Stepping Into The New YearTiffany Freeman (Harper)
December 22, 2022
Looking through a frosted window at a dreamy winter scene; I see a carpet of white blanketing the ground, snow-covered branches, and the tracks of the four legged’ s left behind as they search for green beneath them. The fire is warm inside, stoked, and the kettle is on keeping the teapot flowing.
For much of Canada, winter is the longest season; the temperatures can drop early in the fall and take their time raising up the mercury well into the spring. It is the time of our darkest days and longest nights with the winter solstice being the peak of that time. As we approach the new year, each day brings a promise of change as the sun rises just a little earlier and stays out longer with each passing day.
Winter, known as pipon (pee-pun) in Swampy Cree, traditionally is observed as a time of rest; it is a time to replenish one’s energy as observed within all aspects of nature. The energies of plant and tree beings have gone deep within to their roots, maskwa the black bear is in their winter lodge, and the bustling energy of the warmer days has quietened.
During the long nights the stars shine brightly, particularly the Pleiades constellation, atchakos ahkoop, or the Star Blanket or the Seven Sisters, reminding us of the traditional stories of our origins, our connections to the natural world, and the great mystery. The dark days are the time of telling stories and sharing with each other and our communities. They are respected as a special opportunity to – like the energies of the plants and trees – go deep within.
A time of going within
Looking across our Northern hemisphere to our relatives in China, the winter is also the time of going within. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), winter represents the north direction, the time of the darkness and cold, and the season ruled by the Kidneys. The darkness and cold remind us to move slowly through the world, to find warmth and rest. In TCM, the Kidneys are the source and root of all the Qi (loosely translated as Energy) of our bodies; it is continuously supplemented and nourished by what we take in until we die. The origins of Kidney energy are rooted in the time that we are conceived; it is a mixture of both our parents’ Kidney energies and of what is translated as cosmic, heavenly or star energy. And just like many traditional cultures of this land, known by my ancestors as Turtle Island, we are made of the stars, and we witness that special connection more closely in the dark winter skies.
Winter time is the most Yin of all seasons and therefore is the deepest or most inward; it is in relation to the Summer’s energies which are Yang. Yin is nutritive, it represents the structure or substance that makes up our unique and finally tuned bodies. Yang is the active part; it is metabolic, animated or energetic; Yang is the animation of the body, but it can not be present without Yin, or substance. The winter season gives us a special time to nourish within, to build Yin, or engender our whole body Qi (as well our Kidneys) with whole foods, warming foods and rest. In order to be present and full of active energy in the spring and summer we need that substance, Yin, to give a home for Yang or active energy.
Much like our bodies need rest and regeneration, so does our spirit. maskwa, the black bear, enters their lodge for a winter’s rest; the darkness of the den represents what is translated as the void, a dark place in which you can not see directly in front of you. The darkness of that space, or the void, is a place where it is said that nothing and also everything exists at the same time. It is the place of unlimited creation and possibilities, and is also the space in which we can let down the things that are no longer supporting us. One could say it is a place of renewal. So the dark days of the wintertime give us a special opportunity to go within, to renew our spirit, and ignite creative possibilities.
Finding strength in community
While the bear rests and renews the Bison (or Buffalo) of the North direction stands and faces the North wind head-on, teaching us of resilience, our innate power and strengths. But the Bison are not alone on their journey; it lives within a community that supports one another. Bison’s strength is supported by the herd and kinship; it teaches us to stand within our own power, but also that it takes a community. Our communities help nourish us by what we can share with each other.
Looking back out at the wintery scene through the frosted windows, a journal appears. I draw out what possibilities I would like to create for myself and ponder how that will be supportive to the community that also supports me. I am reminded that our animal relatives, the stars and the darkness, teach us to be still, to rest and restore our energies. The darker days give us the space to nourish our bodies which enables us to have a solid base for growth. We are reminded of the importance of community support and that our ancestors are watching over us. For this I give thanks and gratitude.
As the New Year approaches and the warmer days are on the horizon, it is the time to dream up our creative possibilities, to nourish our bodies, and our communities. On ocēmi kīsikāw, New Year’s Day, prepare to step out of your hibernation slowly, stand knowing that you are supported by your ancestors and prepare to walk out renewed with the creative forces within!
Happy New Year to you, to your family and communities!
askîy maskihkiwiskwew, Tiffany Freeman (Harper)