Hygge in Dangerous Times

Hygge – the Danish art of chilling out and feeling relaxed, comfortable, cosy and safe, has had a real run for its money in 2020. With so much media and so much fear (rightfully so) due to so many deaths, especially here in the UK and also in the US, feeling safe and secure has been out of our reach for many, many months. Those of us who have had to shield for various reasons, and who are still doing so, feel our anxiety rise every time we have to engage with the public – for my husband and I, that’s food shopping and pretty much it. We haven’t had any other face to face contact with others for over six months because of my husband’s medical conditions, and my surgery and recovery this summer. We will still be extra careful, up until there is a vaccine.

P1020204 (2)While you can hygge by yourself, and this is my favourite hygge, there is a lot to be said for social hygge. Indeed, for many who do not have solitary, feline souls, the social aspect of hygge is hygge. Getting together with friends around the dining table, having coffee and cake, talking and reminiscing is what it’s all about. But in these strange times, getting together with friends is a real challenge, and for some, not an option.

CthulhuI thought I was doing okay without the social interaction. I have my husband and my cats, and Skype my family once a week, and talk to my mother on the phone as well. We’ve re-started our Saturday roleplaying sessions online (Cthulhu on the Roll 20 platform) and I call my friends weekly just to have a chat. While I was recovering from surgery, a couple of friends came by to drop off care packages and we had a small chat (me at the door, they in the driveway). I thought it wasn’t too bad, as I’m such a solitary creature anyway. But something last week made me realise just how much social interaction is an important part of my life and hygge.

It was my friend Lisa’s birthday at the end of July, and Michelle’s last week, with mine this week. We decided to get together for a socially distanced cuppa and some cake in my back garden. I unlocked the side gate so they could come over without entering the house, and we sat in the shade and talked, watching the hawks circle overhead and the house martins doing their aerial acrobatics. We caught up on each other’s lives, talked about the huge changes and how we are coping. We drank some lovely tea (Chakra Balance from Woodbridge Emporium) and ate some cake. We also exchanged presents and just enjoyed each other’s company for an hour and a half.

Afterwards, when I got back in the house (and washed my hands) I stood in the kitchen and looked out the window to where we had been sitting. I felt a release in my chest, where a tightness had been that I had not noticed until that moment. A long, shuddery breath ensued, the kind that you get after a good, long cry, when the diaphragm spasms and your chest calms down. And that’s when I realised it, that I needed the physical, social interaction too, more than I ever knew.

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That feeling of release, after spending time with friends who I had not socialised with in person for over six months, really hit home. It was a physical sensation, as well as a mental one. It pointed out that while video chats, phone calls and social media are great for keeping people together on a regular basis during a pandemic, there is no real substitute for that face to face interaction.

xmas 2015 2Who knows how much longer it will be before we are able to have that easy interaction again? I haven’t seen my family in Canada for over a year, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to return. That really hurts deep down. My parents’ 50th wedding anniversary had to be cancelled, and who knows if I’ll be able to make it in 2021 when they’ve rescheduled. It’s not until a vaccine has been tried and tested that I can travel safely and visit my friends and family, and that is a hard thing to bear when you haven’t had a hug from your mom for a long, long time.

But we do the best we can. We need to find the hygge still, in a safe and responsible way. We need to feel safe and secure, with family and friends, for our own well-being. We have to abstain where it is dangerous, and take extra precaution in any face to face encounter. It’s hard to hygge in that way, but maybe there is a new form of hygge that will develop out of this: one that can see us through until we can meet each other safely and securely without the threat of illness or death hanging over our heads.

P1030412 (2)So I’m practicing careful hygge right now, socially-distanced hygge in the garden with a select few folk. Small steps while we navigate our way through this pandemic, and keep everyone safe. And while there is still anxiety about any social interaction, I can counter-balance that with some solitary hygge: time spent in silence and stillness, watching the sunset, or having a cup of tea and listening to some piano music. Cooking a birthday cake to celebrate 46 turns around the sun, and eating it with great pleasure with my husband and a glass of champagne. Holding hope in my heart that I will be able to see my family soon, and know that their love and the hygge that awaits at my mother’s kitchen table can exist in my mind and in my heart until I can experience the real thing.

So hygge carefully, my friends, and I hope that you manage to find some safety, security and well-being in this difficult times. May you find that little space of sanctuary each and every day, to help you through until we can meet again.

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Pagan Hygge

Hygge is a wonderful word. But it’s more than a word; it’s a feeling.

candle 2Hygge (pronounced hue-gah or hoo-gah) was originally a Norwegian word, meaning “wellbeing” that was adopted by the Danes in the early 1800’s. Nowadays, it’s a very important word to describe a feeling of comfort, security, warmth, friendship, cosiness and more. In today’s world, we need that more than ever.

The Danes are experts at creating hygge. Much like the Druid searches for inspiration, the Danes quest for hygge. I too work to create feelings of hygge, to nourish the hygge in my home and with my friends and family, even as I quest for the awen, for inspiration from the natural world as to how to live my life with honour and integrity, as a fully functioning part of an ecosystem. For me, the two can work hand in hand.

Hygge is the simple things in life. Things that make you have that warm, fuzzy hyggelig feeling. Things that bring you joy. Small things. “Unimportant” things. It’s paying attention to the moment, right now, and appreciating it for all its worth. So, what things am I talking about here?

knitted socksFireplaces. Candles. A cup of tea. Warm knitted socks. Petting a cat. Sitting outdoors watching the sunset. Walking quietly in a woodland. Picnics on the beach. Barbeques in the garden. Gathering with friends in a cosy pub. A family birthday party with lots of cake and laughter.

Hygge is nourishing the soul. We very much need this nourishment, for in our Western lives we run ourselves ragged. It’s not hard to see why the Danes are the happiest  people in the world. They cultivate hygge regularly. They know the importance of being with family, of leaving work at 5pm to cook dinner and eat together at the dining table. Of working 40 hours a week or less. Of a welfare system that makes everyone feel secure, paid for with higher taxes. A free university education that benefits from these higher taxes as well. A sense of security, of well-being. Given that they live in a very challenging place, where the winter months have precious few hours of sunlight, they have strived to create that sense of security and safety in their homes, in bars, even at work. They’re doing it right.

I practice hygge. I sit in my conservatory after work, or outside in the sunshine with a cup of tea, smelling the air with a cat by my side. My morning cup of coffee is a silent ritual, sitting at the dining table with incense and candles lit in the autumn and winter months. I cook as often as I can, with local produce that nourishes not only the body but P1070068 (1024x768)the soul. I welcome my friends over, have a spare pair of warm socks should they need them, cookies and teas or coffees at the ready. I light a candle and say prayers to my lady Brighid every morning at her shrine next to my fireplace, and give thanks for my many blessings. In my home, I want people to feel welcome, to feel safe in my little sanctuary. My work with the goddess Nemetona greatly helped me to appreciate all that sanctuary includes, and the importance it plays in all our lives. Gratitude and sanctuary are what we so desperately need.

With the threat of nuclear war, with the instability of Brexit, with floods and landslides and earthquakes and other natural disasters around the world, with capitalistic consumption and greed running rampant, it’s not hard to see why we are so unhappy. But we can change our own little space, creating space as well for others to appreciate the little things, in the spirit of hygge.

These little things become the most important things, and hopefully our actions will ripple out across the web of existence, with more and more people coming to understand the joys and wonders of hygge.

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Face to Face or Phone to Phone?

phoneSocial media today has led, as many are probably aware, to a serious decline in face to face interaction.  We are a social species, and everyone needs a little social interaction.  What I am discovering more and more is that people are forgetting, or never even learning, the niceties of a social situation – standing in line at the fairtrade coffee house and actually making eye contact with the person in front/behind you, maybe even smiling and talking to them.  I think we all, to a certain degree, need a little social interaction – face to face, even if we are self-proclaimed “not a ‘people person’”.  We are in dire peril of losing all our social graces. And yes, I do realise the slight hypocrisy of making my views aware on an online blog. 🙂

Last month when I went out to dinner with my husband and father in law, I noticed a couple at the table next to us.  They barely said two words to each other – either one or both spent most of the time on their mobile phones – not talking to other people on the phone, but presumably doing something with an app, or most likely checking social network sites.  I was truly saddened by this.  How many people spend their lives, head down, looking at a small screen to catch up with the latest? What about the world going on around them?

A few months before, in a crowded bar my friend and I asked to join a couple of lads at their table, as there were none free and my back was hurting – I needed to sit down.  They kindly agreed, and spent most of the time talking to themselves – fine, I wasn’t looking for conversation with them at any rate.  However, when one went to the bar to get drinks for the both of them, and my friend was also at the bar, I was left alone with one of the lads.  As soon as he was left alone, he went head down to his phone, completely ignoring everything and everyone around him.  Same thing happened at my local pub, sitting at the bar and chatting with the bartender and the bloke next to me – as soon as she left to get an order the bloke next to me put his head down and went straight for the phone.  Why go the pub at all?

What I worry about is the ability to interact with people in real life situations seriously declining.  Mere politeness is on the decrease, as any walk down a busy London street can testify.  I’m not expecting an ethical debate on animal testing, or politics, or whatever from someone standing in line with you, but what I would like to suggest is to put down the phone and at least acknowledge the person near you. Or at the very least, put the device away when you are walking down the street – a friend of mine nearly got run over last year because he was checking his phone.  How many phone related accidents do we need to hear about? Be aware of your surroundings.

One of my work colleagues told me of his New Year’s resolution last year, which I thought was brilliant.  He resolved to never pretend to not “see” somebody – to always acknowledge.  He thought it was really empowering  and I could see why – even when someone has pretended not to see you, you still go up and say “hi!”.  This most basic acknowledgement is such a small, yet significant thing.

Life is happening all around these people who are addicted to their phones, or tablets – using them to block out the world, or to avoid a social situation in which they are not comfortable. But really – it’s not that hard.  Someone isn’t going to bite your head off for smiling at you as you pass them in the street, or waiting in line at the shops.  Even if you are terribly shy – just try it.

I do wonder if there is a serious mobile phone addiction – a couple of days ago I saw a young couple walking out the door of a local recreational pool, both with phones in hands in case anyone should ring them – ready to answer at a moment’s notice.  Are they really that important? Are the callers? What about each other? Is this not a statement that whoever might ring them is more important than the person they are currently with, in person?

I’m sure I have some sympathisers – people who hate it when they go out to the pub or for coffee with a friend, and the friend puts the phone down on the table, right in front of them, face up, in case they receive a Facebook notification, an email or a call.  When I am with someone, I am with them. Fully. I think that anything less is rude, and a little saddening – judgement call, I know.  I really am attempting to understand rather than judge, but I realise I am failing in understanding – unless it truly is an addiction.  What do you think? Are people addicted to their phones? If so, isn’t there something we should do about it?

Lives are being wasted away.  If you are a person who always has their phone on, may I suggest you turn it off for a day, then two, then a week.  See if you have truly missed anything.  Don’t check Facebook for a day, then two, then a week, and again – did you really miss anything?  Be with the person you are with.  Acknowledge others around you.  Take that damned phone off the table and look the person in the eye.  Be there. Awake. Aware.

Dreaming it all up again

The winter solstice is coming up – a time for many across the world to celebrate, whatever their spirituality, if they are religious or not.  For many pagans, and many Druids, the winter solstice is an especially important time of the year, marked in the public eye by the historic landmarks such as Newgrange or Stonehenge.

But it’s the more private celebrations that call to me at this time of year.  Tired after a long year of hard work (with over 30 performances from our dance company, as well as workshops, classes, and filming dvds, on top of writing the next book, Zen Druidry, and oh – yes, my marketing job for a music company…) I am really, really, really looking forward to a couple of week’s rest at the end of December.

This is a time of year when I really connect with my European ancestors and gods – Frigge, the lady of the hearth and home, stands by my shoulder as I spend the evenings baking for my friends and my husband.  I think of my mother’s beautiful hands, remembering them when she was cooking, or stroking the cat – how graceful they are, how unhurried and loving no matter what it was she was doing.  I think of my grandmothers, with their laughter and love, as I drink a toast to them with a little snort of advocaat.  Freya smiles as I snuggle into the warmth of the bed with my husband and cats.

The house is often bathed in the glow of candlelight, with pine scented loveliness drifting through, or the smell of woodsmoke as the fire crackles in the hearth.  Though it is often dark and cold out, the home takes on special importance at this time of year.  A big cleaning is undertaken in readiness for the months where more time is spent indoors, and everything is made just so, for comfort, ease and security.  That feeling of preparedness still hits me late November, early December – make sure everything is good for the next couple of months, for when we will be spiritually, if not physically, snowed in.

For at this time of year, it is the best time to look inwards, to discover your self once again.  Taking the time during the long dark months is perfect – a little meditation instead of the television, for instance, in front of that altar glowing with candles and the smoke of incense drifting through the room.  The nights are so long – what will you do with them? Please, please please – do not watch more television.  Go out with friends. Meditate. Bake. Make love. Walk in the frosty night. But whatever you do, make sure that you take time for yourself.

For me this is the dreaming period, an incubation of sorts.  Time to dream it all up again.  Think on the coming year, and make some plans – holding to them lightly.  Protecting the seeds of your dreams in the darkness of winter, to slowly unfurl when the light returns in the spring.  I absolutely adore it.  There is nothing better than sitting indoors with a cup of hot chocolate, watching the snow fall, if you are so lucky, and simply being in the moment – or walking out with the snow and evening falling silently all around, the smell of winter thick in the cold, swirling air.  Taking inspiration from it all and dreaming, dreaming deep – so deep that when you awaken you are refreshed, and ready for anything.

Take a step back from the manic lights and piped music in restaurants, pubs and shops, and step into your home, touching the frame of the doorway with a soft prayer to the household spirits for their sanctuary.  Let yourself slip into the darkness, lit only by soft candlelight, and let the mind and soul rest for a while.  And may you truly enjoy the holiday season.

Spring cleaning for the soul

With the flowers all coming out at the same time, the birdsong increasing in quantity and volume, the warmer air and longer days settling in, it really does seem that spring is on the way.  It feels like it has been a long winter this year, even though we’ve had, overall, quite mild temperatures!  A brief week of snow was very welcome, if only to brighten the dullness of British winter days.  Though the long dark hours of night are quite nice to have, time to regroup, rethink and dream it all up again for the coming year, the return of the light is always welcome, even though that change may mean we have to rouse ourselves from our cozy winter’s slumber and face the world once again.

And what better way to shake off the winter’s drowsiness than a good dose of spring cleaning?  It’s good for your body, mind, soul and your house.  Every autumn and spring I give the whole house a good scrub down from top to bottom – preparing it for the season ahead.  This weekend I really went for it – clearing all clutter from workspaces and tables, removing all unnecessary decorations – items that weren’t loved – even the closets!  It’s quite difficult, especially when an item is a gift from someone – you don’t feel as though you can give it away as someone went to all the effort and expense to get it for you. But if you don’t need it, and don’t use it, it is clutter.

So, living with a husband who hoards, I was quite surprised when each item I presented to him was met with very little resistance – do you use this? Do you love this? If the answer was no, then away it went, with very little hassle.  One wrench was a set of glass candles (the kind where you pour oil into them and place the wick inside) – these had lost the wicks.  They were, essentially, useless. Yes, we could go out and buy wicks for them, but we knew we never would – we have plenty of other candles that we use.  It was the fact that he had had them for so long that made it difficult to let go, and yet, in the end, he decided that yes, they should be recycled. It just makes sense.

How much do we do this in our own lives? How much do we hang onto things simply because they’ve been a part of our lives for so long? If, as Druids and pagans, we try to live with honourable relationship to the world around us, then we know that life works in cycles – we see it in nature around us.  Things begin, and things end, and things begin again.  The trick is in the letting go when things have come to their natural ending.  We’re taught to hold on as long as we can, and sometimes that can be a good thing, or even an instinctual thing – survival.  But in other areas, it can cause quite a lot of pain – the euthanasia debate still rages on.  We are allowed to put our pets “to sleep” because they are in extreme pain and their quality of life is so diminished, but we are not allowed that same grace for our relatives.  However, that is an entirely other discussion!

It isn’t only material things we hang on to – emotions, memories, feelings are quite often riding our shoulders, weighing us down, not allowing us the freedom to move ahead.  We have to learn to not attach to these feelings – they have come and gone, the initial reaction realised.  We feel our sadness, our rage, our joy, our pride – we shouldn’t suppress our feelings. However, we should not cling to them – we find a space to express them honourably, to feel them – whether it’s creating sacred space and time to allow the feelings to be felt, through ritual, or art, poetry, storytelling, dance, etc.  Then we let them go.

Like painting, or sculpting, or playing music – the trick is to know when to stop.

This letting go isn’t a one-time deal, sadly.  We must learn to let go, again and again in our lives, for our human need and craving for safety and security challenges the idea of letting go.  But, like the candlesticks, if it no longer provides us with any nourishment, or happiness, then it is time to let it go. Space is made, either to remain as free and empty space where energy can roam, or space is made for something we really do care about and that we can nurture and sustain as it does for us.

So go on, give your house a good spring cleaning. Reflect that in your body, mind and soul as well.  You’ll feel so much better.