A German Secret: Come To Your Senses Through Your Senses

candles pipaluk practical magic winter Dec 13, 2023

Darkness covers the land. The sky shimmers in greys, blues and even pale greens. Shots of orange and bright yellow are ever more rare. The cold creeps under doorways, through window panes and under the skin, finding its way into bone and marrow. Winter pushes through the walls of homes only kept at bay by candle flame and cozy lighting. Even though the snow is melting, the days keep getting darker and darker. Time slows almost to a halt. One more week and it shall be Winter Solstice. On this day, time will stop completely. This is when we must be still and turn inwards.

In German what we do in this time is called, 'sich zu besinnen'. It can also be turned into a noun: Besinnung. If you look at the translation you will get the English word 'reflection'. Being a native German speaker, I find this a somewhat limiting translation. Reflection reminds us of mirrors. We see our reflection in mirrors. We look inwards on ourselves and see what we can find. The same word, reflection, exists in German as well, except that it is capitalized and spelled with a 'k' instead of a 'c'. So really, it is no accurate translation.

Besinnung is much more than that and hearkens to our senses. The senses are in the word itself, 'Sinne', as is sense and meaning, 'es macht Sinn'. It is sensual as well, 'sinnlich'. Really, it describes a coming to our senses, by and through our senses and sensuality. It implies coziness and undisturbed quietude. There are homes lit with candles and the scent of burning wood. There is a walk through a snowy forest wrapped in a warm jacket, wearing a hat and gloves and boots lined with sheep's wool.

'Sich zu besinnen' speaks of thinking something through or coming to your senses after an outburst. It speaks to coming home to yourself and centering into truth and wisdom. It is a sensual sensibility that implies what is good and kind. It is utterly different from reflection in that a mirror just helps us look back on ourselves through visual input whereas our senses interface with the world around us and in that dialogue and connection we find ourselves.

If you know a word like this in English, please share it with us! Comment below or send us an e-mail at [email protected]. Thank you in advance for doing so.

Now, let's get into 3 ways in which you can 'besinnen' yourself. These are a bit tongue in cheek with a cocked smile, so take them as you like.

1. Take a long walk alone without your phone. Wear clothing that keeps you warm and cozy if it's cold. You may stop at a café and have a drink if you remain on your own. Work with all your senses to experience the world around you, the weather, the feeling of the path or street beneath you, how your body feels, the smells and sights and sounds, even the taste of the air! As you do so, let your thoughts wander and flow. Ponder any issues you are facing, consider what you want in life, brainstorm what gifts you want to give others, decide on changes you want to make in your career or family, come up with poetry and jot them in a to-go notebook as you briefly pause on your walk, or figure out how to continue writing your book. Ideally this walk should be at least an hour long, but it might take you three before you find yourself back home. Once you return, drink something warm or alcoholic and sit in an armchair or couch by your fireplace. If you have no fireplace, a candle will do.

2. Cozy up with family and friends. Leave your phones where you cannot reach them. Share drinks and homemade seasonal cookies while chatting about nothing at all and smiling a lot. Ideally it is dark outside and if you can, let Glühwein, a warm spiced wine, be one of the drinks you share. It is best if you get neither drunk, nor stay completely sober. Make sure some candles are lit and perhaps a small fir scented incense cone is burning inside of a wooden figure that looks a bit like the nutcracker or the German version of Santa called Nikolaus. The smoke should be coming out of the pipe that the wooden figure is smoking and ideally it was all made by hand. The room you are in should be cozy and warm with an occasional gust of cold wind coming from outside when you decide to air out. Once the party breaks up, you should feel more connected to yourself, have an improved sense of well-being and an outlook on life that feels more at peace with how the world is, regardless of whether life is particularly challenging or easy for you at the moment.

3. After dark, curl up on the couch on your own with a book that is neither easy nor hard to read. Read it slowly and with pleasure, taking time to look up from your book and stare into midair as you ponder a sentence or word you have just read. If you want to be particularly German about the text, then sentences written in the book should be long. They should be least a third of a paragraph, sometimes a sentence should be so long as to be a whole paragraph on its own. Make sure you have a warm beverage or a good wine at hand. The room you are in should also have a scent you take pleasure in. For that you could light a natural beeswax candle in the shape of a fir tree. If you have some cookies filled with jam, place them on a small plate within reach. Spend as much time reading as you do staring into midair. Sip your drink and nibble your cookies on occasion. Make sure you feel perfectly wonderful on your own while at the same time feeling a deep sense of connection to the world, all the living beings, and the cosmos at large. For an extra bonus, see if you can also feel utterly at peace with who you are and your place in the world, if only for a moment. All falls into place.

We hope you enjoy this glimpse into a bit of German culture. This is as much the stuff of fantasy as it is the stuff of reality, and as we know, the boundaries between the two are always blurring. We leave it to you to try this out and see for yourself what is real. We like to think it all is.

Happy Holidays.


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