I don’t remember Advent being a feature of Christmas during my childhood. No calendar, no chocolate. Perhaps it was just our house but I don’t recall any of my friend’s homes having one either.
I first became aware of Advent through the poem of the same name by Patrick Kavanagh (see poem below). It was on our syllabus for the Intermediate Cert or the Leaving Cert (they all melt into one for me). I immediately connected to the power of the ‘ordinariness’ of the language and images. It struck a chord with me both emotionally and spiritually in the way words inexplicably do sometimes. I was fascinated with Paddy Kavanagh and his ‘black slanted Ulster hills’ and his ‘stony grey soil of Monaghan’ – insights both earthy and ethereal into Irish rural life.
Years later, in the early hours of the morning at parties my friend and author Brian Leyden would bring the room and the revellers to silence with his recitation of wonderful poems and stories. ‘Advent’ once again would hit me with its striking depth and beauty of language. I would connect with the human quality of finding the light of hope even at the darkest times and our ability to find wonderment in the most ordinary I experience as very humbling.
At this time of year on the pivotal days of our Winter Solstice we look for the light as our ancestors did. The earth turns just as it always has since the dawn of time and we celebrate the return of the light even though it is darker than ever. 5000 years ago we built Newgrange passage tomb in Co. Meath. This tomb is buried in the dark heart of the earth. On the solstice through an ingeniously engineered slit in the rock of the roof box, the light of sunrise travels through a stone passageway into the centre of this earth mound and lights up the inner chamber. Certainly Kavanaghs line ‘through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder’ plays out perfectly here.
These days I am drawn back to the poem for its spiritual openness and relevance. It still creates a gut reaction and understanding within me. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) attempt an intellectual interpretation of this work but like all poetry it resonates on a much deeper level that cannot always be analysed. I am equally drawn to our built spiritual heritage and am inspired to visit and experience the light at these sacred sites.
This year my wonderful philosophy teacher and guide Bill Mahony joined me at The Giants Grave, one of many local tombs dating back 2,500-3000 BC. He was over teaching on our Advanced Yoga Teacher Training course (he will be back in March 2017 – not to be missed) and was interested to visit as many of the sacred sites around us. We stood together in wonder and awe at the light and energy of the place that connected us back to the people who lived here so long ago. They lived their extraordinary ‘ordinary’ lives, they too watch the sunrise on the Solstice just as we do. We are still children of the light.
I noted that many of the sacred texts that we study in yoga philosophy on our yoga teacher trainings date from the same era as the civilisation that built the tombs that fascinate us today. While thinking of these connections the poem came back to me. I was connecting ‘spirit shocking wonder’ and the ‘newness that was in every stale thing’ with the yogic concept of non-duality or ‘oneness’. Consciousness lives equally in the ‘banal’ and the glorious – ‘bog-holes, ‘cart tracks’, mountains, oceans, good and bad men, you and me, us and them, the light and the dark.
With love and light I offer you this Solstice class – Enjoy
PS the Early Bird Rate for our 2017 Advanced Yoga Teacher Training course ends on the Winter Solstice, this Wednesday, December 21st.
Video: An Anusara Winter Solstice Class with Noeleen Tyrrell
** Disclaimer** This yoga class is taken at your own risk. If you suffer from a health condition please consult your doctor before taking the class. Not suitable for pregnant women.
Advent by Patrick Kavanagh
We have tested and tasted too much, lover –
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.
And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.
O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning –
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and please
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour –
And Christ comes with a January flower.