Take a deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take another deep breath, filling your stomach, your diaphragm, and finally your lungs. Hold this breath for five seconds… 1-2-3-4-5... And exhale, allowing the breath to exit your lungs first, then your diaphragm, and finally your stomach. Take one more deep breath, and as you breathe in, feel the energy and the wonder of the world around you in your fingers, your toes, your legs and shoulders, even the top of your head. Hold the breath for seven seconds…1-2-3-4-5-6-7... As you exhale, feel all the tension leave your fingers, your toes, your legs and shoulders, even the top of your head. Feel the fertile earth under your body, expectant and waiting - waiting for the burgeoning warmth of the sun, waiting for the frost to lift. Cool to the touch yet bracing, the earth sweeps away any of your hidden fears. You are free of worry and anxiety. Free to frolic with the snowflakes on the wind. Free to expose your wild side to the white wonderland around you. Take a deep breath in and feel the icy air stimulating every nerve, every cell, in your body. Continue breathing deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Allow the earth to hold and support your body. Allow the wind to blow away any remaining fear and to hold and support your body. Allow the wind to blow away any remaining fear and anxiety. You have never felt so relaxed, so secure, so calm.
You are walking in the depths of a great forest. It is night, by the moon is full and the stars twinkle brightly in the midnight blue sky. The tree branches are bare, allowing the glow of the moon to light your way from above. You are on a path that is covered with snow and mud. Snow rests on some of the tree branches and as you look up to inspect them, you sniff, smelling snow on the wind. An owl hoots off to your right. You see his big, round eyes flash briefly in the dark before his wings swoop past you.
Your boots are sturdy with a thick, steadying tread, yet your toes are numb from the cold. Your fingers in their mittens are also chilled to the bone, and you can no longer feel your nose. You wrap your woollen cape more snuggly around your body and trudge onward. Clasping your protective talisman between frozen fingers, you look down at the muddy, snowy ground on either side of the narrow path. Not relishing an evening sleeping outdoors, you hope for a tavern up ahead. The forest is thick and dense with pine trees. No sound greets your ears, save the whispering sigh of the breeze through the pine needles. You sigh along with the wind, seeing your breath form a white plume before you. Even an abandoned hunting cabin would suffice at this time of the night, you think to yourself. You glance at the movement of the stars. The Wheel has almost completed its turn.
You pull your weary gaze from the star-strewn sky and skid to a stop. There, before you, in a small clearing, stands a small, stone cottage. White smoke belches from the tiny chimney, and a lantern in the window sends a soft, golden signal of welcome. You walk to the cottage (pause) and raise your fist to knock on the dark-red door.
Before you can land even a fingernail on the door, it swings open and a white-haired woman steps out, a bucket in hand.
“Good,” she exclaims as she tosses the contents of the bucket over your shoulder and into the cottage yard. “We’ve been waiting for you.” She bustles back into the house, one hand holding the bucket and the hand fumbling around in her pink-flowered apron. You stand at the threshold, completely surprised by your welcome. “Well, don’t just stand there letting all the warm air out.” The old woman looks at you crossly. “Come on in!” You step into the cottage and the door slams shut behind you.
“Give me your cloak, dearie. You won’t need that here.” The old woman is suddenly behind you, nimbly unclasping your cape and placing it on a wrought-iron hook next to the doorway. “Can you put another log on the fire?” she asks you, pointing to the enormous fireplace that takes up the whole right-hand wall of the cottage. “The time is almost here,” she states, striding toward some shelves with jars on them in the darkened recesses of the cottage. “I must prepare myself.” She is swallowed by the darkness and you can no longer see her. However, the click and clatter of glass jars being moved remind you that she has not vanished entirely.
You walk over to the fire and pick up a heavy log. A very large cauldron hangs over the fire from a blackened chain. You peer over its side and sniff hesitantly. A noxious smell invades your nose. You pull back, eyes watering, nose running, sneezing uncontrollably.
“I asked you to put another log on the fire,” the old woman calls from the back of the one-room cottage, “not poke your nose where it doesn’t belong.” You give one last final sneeze, your cheeks burning from exertion and embarrassment, and throw the log on the fire. The flames leap up, greedily devouring the wood, and the contents of the cauldron boil fitfully. The room grows warmer.
“Ah-ha!” The cry of triumph is followed by the strident gait of the old woman as she walks toward the cauldron and toward you. “Got it!” She holds a bit of greenery aloft. Scampering to the window, she looks upward at the stars, pauses for a space of two heartbeats, and then, quick as a fox, throws the herb into the cauldron. Yellow smoke puffs from the cauldron, followed by a loud burp.
“Now’s all we have to do is wait, dearie,” the old woman says, rubbing her hands. “Help me with this.” The old woman shoves a huge bundle of unbleached cotton into your hands. It is soft to the touch, and you stagger under the sheer size of the cloth. You take a step backward and trip over a low, solid item that you’re sure was not there a few moments before. Your feet fly out and you land with a thud on your bottom. The cotton slips from your hands, landing all around you. You feel warm, moist pressure on your hand. Surprised, you pull your hand away and push aside the cloth. Two soft brown eyes look up from the narrow, plumb face of a white sow.
“Pepper, Pepper!” The old woman leans down to scratch the ear of the sow. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear that her hand disappears into the sow. You shake your head. Obviously the fall addled your brain. You laugh to yourself, scratch behind Pepper’s ear, and gather the cotton cloth.
“Don’t mind her,” the old woman says, loading more cloth into your arms. “She gets underfoot sometimes, but she’s a love. Won’t harm ya a wink!” She winks then, a sparkle of mischief in her icy-blue eyes, and pats the large, tough-hewn wooden table. “Put the cloth on here, dearie.” She darts to the back of the cottage, leaving you to struggle with the cloth on your own, with Pepper’s warm, wet nose pushed up against the back of your knees.
For the next several hours you straighten the cloth, separate it into three piles, and fold it. Just as you think you are finished, the old woman asks you to pout another log on the fire, and when you return to the table, the pile of cloth has grown bigger and messier. Throughout the long, dark night, your work continues and the old woman scuttles back and forth from her jars to the fire, throwing in herbs and flowers and muttering incantations. (pause)
Just when you feel that you could not fold another piece of cloth, the old woman exclaims, “It is time!” The sow runs to the cottage door and noses it open The piles of cloth lie neat and tidy on the table, and the fire radiates a low, warm heart. The old woman stands before the cauldron, arms outstretched. She watches the sow, who, in turn, watches the sky. The sky is no longer midnight blue. The gray light of predawn seeps down from the clouds. The trees sway and the first fingers of dawn reach across the sky - pink and light blue and lemon yellow. And then, with a triumphant burst of energy and light and daring and courage, the sun pops above the tree line. At that exact moment, the sow squeals with joy and the old woman reaches her bare hands and arms into the boiling cauldron. A strangling cry of warning dies in your throat as she removes a perfectly formed baby boy from the fiery depths. She cradles him in her arms, ducking down and protecting him with her body… as if she knows. For in the next instant, the cauldron explodes with a loud blast, leaving nothing but a pile of dust and a few shards of twisted metal.
The old woman stands and turns toward you. You bring her a cotton cloth and clean the perfectly formed face of the baby boy in her arms. “The sun is reborn,” the old woman says in a hushed, awe-filled voice. “From the darkness of the longest night, warmth in your heart.” Smiling, despite your fatigue, you reach down and kiss the baby. His almond eyes flare open, touching you with their wisdom and knowledge. A ray of sun envelops him, you, and the old woman in a warming embrace.
Now, take a deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take another deep breath, filling your stomach, your diaphragm, and finally your lungs. Hold this breath for five seconds…1-2-3-4-5... And exhale, allowing the breath to exit your lungs first, then your diaphragm, and finally your stomach. Breathe deeply once more, and as you breathe in, feel the energy and the wonder of the world around you in your fingers, your toes, your legs and shoulders, even the top of your head. As you exhale, wiggle your fingers and toes. Shake your legs and move your shoulders up and down. Take another deep breath and, as you exhale, move your head from side to side. Feel the ground under your body touching every nerve ending and muscle. Hear the rustlings of the people around you. Notice the movements outside. Continue breathing. Stretch your arms out above your head. You are returning to the present, to the here and now. Continue stretching. Continue breathing. When you are ready, open your eyes, blink and focus, and sit up.