1) Narrow your focus
This one is especially useful if you are in the blast radius of a big shift. When I was in Marine Corps boot camp twentyish years ago, there was a saying: ‘Chow to chow and mail call to mail call.’ What was meant by that was not to focus on getting through boot camp. Focus instead on just the next few hours. Just make it to the next meal. To the end of the work day. To the next time you climb into bed. Then do the same thing the next day. Don’t worry about the big picture. Don’t even think about it. Just survive till the next pause.
Let some things go. You don’t need to do all the usual activities right now. Dishes, cleaning, and tidying can wait, non-essential emails and communications as well. Do what absolutely must be done, but make space for what you’re feeling. Make space for being a lump on the couch or bed. When we break a limb, we rest it. When we take a mental, emotional or spiritual wound, we need to allow ourselves rest as well. If you are doing some heavy lifting around holding space for others, this definitely applies to you. I keep some premade frozen food in my freezer and some microwavable curries in the pantry for exactly this situation.
2) Know your comforts and tap into them
This is good information to have in your back pocket at all times regardless of situation. Know what makes you feel better or puts you back into your body. I’m a sensations person. For me, the thing that works best as a reward or comfort is something involving my body: getting a massage, going for a float in an isolation tank, sitting in the sauna at the gym, or just being cuddled by my beloved (or by my friends – puppy piles are awesome). Touch makes me feel better. Things that soothe my muscles make me feel better.
People vary when it comes to comfort and reward. For some of us, it’s special food. Maybe a recipe your grandfather used to make (get that recipe or something close to it and keep it on hand) or visiting a particular restaurant. For some of us, it’s acquisition – buying something we do not need but would like to have: clothing or home décor or jewelry. Know inexpensive ways to address this. I’m a big fan of Goodwill, thrift shops and online used goods retailers.
I figured out what kind of comfort I need based on trial and error. Try a couple different things you enjoy and see how you feel afterward. The one that makes you feel the best is the type of comfort that works the best for you.
I also have a running list of ‘mental comfort food.’ These are books and movies that I can read or watch repeatedly. Many people do this on some level. So, if that’s you, keep a copy of those movies handy. Put them on when you need them. Even if you’re not paying full attention to them, that familiarity and safety will be happening around you. Put your comfort books, comics or graphic novels out where you can easily get to them. Read your favorite parts when you’re resting.
You have your comfort food, I have mine.
Setting up comfort can take be environmental, too. One of my dear friends has been known to turn their entire living room into a nest – they make a big pile of pillows, blankets and cushions hemmed in on a couple sides by couches. Another friend legit builds themselves a blanket fort at times. For most of us, softer lighting is comforting. Light candles in the evening and reduce the amount of artificial light in the room. Grab your snuggly blanket and put it on the couch. Make your environment safe, comfortable and conducive to rest and healing. Hygge it up.
3) Ground. A lot.
The Pagans will already know how to do this one, but if you do not, this is a way to recenter and stabilize yourself. Soften your gaze or close your eyes, take slow, deep breaths, and imagine roots spreading out and down from your feet (or whatever part of your body is touching the floor or ground) into the earth below you. Let them reach deep – imagine them passing through rock and loam, through crystal and cavern. Let them touch groundwater, or perhaps go even deeper to find the warm earth closer to the center of the planet. Allow the strong, stable energy of the earth to make its way up to you through your roots. Let that energy fill you, heal you. Repeat as necessary.
Learn to Earthwalk. This technique comes out of Chris Penczak’s Inner Temple series. When you walk your dog, or anytime you have an opportunity to get out and stretch your legs, begin to breathe slowly and deeply. As you do so, begin to visualize the starting point of that breath drifting lower – breathe from your belly, then your hips, then your legs, then your feet. Then, shift that origin point even lower – breathe from a foot beneath the earth. Or two feet. And as you walk, simply hold that visualization – that you are breathing from within the earth itself.
A variation of this exercise can be done seated as well, and can go even deeper. With the seated variation, breathe from 6 feet below the surface, then 9, then more. Breathe from the deep waters beneath the earth. You might even be able to get to the point of breathing from the molten core.
4) Set boundaries
I can feel you rolling your eyes, you know. Yes, I know I talk about boundaries a lot. There’s a reason for it, though. The same way the lines on the road keep us from drifting into each other, boundaries keep everyone in their respective ‘lanes.’ The boundary I’m talking specifically about here is your ‘on’ vs ‘off’ time. If you are holding space for another person’s transformation, set some ‘off’ times. You need to recharge, too. This is where sharing care with other people can help: ‘I’m going to be out of touch for a couple hours, but our friend (name) is around and would love to help. If you need anything before I get back, please reach out to them.’
And, if you’re tapped out, here’s a magical phrase I learned from another minister: ‘I am so sorry, but I’m not able to be emotionally present with you the way I would like to right now. I’ll be available on (time/day). Let’s reconnect then.’
Being an effective foul weather friend means being able to psychologically hold space for another person while they’re in trauma. It’s hard – it’s emotionally draining care. Know that going in and plan for how you’re going to manage the load as well as what your ‘off’ hours need to be.
5) Adapt your spiritual practice
My witchcraft is utterly drenched in yoga, so for me, using repeating mantras and chants when I’m either in transition or supporting someone else’s transition is very effective. One of my favorites is a Green Tara mantra: om tare tuttare ture svaha. I pair that with a lotus mudra at heart center. The mudra invites compassion and divine blessing. This use of repeating phrase plus gesture can be adapted for almost any practice. Pagans might find a centering chant useful here – Air I Am or Now I Walk in Beauty, for instance (small chant library here). While chanting, you can place your hands over your heart or over the part of your body where you’re feeling the most vulnerable/tapped out.
Add a healing focus to your altar or sacred space. This can be as simple as a blue candle or a bowl of fresh water or as elaborate as a complete spell or ritual. Remember that as you are healing others, you must also heal yourself. If you work with a Pantheon, use this as a time to improve your relationship to the Powers of comfort and healing. Make offerings to Them and include Them in your prayers and dedications.
Lean into the web. Star Wars got pretty close to the truth – there is an energy field that connects all sentient things, an energetic layer to physical reality. I perceive it as similar to a spider’s web with prana/chi/life force flowing through the different connecting lines. We are surrounded by it constantly, so it’s easy to forget that it’s there. Become aware of it again and then connect to it. Let it nurture you; let it hold you when you need it.
6) Reach out
Along with the energetic web, we are surrounded by a web of human connection. Now is the time to reach out to friends, family and community. Let the people who love you help you, even if that help is simply getting a coffee or talking through a particular situation with you. Reaching out can include professional help as well. Depending on what’s happening with you, maybe talking to a counselor or therapist would be good. Or, maybe you need to talk to a financial planner or career adviser. Remember, there’s an entire world of ‘helpers’ out there. My social circle includes life coaches, hypnotherapists, professional organizers, priestxs, witches, shamans and wild folk of varying paths. Your social network may contain resources you hadn’t even considered. Reach out and see who can help. You’ll be amazed at what your friends know how to do.
That’s it. Just breathe. Breathe deeply, breathe slowly. Take mini-meditation breaks and give yourself a couple minutes of deep, slow breaths several times a day. Use a count if you’d like. If you make your exhale longer than your inhale, it will help your body relax further. One of my favorite patterns is to inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 6 and hold for a count of 4. And remember, one minute of deep breathing is better than none. When everything is changing around you, finding little moments to deepen, reconnect and center is part of how to get through the day in one piece.
So, those are my suggestions. What are yours? When everything goes haywire in your life, or in the lives of your loved ones, how do you help? How do you stay centered? Hit me up in the comments.
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