Winter, The Body & Carrying On
(Artwork by Andrew Wyeth)
Living in accordance with nature’s rhythm gives us power. This is true in an experiential sense and true in our physical bodies. Most trees, plants, crops do not bloom year round. The same is broadly true of humans: we are not expected or designed to be in full regalia every day of our lifetime. Perhaps excepting the humans and plants who thrive along the widest, warmest circumference of the earth. They have subtler seasons and other lessons, but seasons and lessons nonetheless.
For the rest of us, for most of us, plants and humans, winter is a time of fallow. In fall, aspects of our self have died with the leaves, and the following darkness of winter represents the abyss that precedes creation: the Dreamtime, the “before,” the rest between measures.
Winter is a time to cultivate our inner soil. It is a time to break down old “bones” and enrich ourselves on our deepest levels. It is a time to rest, strategize, recover. Winter allows us to draw in potential. It gives us the opportunity to wait and prepare carefully for our next movement. It restricts us. It asks us to meter our activities: work out less, externalize less, go out less, travel less far. It suggests we take time alone, eat heartier, move more gently, utilize our internal resources, and above all rest. Winter is the season of rest.
And it is a lesson in contraction. Human consciousness currently (perhaps eternally?) seems to default to an emphasis on expansion. Whether that expansion pertains to consciousness, family and partnership, cities, or material possessions, we often default to the idea that further we can take a thing, the better. More, better.
Winter says less and offers culling. Which is why we often actively resist it’s teachings. Nobody wants to give up their toys.
Perhaps we think if we can defeat it, vanquish winter, we will be stronger. Many of us travel far and wide, most of us fail to rest more. To my awareness, we do not collectively, culturally shift our eating to support our bodies. December, the heart of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, has become the most hectic months, full of emotional upheaval and collective “it’s almost over” (what is this “it,” anyway? It never stops as far as I can tell...). Our diets are full of inflammatory foods and our schedules are overpacked to bursting. Then, in January, instead of slowly beginning to regain our strength as we turn back toward the longer days, many fall ill: immunes systems wrecked by the frenzy of the previous month and our general disregard for the season. Humans overwhelmed. As if we’re all numbing ourselves from fear of being still. February sees us desperate, but almost through it, the first tendrils of hope for warmers days unraveling in us. What a mess!
Winter can be as lovely and enjoyable a season as all the rest. It can be more than a mutual gritting of teeth and battening down until better days. It can be a time we can use to examine our relationship with choice and perseverance.
We have, at all times, a say in our experience. This is one of life’s trickiest lessons: the conscious and continual awareness of the ever present Choice. We may not always choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we respond.
Winter’s wisdom, winter’s restriction, teaches us to be flexible and clever, adaptive in our responses. If we look at constraint as an opportunity to limit the distraction of full creative freedom, we find that with less, we can often do more. Limitless potential - a completely open and expanded state, Summer, if you will - is exciting because we feel we can do anything. There is abundant energy and life. But what can we do when we can’t do anything? Creativity as a blank slate is fun, but creativity within restraint is formative in the extreme. It is a tool which teaches us to think outside the box. And by learning to utilize the system more fully in times of famine, we’re better equipped to deal lovingly and generously with times of feast.
In winter, in our bodies, we also see very directly the relationship between choice and wellness. By resting more, we’re more able to feel calm and comfortable when attending to family matters around the holidays. But if we’ve been going nonstop, if we haven't filled our own cup, we may not have patience for our dear friend’s work troubles or our father’s sketchy political ideology, and we fry ourselves further and further. This takes away from winter’s suggestion we be close to those we love and reaffirm those bonds for the next cycle. Without our tribe, we’re very alone, and it’s very hard to make it alone.
Likewise, if we’ve chosen to eat healthfully and mindfully at a time when our body is more vulnerable, we’re able to dance through the season without missing work or losing focus. This is not to say we shouldn’t enjoy cookies, mind you, we should all absolutely eat cookies: it’s just to say that winter posits more may not be better. Winter challenges us to look at what forms of consumption we really need and how much we need to consume. Less than we think, it often turns out. This lesson rewards us with appreciation toward simplicity.
When we ignore winter’s wisdom, our bodies become overwhelmed. We fall ill. We lose track. We get pulled under. This goes against our prime directive: survive. Winter is a test of our perseverance and our patience, our will to survive. Our creative and personal visions are nothing if we are not alive to share and generate them. So we must persevere. (The practice of New Year’s resolutions may well fall out of this primal instinct. What can we do better next cycle? A worthy practice indeed, as long as the resolutions are general enough.)
Perseverance is a conservation of our original state. We see this state of self as our “true” self, the self we occasionally recognize with a kind of “ah-ha, oh yes this is all going so well.” It’s the synchronistic state. And “waking up” or “becoming more aware” is about making choices which enable us to be more and more persistently in this state, or rather more and more persistently able to both recognize this state and move with it. With this we discover what in us is constant in the motion of experience. Perseverance is choosing, every day, to live to our own personal truth, whatever that may be. It is reminding ourselves continually of our choice in the matter and choosing impactfully. Winter says be patient. Learn to last in uncomfortable states. Explore cold. Learn to be yourself even in restriction. Survive. Persevere.
To strive to be in a constant state of complete and perfected “expansion” is a false quest. Likewise, to constantly be turned within, closed and collecting energy in complete and perfected “contraction” is a false quest. To focus on only one is at best an identifiable trap and at worst a lifelong distraction. It’s trying to solve a puzzle when you’re missing half the pieces. The real secret is to persist, to persevere in tracking the motion as a whole arc, moving gracefully from the contraction to the expansion, from dark to light, from off to on, from winter to summer, and back again. How skilled are you at moving from state to state? A question to keep your brain warm for a few more weeks...