A Season of Retreat & Restoration
In nature, winter is a time for retreat and hibernation. Under the cover of cold and darkness, plants and animals conserve their energies, rest, and regenerate. Only humans seem to resist winter’s call to slow down and replenish.
This cold season arrives inevitably year after year. During this frigid period, certain birds will retreat to warmer climates, bears will instinctually turn to hibernation, and deciduous trees lose their leaves, revealing their bare, skeletal beauty.
Throughout the natural world, we can observe that winter is a time for rest and refuge. And yet, our fast-paced society refuses to engage in this instinctual season.
Rather, from a young age, we are taught that self-improvement is a relentless progression, without adequate space for quiet stillness.
But the truth of reality is quite different.
Natural growth is not a perpetual linear progression of ever-increasing flourishing. It is a cyclical rhythm of growth, blossoming, and much needed periods of deep rest.
As Katherine May puts in her book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times,
“We are in the habit of imagining our lives to be linear, a long march from birth to death in which we mass our powers, only to surrender them again, all the while slowly losing our youthful beauty. This is a brutal untruth. Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.”
When we intentionally slow down to listen to the intuitiveness within us, we come to realize that every season holds its unique wisdom. Winter’s being that of rest, solitude, and self-reflection.
Nature Teaches Us How to Endure Our Own Harsh Seasons
As with all natural life, human life comes in seasons. Some seasons are filled with abundance and warmth, while others are bitter and harsh.
And yet society tells us to deny this simple fact. We’ve been raised to resist winter and act as if our lives are one long continuous summer.
Every winter season, millions of people around the world experience a mental disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to Harvard Medical School, SAD is typically caused by a lack of adequate amounts of sunlight during fall and winter months. More melatonin is created by the brain, causing people to feel more lethargic and sleepy.
Because a lack of sunlight releases less serotonin (“feel-good” hormone), people tend to experience less energy, less concentration, and impaired cognitive function during winter months.
Modern western society will tell us that this decline in normal productivity is unacceptable. However, the natural world tells us that this is a completely normal phenomenon.
Consider the harvest cycle of a field. After a couple cycles of farming, a field usually lies fallow. For farmers to cultivate healthy crops, fields usually spend at least one season left unplanted and unsowed. This farming technique gives fields time to replenish and restore lost nutrients.
This time of fallow (or deep rest) activates a flurry of activity. Worms burrow tunnels. Organic matter decomposes into life-giving nutrients. Rainfall gathers into underground water. The health of next year’s harvest depends upon this rich, invisible dance beneath the surface.
Just like the fields, we, too, need to lie fallow.
Doing Less as an Act of Faith
If we were to tune into our intauatttive wisdom during the bitter seasons of our lives, we would might hear the following:
“Slow down. It’s time to rest. You are safe.”
When we honor our inner wisdom by taking the time to be still, we are actually proclaiming a statement of faith. We are declaring the belief that we are safe to slow down. Our self-worth is not a matter of how productive we are.
We fall into grace, knowing on a deep level that we are enough, not because of how much we do. We are enough because of the simple fact that we are.
Embracing the Cold
In order to properly live out this newfound understanding, we must prepare ourselves for winter. We can practice the following rituals to fully embrace the power of wintering:
1. Slow Down
In our fast-paced, high-energy society, slowing down can be quite tricky for some people. And yet, it is so essential to our overall well-being. During the winter seasons of our lives, we are allowed to rest and replenish.
Envelop the somber season by slowing down personal schedules. It is important to give our bodies and minds enough rest and downtime.
If possible, give yourself some time each day to do absolutely nothing but sit in quiet stillness.
2. Quiet Reflection
As we have learned, winter is a season of retreat and reflection. Take this time to discover your inner self.
Grab a journal and write down thoughts as they come up. Enjoy the freedom of expressing yourself with pen and paper. Listen to your body and adjust your lifestyle accordingly.
Getting yourself away from the constant buzz, ping, and vibrations of technology is a powerful and restorative practice. The habit of consciously unplugging and turning off electronic devices can permit so much internal release.
Alternatives to screen usage include journaling, meditating, painting, sewing, spending quality time with others, baking, and many more soothing hobbies.
4. Indulge in Something Warm
Think of the crackling of a warm fireplace, the aroma of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, or the warm taste of herbal tea as it touches your lips. Light a fire, snuggle up, and get cozy with a warm drink.
The weather outside may be cold, but this practice is all about warming the soul.
Nothing In Nature Blooms All Year
Our “winters”, whether natural or personal, should be a time to focus on our own restoration and well-being.
Just like the four seasons of a year, our winters are not to be overcome once and forgotten. They’re cyclical, endlessly returning. And each time winter comes, we become better prepared for the next.
With time and practice, our bodies will learn to sense winter approaching and prepare. Automatically, we will begin to slow down and cultivate the quieter pleasures of the season. Who knows? We might even learn how to embrace it.
And when the slow days and bleak skies cause you to question your self-worth, remind your heart that:
“Nothing in nature blooms all year.”
Most of all, remember that the restoration and gathered energy of winter is preparation for the rebirth of spring.