Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 21 seconds.
I spent a portion of time yesterday at Cinqwani, our sacred ground on the southern ridge of Kalien commemorating the Winter Solstice. I have constructed a giant Mandala (aka Native American Medicine Wheel) of rocks gathered from every corner of our land. It is pictured below.
Seasonal changes are essential now that Christian services are no longer a part of my life. These rituals are crucial to my spirit because the repetition of enacting each ceremony provides a level of comfort and familiarity; a time of contemplation, and an opportunity to demonstrate reverence for being in the moment as time goes by.
My upcoming book “The Loss of Belonging: Ten Steps To Finding a New (and Better) Tribe” outlines a detailed step-by-step process of utilizing the symbolism of the mandala to explore our inner resources of emotions, values, wisdom, and strength. This time-honored tool connects me deeply with myself and helps me trust my thoughts and feelings. This ritual reminds me that even though I am a flawed human, I am capable of many beautiful things. The symbolism refutes my religious indoctrination of original sin, of being depraved, weak, dependent, and foolish.
This regular exploration and celebration of my self using the mandala reminds me that I am once again capable of singing, playing, laughing, intimacy, sensuality, fantasy, curiosity, and enjoying a life journey, a quest, that is wide and full of wonder, confident only of mystery and surprise.
Here is a very brief explanation of my winter solstice celebration yesterday. The mandala at Cinqwani is an outer circle divided into equal quadrants. It has an inner circle at the center with a fire pit. All of this is clearly outlined on the ground with rocks of varying sizes.
The four equal sections (or tetrads) are symbolic of the essential aspects of my self. The center circle represents my existential purpose. Carl Jung describes it as individuation. This daunting term means merely the lifelong project of becoming more nearly the whole person we were meant to be—what the gods intended, not our parents, religion, education, or society.
The symbolism of the mandala is multi-layered. It has infinite possibilities based on the makeup of each individual person. For example, the sections represent the four aspects of self, the four seasons, the four natural elements, the four directions, the four stages of life, and on and on. As one spends time in focused contemplation, the symbols provide an astounding look at the mystery and wonder of our inner being.
It has helped me stop fighting with “sin” and has allowed my goodness and kindness to emerge, while still leaving room for imperfection and mistakes. It has taught me to be kind to myself and has given me the ability to forgive myself. I have realized it is only after forgiving and being kind to myself can I truly forgive and show kindness to others.
The mandala has taught me to be comfortable in my body, and to fully experience the sensual richness of daily life. And as I embrace and engage with life in this manner, my purpose and meaning in life, the reason for my existence has gradually begun to emerge and come into focus.
For my personal self, the quadrants of the mandala have come to represent my body, soul, mind, and spirit. After devoting much time and thought, I have placed the aspect of my soul in the winter quadrant and have located it in the northwest section, and it is represented by the natural element fire. I have placed the aspect of my body in the autumn quadrant and have located it in the southwest section, and it is represented by the natural element earth.
There is much of interest to discuss about the reasoning behind the placements and the symbolism, and that is why my book is forthcoming. It will contain graphs and charts and paintings to illustrate the previous paragraph visually.
The beauty of the formation of a personal mandala is that it relies entirely on your inner vision. The possibilities are infinite and unique. This differentiates the mandala from any other personality assessment I have used, such as the Enneagram, Meyers-Briggs, DISC, and Shape. The symbolism forms a complete structure and visual picture of the inner self.
The symbolism is infinite as well. Yesterday, I placed one foot in the autumn quadrant and one in the winter quadrant representing the winter solstice. As I stood there, memories flooded my thoughts as I looked around at the other quadrants of the mandala. For me, the southeast quadrant represents Spring, and I thought about the first quarter of my life from age 0-25. So full of ambition and energy. The beginning of a family, a career, and the birth of my children occurred in that quadrant.
Demographically, at age 60, I am a little less than halfway along in the autumn quadrant that I feel occurs between the ages of 50-75. So the winter solstice represents the future for me demographically when I reach the age of 75. I thought about the white blanket of snow that will soon cover the earth here—so symbolic of my hair turning white. As the wind (which is the natural element that represents my spirit) blew through the treetops, it gave me hope for a vibrant winter of life.
I thought about my father-in-law Jerry who is approaching his 95th year. He is still very much alive and his spirit unquenched by the ravages that time has wrought upon his body. I could hear the birds singing throughout the woods symbolizing the vibrancy and life in the winter despite the barren trees and ground.
Winter has come for my father-in-law, but my parents have barely stepped into the winter quadrant from autumn. At age 78 they are literally straddling the two quadrants as I did yesterday.
Winter has come at Kalien. It is far more apparent here than at our home at the beach. The distinct change of seasons here in the mountains of Tennessee is one of the reasons I love it so, and it is why this portion of land, the 20 acres at Cinqwani will never be sold or forested.
The words of Montaigne and Nietzsche and the American Transcendentalists have so much wisdom to offer about the autumn and winter of life. I’m grateful for them. As I stood there yesterday celebrating the solstice, I voiced a pledge to soak their writings into the wallpaper of my life as I go forward.
So many thoughts, so many symbols. And that, my friends, is why ritual is so important. In the immortal words of Sansa to Jon Snow at the end of the sixth episode of “Game of Thrones,” WINTER HAS COME.
The moment of truth is here. The story of my life has reached the tipping point. After the total loss of belonging that comes from leaving the fold of religious fundamentalism and evangelicalism, I am finally finding a new (and better) tribe.
Again, a quote from Game of Thrones, “When the snows fall, and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”
The stage is set for two battles—one for purpose, and one for the meaning of life itself. It is a strange proclamation—one part contentment for finally becoming who I really am, one part mourning for the family I have lost, one part consolation for having found a soulmate and a new tribe, and one part nervous anticipation at the mystery that lurks in the coming winter of life.
I love this quote by Paul Theroux: “Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.” That is especially true for me this winter.