Happy February, friends! Who doesn’t love this month? Right? I mean it’s dreary, icy, cold and muddy. We’ve been deprived of flowers and the vitamin D rich warmth of the sun for months now. What’s not to embrace?
Before Wednesday that was how this reflection on hygge began. Before I caught the glimpse of news on the way out of the building I work in. Yet another school shooting. I stood in the lobby looking at the screen and felt a physical chill that grew into a shudder move through me. As the story unfolds the number of casualties, wounded and dead became faces and names, teachers (now heroes), teenagers with bios filled with bright hope, many the same age as my son. I feel, as do many of you, a pain and anguish, a helplessness and sense of responsibility. I share in the frustration expressed on social media that condolence statements including the term “thoughts and prayers” by politicians who accept NRA funding, have become trite and meaningless.
I privately wonder if my own thoughts and prayers have meaning. I wonder how I can allow my son to go to school the following day. I wonder this as I watch him fill out his class schedule for his Freshman Year of High School.
I know I’m not alone in these feelings of despair and doubt, feelings of complicity that I should be doing more to change gun laws in our country. I wonder where I can find the time and space to champion another cause. They are all so important. I feel compassion fatigue and circle back to a feeling of helplessness.
I wake the next day, send my son to school, making sure he remembers his phone this time. I meet with my writing circle composed of outraged mothers and grandmothers. This isn’t the first circle we’ve held following a school shooting this year.
I remember my sermon, WTH: What The Hygge. I finished it the night before. I know it’s not finished now. I wonder if I can change it to WTH: What The Hell? Or more in line with how I’m really feeling, WTF…
I text my daughter who is in college. I tell her it wasn’t always like this. This is not okay. I wish this wasn’t the world she and her brother inherited. My text backfires. She takes care of me instead, reassuring me she feels safe. George does the same in subsequent conversations.
Safe, they feel safe. That is what hygge is about. This once seemingly fluff reflection suddenly has weight. I think about the tragedies weathered as a country. How the response can either bring us together in love and action or cut us off from one another leading to hopelessness, apathy and isolation.
Hygge has a place. A place where we can cultivate a sense of belonging, security that allows feelings of love, trust and intimacy to grow.
There must be light, or divinity, or human kindness (whatever works for you) to juxtapose our darker states and, too often, the tragedies of life.
Conversely, our shadow or dark days equally intensify the light, the sun, the hope that there will be flowers, green leaves and weather so warm you won’t need to bundle up like Randy in a Christmas story.
Last winter was even colder for me. Not in temperature, really it was mild as far as harsh weather is concerned. No, I was devastated, as were many of us in the turn our country took, seemingly away from the light and everything I personally believe in. The day after the election I sat in the back of this sanctuary, my spiritual home and wept with other souls whose hearts were breaking and needing to not feel so alone.
It took months for me to find any light. Last February I remember looking down at my hands, these instruments of healing and saw that they had clenched into tight fists.
That was a wake-up call. I suddenly became aware of what I’d become, let myself become as a result of the election. I decided to no longer allow a political and social climate permeated with hate and inhumanity to dictate who I would be.
My way back into the light involved a strange and foreign word, Hygge. Hygge? Yes, rhymes with hookah. That’s how I remember to pronounce it. I first heard of it in some magazine. It could have been “Real Simple” or “O”, leafing through it while waiting in my chiropractor’s waiting room. The best description I’ve come across for Hygge is; hygge is the practice of creating intimacy with ourselves, with one another and with the natural world. It comes from Denmark where Hygge permeates the lives of Danes, one of the happiest countries in the world according to Meik Wiking the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.
Hygge came to America as most cultural imports do wrapped in a deliciously irresistible package that you could buy if you’d just enter your credit card number, please and thank you very much. The Americanized version of hygge includes marketing full of cable knit sweaters, fingers wrapped around gorgeous hand thrown pottery mugs full of hot chocolate, twinkling fairy lights punctuating the smiles of a room of about half a dozen thirty somethings laughing under Nordic blankets in front of a stone fireplace.
Cozy is what you are made to feel when viewing these images. But you don’t need to go out and buy the socks, the fairy lights or the beautiful Danish friends to actually practice Hygge.
It’s about creating a reverence for the everyday, simple life. It is a mindfulness of the senses, finding joy in the smell of soup in the crock pot or bread in the oven. It is creating spaces of refuge throughout the day like waking 20 minutes early so there is time to light a candle and enjoy a cup of coffee before reaching for the phone.
It can be choosing to wear your most comfortable pair of socks that day because you know you’re feeling down and you want to nurture your tired soul that is feeling the strain of being human in a society that values the dollar over all else. And lets even darn those socks instead of pitching them when they are threadbare. Even that is an act of hygge, creating intimacy with nature through the act of mending while holding the earth in reverence and not adding the landfill. It’s unamerican, It’s Danish. We can learn from our global connections and not just appropriate them for monetary gain.
It is exactly times like these that we long for refuge. For a safe haven to restore, renew and rekindle our faith. From a place of sacred caring we can do more. These acts do not lose their meaning in the face of Florida’s school shooting. These acts of cultivating intimacy become a lifeline. In “The Book of Joy, Lasting Happiness in a Changing World”, Douglas Abrams writes;
“Research suggests that cultivating your own joy and happiness has benefits not just for you, but also for others in your life. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more joy we can bring to others…. The more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others. The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves but, as the Archbishop (Desmond Tutu) poetically phrased it, ‘to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you.’ ”
We are wired for connection. We actually have mirror neurons in our brains that enable us feel empathy for one another, a biological adaption important for our health and survival. Yet, I’d say we are starved for intimacy and as long as we stay starving we will continue self destructive and neurotic behavior. We will continue consuming, numbing out our feelings, trying to fill up on stuff, feeding the very machine keeping us hungry. In the book Third Plate by Dan Barber, there is a study conducted where a herd of cows is allowed to graze in a mineral nutrient rich meadow that has used organic crop rotation to enrich the soil. Those cows graze happily, remain healthy, no obesity or disease. Another herd nearby is grazing in a meadow subjected to our conventional American mass agricultural farming methods. This herd becomes obese as they attempt to ingest the nutrition their body so desperately searches for. The cows overeat because they are unable to get the minerals from the depleted soil. They develop disease. They are not sated
Denmark is grazing in that nutrient rich soil. They have stayed close as a society, they work to connect, understanding that the whole of humanity is beneficial to the individual thus every individual adds to the happiness of the community, is valued and cared for. For Danes, higher education is free, they have a Universal Healthcare System, and over three months of paid maternity leave. Socially they are progressive and efforts of inclusion are made in earnest, this is a principal of Hygge. This reminds me of the video Rev. Bill shared with us a few months back about a movement in high schools called “We Dine Together”, started in Boca Raton Fl., for peers to reach out to any child who is eating alone. Our youth understand that we are indeed all parts of this interconnected web. If part of the web is hurting and cut off it affects everyone.
I don’t think it is a stretch to imagine how a cultural shift toward hygge could impact all levels of our society. It almost sounds dangerous to the capitalism construct to find value in cozy, simple and authentic connection, versus the momentary dopamine rush of a New White Lexus SUV that is bigger than my house…I’m not clergy…I can judge.
That is not to say there is no room for the introvert in hygge. Indeed, acts of self-care often include solitude. I myself identify as an extroverted introvert. I get energy from small intimate interactions with my fellow humans but can become exhausted in a room full of people conversing about the weather. Hygge for me can be allowing myself those intimate connections and then grounding with alone time where I am connecting with that inner voice, through poetry, prayer, watching birds at the bird feeder or hiking in my favorite nature preserve.
But solitude can turn into isolation, especially in these winter months and especially in times of tragedy. After 911 I stopped working out, discontinued my yoga practice, would often forget to eat all while caring for a two-year-old daughter. I have no doubt that where I was mentally affected everyone around me. I still have a “curl in, fetal position” tendency that I have to negotiate. It is survival instinct. But what I want for myself, and all of us, is to not stay stuck in survival. I want us to thrive, to feel our way through the grief, that we may open our hearts again and move into a place of action. In order to move toward action, we must care. In order to care we must feel. In order to feel we must feel safe and not be completely taken under by despair we must nurture ourselves and one another.
So Hygge, are you already practicing? Yes. When we gather here in this space we are hyggelig. We are caring for ourselves, for one another for our tribe. We are lighting candles with reverence, with our fully mindful selves, we hug and greet our neighbors, we share in deep listening. We sing together and join in the magic of music.
We will be breaking bread together in a few minutes. This is SOOO very hyggelig. Bringing something to the communal table, made with love to nourish your fellow humans is just about the most hygge that hygge gets. Over the meal we will share, we engage in thoughtful conversation. Perhaps you will get to know someone you’ve never met and grow your circle. Maybe you will find a commonality with someone you thought you knew very well, or simply reconnect with someone in a way that opens your heart to the moment, aware of our fellowship, of our common bond and love for fantastic food.
There are times like last February where I know I need to stay and share a meal with my community. Times when I can’t afford to thrust myself into the rest of my day and everything I need to do before the work week begins. Despite my tendency toward introversion I will grab a plate and fill it with the gifts of our community. Your fellowship, your smiles, your vegan gluten free mac and cheese remind me, I’m not alone. I’m connected to this pulsating life, this gorgeous and tender human bond. This nourishes me in a way that I can’t be nourished grazing in a disconnected and isolated world.
We hygge because we need to continue to care and to feel. And if we are called to action, as I believe many of us are in this moment, we will act with our hearts and minds, for the safe and just world our children and grandchildren have a right to grow up in.
We need to replenish ourselves through cultivating the seeds of mindful self-care, connection to one another and the natural world. When we practice acts of hygge we are planting seeds. We are engaging in hope that there is reason and meaning beyond the mighty dollar. That there is meaning in connecting and caring for humanity. We are planting seeds that will blossom and sustain us through the cold and dark.
Bless these bitter days that we may find ourselves moving a bit closer to one another, gathering around our hearth and heart, our chalice, our hymns, our 7 principals.
Change is near.
May it be so,
Amen and Shalom