#CabinLife and the Winter Solstice

*** #CABINLIFE UPDATE *** A wilderness journal entry, written beside a wood stove in the historic Trapper’s Cabin, the oldest structure on our land. Incidentally we’ve decided to rebrand the cabin, switching to the far more friendly and appropriately named Beaver Lodge 🙂 ***

After a soft move in by a handful of the Trillium residents, we have made it through to the winter solstice, the longest night of the year when the sun rides its lowest arc across horizon of the northern hemisphere. Last night I went to an interdenominational service in Ashland that included talks, music and traditions from a diverse lineage of spiritual philosophies. A Rabbi led the service which included reps from the realms of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Taoism and indigenous Animism. He told us that it was the first event of its kind in that synagogue and was a testament to the deeper and more diverse interconnection that people have been asking for as a result of the tumultuousness of our current political, ecological and social environments.

Our first month on the land has already proven to be a profound experience and each day offers an opportunity to renew our commitment to personal and collective development. Personally it has been deeply challenging on my mind, body and spirit. The realities of wilderness life means that fulfilling even simple things like staying warm and keeping our water running becomes a daily focus and can sometimes even take up part a large part of the day. Our skeleton crew of 3 arrived on the land just as winter began to descend on the Siskiyou mountains. While still not as harsh as more northern winters it has been one of the wettest and coldest in many years and the frost and snow has greatly magnified the intensity of what we need to survive and feel comfortable. But throughout the experience we’ve offered each other physical, emotional and spiritual support all along the way. Chopping and hauling wood up and down dozens of uneven stairs so we can keep our drafty cabins habitable results in the sort of satisfying coziness that I’d forgotten about in the midst of easy modern comforts. Watching the weather carefully and knowing when to run a little stream of water from the faucets overnight or turn off the valves completely so that my pipes don’t freeze is activating a long dormant sense, a connection to the cycles of nature that can soothe me or call me to action. Seeing a mountain lion and hearing animals prowling in the shadows outside my cabin at first sent shivers through my body but each week on this land is stoking a primal fire, a visceral connection to being alive.

From what I’ve observed, the long stretches of solitude that I’ve experienced as a single man can be just as challenging albeit in a different way as the close living of a couple. When you’re living in an extreme, or at least unfamiliar and challenging environment, it’s a great opportunity to practice the sort of patience and listening that many of us have forgotten how to do. It’s important to listen to myself and to know when I’m in a healthy realm of solitude, or if I’m getting a little bit of cabin fever and that it’s a time to go for a walk, visit a neighbor or take a drive into town for some social stimulation. But as I learn to move through each challenge, whether it’s within myself or prompted by an interaction with another person, a brighter and more resilient version of myself is revealed. Each moment becomes an opportunity to practice acceptance for what is and the grace to move between the worlds of the ideal and the real, learning how to deal with and interweave the discrepancies. What am I really able control anyway? A teacher lies in every moment of our lives, if we just listen.

I don’t have internet in my cabin, or even electricity yet, but that means that I’m reading more than ever and watching the occasional video that I saved on my tablet. I’ve noticed that not having the opportunity to consume impulsive content or endless newsfeeds means that the quality of what I’m putting into my brain is far more stimulating and nutritious. As I learn to wind down in the evening by candlelight, and wake up to the crisp dawn sunrise, I am embracing the cycles of nature more closely than ever before. I feel my overstimulated nervous system settling down after years of energetic expenditure. Can I even remember what it felt like to truly be at calm, focused and ease?

I’m an experience designer and this project represents a full on, self-prescribed experiment. Providing a new and challenging lens through which to view life often is a great way to spur personal growth. Whether it’s travelling, going to a transformational festival or living with a bunch of other kooks at an old wilderness retreat center all help foster the discovery of who I am, intense experiences have a great way of reflecting back on a personal how they react to each situation that arises. As my edges are peeled back I observe my tendency to desire any sort of crutch or distraction. Whatever vice or old habit pattern I fantasize about, I probe for what hole I’m really trying to fill within myself. With each discovery of a past insecurity or rejection, of sadness or regret, I admit a little wistfully that my old tools of distraction no longer hold the power that they once did. Old thought patterns run deep, but I remain committed to bringing light to my own darkest shadows. I am learning that I am complete in this moment. I am enough. More than enough. I represent pure love and creation itself.

It’s a powerful moment in time as we say goodbye to the darkness of the shortest day and begin to welcome the light back in. Increasingly over the next 6 months the days will get longer until we celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. And as above and so below. As humans we ebb and flow from our shadows and into our light and back again. Looking at nature we are taught not to cling to any one state, darkness or light, pain or bliss, but to let these sensations come and go naturally, celebrating the cycles not as any static victory to be gripped tightly, but as the continuation of a healthy and inspiring cycle of life itself. The night is not something to be feared but an opportunity to witness its full depth and to reverently hold space until we welcome the light in once again.

“Both Light and Shadow are the Dance of Love” — Rumi

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