The spiritual practice that anchors Samhain is attentive, intentional waiting which, let’s face it, is not a highly developed skill or favorite activity of our culture. In fact, the resistance to waiting has become almost pathological. Case in point: those two women who camped out in front of Best Buy for 22 days so they could be first in line on Black Friday which now starts Thursday night (Excuse me? That was Thanksgiving the last time I looked.) Many people might consider this waiting. It is not waiting; it is actually, if you pause to think about it, uncontrolled anxiety. Now is the prevailing emotional need – not the eternal now of attentive presence, but the anxious Now! that needs instant everything, from oatmeal to gratification.
Polharrow Burn is a Scottish reel for five couples. It is a favorite of the Colorado Scottish Country Dancers because the patterns flow so effortlessly. It is not an easy dance because at any given moment, there are three different sub-patterns (what in Scottish dancing are called ‘meanwhile figures’) being danced. It begins with not the usual one, but two active couples who immediately progress down the dance. No sooner have they moved into their new places than the couples who are now the top and the bottom of the set exchange positions by moving around the outside of the lines while the active couples are executing a different figure altogether. As soon as the top couple reaches the bottom of the set and the bottom couple reaches the top, everyone swings into two different patterns of reel with the top couple making a V down the set and the bottom couple making a V up the set, and the active couples doing three cloverleafs at the same time. Hopefully this all occurs with no collisions and no one shooting off across the room right out of the set completely – as I did the first time I tried the dance, leaving my partner laughing and calling, “Come back!”
Dancing Polharrow Burn is a practice of attentive waiting. No dancer can rush or all the moving parts go ‘tilt’ (or, more commonly, ‘clunk’.) Neither can any dancer start wool-gathering or there are big gaps where there should be a person. In fact, dancers cannot be paying attention to anything but the music and the steps or everything falls apart; with multiple patterns going on there is simply too much potential for disaster. But, O, the potential for beauty and grace and joy and perfect precision makes it all worthwhile. It is pure kairos while the music plays and the partners and corners pass and reel and spin and chase.
Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the Christian liturgical year which – like the ancient Celtic year – begins with a season of attentive waiting. Even though this is not a cultivated skill (actually, because it is not a cultivated skill) in our culture, it might be good to take the next month to practice intentional, anticipatory waiting…since some of the very best parts of life require it. Like:
the arrival of babies
tomatoes to ripen on the vine
fresh bread rising in a warm kitchen
acorns becoming oak trees
maple sap rising for tapping
the sap becoming maple syrup (and then maple sugar)
drawing the icewine off the grapes
And so I invite you to notice the times when you are able to wait in quiet attentiveness…and the times when your anxiety spins you far off center. When can you bring your whole focus to patient anticipation…and when do you look for a quick fix or rush headlong into unwise choices because your adrenaline is pouring into your bloodstream by the quart?
In other words, when do you camp out at Best Buy, and when do you give yourself (intentional heart and expectant soul) to dancing the intricately interweaving patterns of life?
May your Samhain (Advent) be a dance: free, grace-filled, glorious, companioned by skilled partners, and attentive. May your waiting be amazing adventure, profound rest, open hope. And may these words capture the blessing that waits with you:
Holy Expectancy, Fertile Possibility,
wait into me like starlight falling on shadow.
Wait into me like leaf and blossom unfolding into the unknown.
Wait into me like water yearning to boil.
Wait into me like clay anticipating the potter’s hand.
Wait through dreaming darkness to the questions of dawn.
Wait in silence and wait in words.
Let it be so. Let it be so.
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2012, 2013 Immram Chara, LLC
Note: Both photos are available as cards or prints from my Etsy shop during Samhain.