One thing I don’t hear talked about much in Pagan circles is that sometimes you can plan the best ritual, and then it just… falls flat, either for you or for others attending. It’s seldom your fault (or at least, it’s seldom entirely your fault), but it still sucks.
And it’s okay anyway.
I’d been looking forward to Leora and my Winter Solstice ritual for weeks. The concept was simple: for 24 hours (from just before sunset Sunday to just after sunset Monday), we would have a ritual retreat day of rest and reflection. It called back to the spiritual retreat days that Leora and I used to do several times a year back in the day, and gave us a time to honor the quiet contemplativeness of the longest night of the year.
That is exactly what we did. And I was miserable.
As I was waking up Monday morning, I thought idly of writing this very blog post; I dreamed of excitedly telling you all about the life-changing book I was reading and the bracing nature walk I’d taken, maybe sharing a picture of a goofy crochet project I was planning of making. But the book multiple people promised me would transform my perspective on home funerals and green burials has so far been a disappointing rehash of the same tired tropes of cultural appropriation, gender essentialism, and assumptions of shared beliefs. I cut my walk short because I could stand walking around my neighborhood crying for so long when the wind chill was 21 F. And the crochet project that should’ve been an hour of effort, max, had to be restarted three times and is only about half done.
But far more frustrating than these specific set-backs was my overall grumpy attitude. Every quiet moment of rest felt like a moment I was supposed to be doing something. Instead of letting the time flow around me, I was trying to cram all the spirituality and reflection I could into the day and then feeling frustrated when that wasn’t in any way spiritually fulfilling (go figure).
Leora, meanwhile, was having a great day, reading, resting, working on craft projects. I wanted to be happy for them, but instead I felt a jealousy that I knew was ridiculous but couldn’t seem to shake. Only when I was getting ready for bed Monday night, hours after the ritual ended, did I have my ah-hah moment. Of course Leora liked the ritual; they finished a grueling semester of grad school on Saturday. 24 hours with no obligations beyond contemplation and rest would be bliss for them. I, on the other hand, work a relatively boring office job, have a thirty-second commute to my basement office, leave the house about three times a month (not counting walks around the neighborhood), and have meditated more in the past nine months than in the nine years prior. Why did I not anticipate that a day with nothing to do would make me stir-crazy?
And then of course there’s my old pal attachment to outcomes. For some reason, I put a lot of pressure on this ritual to be amazing, in a way I didn’t for Fall Equinox and Samhain. Those kinds of expectations are often a set-up for failure, especially since I had no criteria for “amazing” beyond I’ll know it when I feel it spiritually fulfilling me. Leora, with no expectations beyond [ritual goes here] felt free to enjoy what the day was, rather than bemoan some mysterious thing it wasn’t.
So… yeah. Not the greatest Winter Solstice ritual ever. And this, too, is sacred. The Solstice happens, of course, whether we have an incredible ritual experience or a crummy one. Whether we take part in any ritual experience at all. That is a humbling reminder of the immensity of the forces we honor, and the glorious insignificance of our individual lives. I tried my best to honor the longest night, and it mostly went wrong, and the longest night happened anyway. That sure helps me remember to put less pressure on myself and my seasonal celebrations.
The longest night happens anyway. And that is the most sacred fact of all.
Blessed Solstice. Blessed be.