THE HUSTLE AND bustle of the holiday season always brings extra anticipation, errands, and social obligations. If this time of year has you feeling like you’re swimming upstream, you’re not alone. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter favors Yin (receptive) over Yang (active) energy. In the Northern Hemisphere, we have less light as we welcome shorter days and longer nights, and the seasonal shift into colder temperatures and hotter meals is a tangible invitation to slow down.
When it comes to unearthing the ever-elusive state of equanimity, there is much to be gleaned from nature. Like the timid doe stepping out onto freshly fallen snow, when we move half as fast, we notice twice as much. And yet many of us get swept up in the overwhelming whirlwind of overcommitting and forgetting self-care.
This holiday season, we invite you to grant yourself permission to pause and prioritize rest; simply put, do less and get more in return. From lighting a candle to taking a bath, even the most elementary acts can be gateways to clarity and presence — so long as they’re infused with intention and your full attention. In an effort to practice what we preach, we’ll be highlighting only three rituals this month, each of which can be practiced from the comfort of your own home, with minimal lift and maximal levity.
Ritual Spotlight: Trataka
Trataka is a meditation technique that uses the sense of sight to still the mind. Although you can practice by staring at a dot on the wall or the tip of your nose, Trataka is most effective when you focus on the flickering flame of a candle. In Sanskrit, “trataka” means gaze. The eyes are the most complex of the organs. Nearly half the brain is devoted to visual processing — evidence for the correlation between focusing your gaze and stilling your mind.
How to practice
● Begin in a dark or dimly lit room so that the candle is your primary source of light.
● Position the candle at eye level.
● Adjust your seat so you can sit comfortably with good posture and minimal distraction.
● Light your candle and affix your gaze on the flame.
● Recognize the flickering flame as a metaphor for the fluctuations in your mind.
● Deepen your breath and allow your expression to soften.
● Resist the urge to blink, closing your eyes only when absolutely necessary — most likely when they’ve begun to water.
● Even after your eyes are closed, continue to visualize the flame for a few more seconds — an act of remembrance that the greatest source of light comes from within.
● When you’re ready, blink your eyes open and gently invite yourself back to the space and sounds around you.
● Blow out your candle — with the intention to begin again.
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Ritual Spotlight: Bathing
In the words of Sylvia Plath, “I am sure there are things that can’t be cured by a good bath, but I can't think of one.” From bathhouses in ancient Greece to sento baths in Japan, cleansing rituals span a wide spectrum of traditions, belief systems, and cultures. Like tea that needs hot water and time to steep, our bodies, minds, and spirits are only able to release accumulated stress when afforded the opportunity to soak in stillness and quietude.
How to practice
● Clean your tub and anything else in your bathroom that might prevent you from fully engaging in the task at hand.
● Select a soak that best supports your intention. Epsom salt is a savior for sore muscles; baking soda soothes irritation; and essential oils like clary sage, sandalwood, and, of course, lavender promote relaxation and restful sleep.
● Set the stage for your bath as you’d set the table before a decadent meal: adjust the lighting, curate your soundtrack, and place your towel next to the tub.
● Leave your phone outside the bathroom.
● Lock the door (if you can).
● Allow your body to steep in the warm water, your breath to deepen by way of the scent, and your mind to wander without distraction.
● Remember that even a few minutes counts.
● When you’re ready to exit the tub, do your best to continue the slow momentum by slathering yourself with moisturizer, swaddling yourself in luxurious fabric, and perhaps going straight to bed.
Ritual Spotlight: Journaling
“We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance.” —Julia Cameron, "The Artist’s Way," 1991
Whether you love or loathe writing, writing is a tool that has the unique ability to untangle our thoughts. Journaling helps us distinguish between reactivity and observation. When we write, we become the authors of our own stories — instead of their victims or villains.
Whether you’re new to journaling or a seasoned recorder of your own thoughts, the following prompts provide a helpful framework for reflection and recentering as the year comes to a close.
How to practice
● In your journal (if you have one) or a Google doc, or on a Post-it note, answer the following:
● What do I now know that I didn’t a year ago?
● What was the hardest thing that happened this year?
● What was the best thing that happened this year?
● What did I learn from both?
● If you find yourself struggling to recall specifics, scroll through your calendar to jog your memory.
● Who played a key role in your successes?
● Who played a key role in your struggles?
● Note down any patterns, words of wisdom, or advice you have for your future self.
If you only take one thing away from this month’s column, may it be that simple rituals can lead to sacred experiences. Presence isn’t achieved by the number of presents we receive at the holidays, and quality triumphs over quantity when it comes to post-pandemic gatherings. So let’s end this undeniably challenging year with an emphasis on self-care, which, at the end of the day, is synonymous with self-preservation.
In the words of the mystical Sufi poet Hafiz, “Now is the season to know that everything you do is sacred.”
Jenn Tardif Writer
Jenn Tardif is the founder of the mindful collective 3rd Ritual, a certified aromatherapist, and a writer. A devout student of Taoism, yoga, and mindfulness, Tardif is a firm believer that wisdom lights the path to well-being, and has made a lifelong commitment to share the teachings with anyone curious enough to learn more.
Jessa Carter Photographer
Jessa Carter (she/her) is a multimodal omnidisciplinary artist compelled toward the collapsing of categories, systems thinking, and collective healing. Carter’s work/play traverses ecosystem and egosystem to trace the leading lines of value, ownership, authorship, identity, time, performativity, language, and labor.