Solstices, Sunsets & Seasonal Living

As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” And whether you love that movie or not (please tell me you do?) I’m pretty sure we can all relate to the concept of time flying (and not just when you’re having fun). Hell, you probably just clocked the date right now and thought about how it’ll be Christmas soon. Then New Year. Then Easter. Then summer again… Then…Excuse me while my head explodes.

We’ve all been there. I definitely have. This time last year there was so much whirling around my over-worked, stressed-out mind that there were moments where I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Life felt like one long episode of Challenge Anneka (sorry if my ’90s TV references are lost on you, millennial friends) but without the crack team of builders and amusing soundman. Work, life, friends, kids, school, diaries, homework, remembering where you parked the car… I mean, whose idea was this whole ‘adulthood’ thing anyway?

One of my main reasons for starting this Mystical Thinking project at the start of 2018, was to try and slow life down a bit, focus in on what really matters and attempt to locate some inner peace. And now I’m nine months in, I feel like I can safely say that it’s worked. There is everything to gain from taking your time, noticing the seasons and adding some ritual and magic to everyday life.

This isn’t about gruelling regimes or hours of chanting (though that’s great too if you fancy it), either. It’s about simply noticing the day the leaves start to turn from green to gold. Or teaching your children that there’s a word for the smell of rain (‘petrichor’ if you’re interested). Or getting up early to watch the sunrise. It’s walking barefoot on green grass, celebrating the solstice or lying beneath a sky full of stars in the dark of the new moon.

You might think life is already peppered with more special events and festivals than you can handle (err, hello, me this time last year). But there’s a big difference between celebrating nature and its seasons and the commercial frenzy of Christmas or Easter, especially if you’re not particularly religious.

There are no presents to buy for the summer or winter solstice and no one expects to be invited round for lunch. The changing seasons, the moon and the stars are ready and waiting whenever you are. And when you start paying attention and really noticing them again, somehow, it feels like time slows down. Or that you have more of it. Or even both. Which is what I was looking for.

Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 19.21.53I’ve put together a list below of some of the seasonal celebrations and rituals that have helped me find my path to inner peace (still a work in progress obvs). But before we get on to that, I should probably make the point that what works for me might not work (or be practical) for you. I’m not being prescriptive… that’s not the Mystical Thinking way. If you have a full-time job with a hellish commute and a baby who wakes you up five times a night some of the ideas below might be impossible.

I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live their life, more hoping that by walking this path, talking about it and putting it out there in words, I might provide a snippet of inspiration to someone going through a hard time. Or help convince an exhausted mother to carve out some time for herself. Or a workaholic to take stock. Or anyone, anywhere to stop and look around…so they don’t miss it.

I started 2018 making vision boards with my daughters on the first full moon of the year (1 January) and I’ll end it watching the sun set on 2018 on the west coast of Sri Lanka. The in between hasn’t always been peace, love and rainbow unicorns but I’ve damned well tried my best.

I’ve set fresh intentions in new moon rituals galore and let all sorts of shit go at the same time. I’ve celebrated the first day of spring, watched the most awe-inspiring lunar eclipse and showed the kids how to maximise their wish-upon-a-star potential during the perseid meteor shower. I’ve planted seeds (literal and metaphorical) and watched them grow, hauled my ass out of bed for some magical sunrises, instagrammed a gazillion sunsets and made lavender bags with my own mini harvest. There might be a few months of this year left to go but I feel safe saying I’ll be welcoming in 2019 with a hell of a lot more inner peace than I had at the start of 2018.

Ready to up your zen factor and join me in my quest to stop time… then read on.

Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 16.38.15STEP ONE: Have a Good Morning

How many times have you watched the sun rise this year? Even in #ayearofmysticalthinking I can count mine on one hand. But those early starts in Skiathos this summer (pictured above and at the very start of this post) where I sat quietly watching the sky turn gold were pure magic. You can’t beat the anticipation of sunrise… a fresh start, a new page, the dawn of day… It’s clearly easier to get up early on holiday on a Greek island but work out where east is and you can watch night turn to day wherever you are in the world.

You don’t even have to get up with the sun to kick start the start of your day. Morning routines have been getting a lot of press recently with the publication of books like Morning by Allan Jenkins and My Morning Routine by Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander (my own Mystical Morning series is coming soon) and a gazillion Instagram accounts extolling the benefits of early rising.

If you’ve got very young children you might want to take a moment to roll your eyes but for the rest of us, the idea of getting up earlier to fit in the things that make life better (meditation, yoga, reading, journaling, quiet cups of tea) makes total sense. There’s a meditative quality to the hours before the rest of the world wakes up that makes it easier to prioritise the personal side of your to do list. And when you start the day knowing you’ve already devoted time to your health and wellbeing, it’s easier to nail the rest of life too.

Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 16.48.20STEP TWO: Celebrate the Seasons

New Year: Make a vision board
January in the northern hemisphere can be tough which makes it an excellent time to invite in some peace and positivity. New Year vision boards are a great way to spend time focusing in on your intentions and goals – I loved making mine at the start of this year. You could even opt to do away with resolutions and the 1 January entirely and save your energy for Halloween (Wiccan New Year!) instead.

Spring Equinox/Ostara: Plant some seeds
There are two equinoxes (in March and September) each year when the sun shines directly on the equator and night and day are almost equal. The Spring Equinox (also known as Ostara in the Pagan/Wiccan calendars; 20 March 2019) heralds the start of longer days in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of spring.

It’s a great time to honour everything you’ve achieved during the winter months and contemplate what you what to bring to life in those that lie ahead. A lovely way to mark this time of year is to get outside and plant something, whether that’s a tree in your garden, a pot on a windowsill or seed-bombing a patch of local wasteland. We went to town on the garden this spring and have been reaping the rewards ever since.

May Day/Beltane: Say it with flowers
More than just a bonus day off work, May Day (or Beltane for Wiccans/Pagans) falls between the spring equinox and the summer solstice and is a celebration of the start of summer. We all know the May Pole tradition but the ancient Celts would often mark the season’s return to light with a bonfire, making this an ideal day to spend time considering what lights your own personal fire.

My favourite May Day tradition, though, is the mostly forgotten art of making small posies of flowers and secretly gifting them to friends and neighbours by leaving them on their doorsteps. A sweet way to anticipate the joy of a summer that lies ahead.

Summer Solstice/Litha: Throw a party
My number one seasonal event! I even got married on the summer solstice (or Litha as its also known) in 2008. The longest day (21 June 2019) is the ultimate high-energy celebration, the most perfect, powerful day to throw a party, run wild in the great outdoors and raise a glass to everything you’ve achieved in the first half of the year.

You could head to Stonehenge (pictured above) or another sacred space to soak up the vibe, fill your house with flowers or gather some friends together to cast a magical summer spell. I love heading out somewhere beautiful on solstice eve, walking barefoot on green grass and watching the sun go down on the longest day.

Lughnasadh/Lammas Day: Bake some bread
An ancient celebration marking the first wheat harvest of the year, Lammas (1 August) falls between the summer solstice and autumn equinox reminding us to celebrate all that we have with a nod to the darker autumnal days ahead. Mark it the traditional way by baking a delicious loaf of bread.

Autumn Equinox/Mabon: Give thanks & let go
The second equinox of the year and one we’re all familiar with thanks to years of school Harvest Festivals. While the start of September can feel like an extension of summer there’s a subtle shift as the month goes on and the days get shorter. The autumn equinox (21 September 2019) or Mabon is a time to give thanks for all we have and let go (like the leaves on the trees) of anything that might be holding us back. It’s a great time to write a list of everything you’re grateful for, appreciate the colours of the turning leaves or just dive right in and hug a tree.

Halloween/Samhain: Celebrate your ancestors
Halloween (31 October) can feel rather commercial these days but step away from the polyester costumes and Haribo and Samhain (or Wiccan New Year) is a wonderful time to pay homage to those that came before us. Go trick or treating if it appeals (let’s face it, if you have kids you’ll have to) but you could also use this night to write a letter to a deceased relative (then ceremonially burn it), ask your spirit guides for wisdom in meditation or just light lanterns and enjoy the vibe.

Winter Solstice/Yule: Light a candle or burn a log
My second favourite seasonal celebration, the winter solstice (21 December 2018) falls on the longest night of the year. It’s a time to cosy up and look within but also a moment of hope as we look forward to lighter brighter days ahead. Yule celebrations mostly involve bringing in the light with candles or bonfires. In Nordic/Pagan tradition this is when the yule log would be lit to celebrate the beginning of the end of winter. Ways to celebrate? Toast marshmallows over a fire, spend the evening by candlelight or let the kids loose on a pack of sparklers left over from Bonfire Night.

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 10.10.04STEP THREE: Make Friends with the Moon

I’ve written a lot about moon phases here and over on my Mystical Thinking Instagram feed. For me it’s one of the easiest ways to tune into the magic of the universe and connect with something bigger. It might be covered in clouds sometimes (a lot of the time if you live in the UK) but the moon is always there and once you get to know its phases there are lots of simple rituals you can use to maximise its transformative powers.

You can read about my favourite rituals for full moons, new moons and everything in between here, but even if that sounds too much for you, it’s enough to simply notice the moon. Pay attention to the extra light of a bright full moon, witness the slow ebbing away as it wanes, embrace the fresh start of a dark new moon and the increasing glow as it waxes towards fullness again. Getting outside to gaze at the sky and bathe in moonlight once in a while is the simplest of sacred pleasures and costs nothing at all.

Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 16.39.06STEP FOUR: Create Your Own Rituals

Once you get into celebrating the earth and its seasons you’ll come across lots of talk of rituals and ceremonies. Some are simple enough but others (spells, magic, circles) can seem rather full on to the uninitiated. I think there’s definitely space for all of this stuff in a Mystical Thinking life but if the more witchy side of feels like a stretch too far there are still plenty of ways to embrace the power of ritual. Mostly because ANYTHING can be one. And anything you turn into a ritual offers you the space to pause, take stock and slow things down.

Think of something you do everyday that you also love… it might be applying your make up, reading your children a story or that first cup of tea in bed. Now turn that thing into something sacred and untouchable. Crave out time for it and make it special. Create a beautiful and inspiring space to play with eye colours and lip gloss…ring fence that story time so you never rush through it again… choose to savour that cuppa out of your most beautiful mug with a scented candle lit by your side. Don’t brush any of this stuff off as frivolous or something you can only enjoy when you have time. Make it as essential as loading the dishwasher or taking out the recycling.

Alternatively just try adding a short walk (ideally in nature) to your everyday. Re-route through the park on the way to the station, get outside at lunchtime, pop out for a quick stroll round the block after your kids are in bed (assuming there’s someone else to look after them)… A simple ritual like this will connect you to the changing seasons as you watch the bulbs flower or leaves turn gold or 7pm slowly turning from dark to light.

Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 16.37.49STEP FIVE: Good Nights

We started all this by upgrading our mornings so it’s only right we also attempt to put the good back into our nights. Taking time to watch the sun set (far easier than getting up at dawn, right?) is always a good plan if you want to take life more slowly and appreciate the natural world. Stop waiting for holidays to savour that sundowner.

Then there’s bedtime. I don’t want to be the millionth person to tell you to put your phone down, quit that 3pm coffee and sprinkle lavender oil on your pillow, but do all of it already, will you? Swap late night TV for a great book, go to bed an hour earlier, try a warm scented bath, meditate, breathe, give thanks… Turn the last moments of your day into a life-enhancing ritual and in good time the rest will follow.

Images: myself, Stonehenge OfficialHello Emilie, Le Fawn HawkWine & Chill, Les Parisiennes du Monde

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