Happy Solstice folks!
Welcome to the time of year when many of us flail around shopping, hitting events and making merry, all the while feeling like this is just a little bit much.
And for those with kids, who touch who-knows-what all the time and sneeze in your mouth without warning, we’re trying to do all those things while everyone is just a little bit sick. For, like, months.
The small island I live on doesn’t have streetlights. The lack of light pollution is amazing and nourishing, if you can withstand the darkness.
The dank, wet, grey darkness does become the interior landscape of a lot of us.
As winter descends, I’ve been dragging my meat suit around. I’m exhausted. Focusing is difficult. My email and text response game is subpar and I fantasize about crawling into bed with a book by 4pm. Which I would if I didn’t have to parent. Things that take very little effort when fueled by vitamin D feel like the heaviest lift. People around me are seasonally depressed, feeling varying degrees of meh, blech, ugh and omg this might kill me.
And you know what? I planned for this.
I’m in great spirits. Sluggish spirits. But accepting. Joyful even. It hadn’t always been like this.
My December schedule has been before-the-holidays-full. But it’s padded with space so I can take my time with the things that matter. I don’t feel like I have “free time”, but the time I’m taking for things feels soft and regulated.
For example – when I have clients or group calls, I don’t schedule any other decision-making or creative deadlines that day. It’s just too much grind and I’m not into it. I know what takes energy and what fuels me in this season and I’ve planned accordingly.
I’m proud of myself. Even if the felt sense of pride from this leave-me-alone-I’m-hiding-under-the-covers state is more like a dull ache of not being that bothered.
Wintering can be hard. Literally wintering at this time of year, from this spot on the planet and metaphorically wintering through life cycles of letting go, death and incubation. I was shocked to discover it’s not difficult for everyone. Some people are at home during this season. Many clients I work with feel safe and content in winter cycles and moving out of them feels scary or overwhelming.
Wintering with any kind of grace and ease has been hard won. I clutch the sun like a toddler to her mother’s leg. Don’t leave me!!!! My personality, my energetic system, my overall constitution and the internalization of the cultural norms and value systems all work together in what I can best describe as “GO”.
I’ve got a lot of GO.
Which is why I feel stoked to help people winter. I know how inaccessible it can feel. I understand the sheer torture of turning down the dial on productivity. I understand what it means to measure worth against that which is visible and externalized.
For the A-Type, on-the-go, action-oriented, ambitious, high-functioning anxious people, wintering can feel like a special kind of hell.
Like standing in line at a postal shop when the person, four customers in front of you, has infuriatingly time-consuming needs and you happen to have left your phone in your car.
What do you mean I have to just stand here?
Why is this taking so long?
Will each person in front of me also take this long?
Nothing is happening and I’m losing my mind.
All the stuff I have to do that’s swirling in my head is squashing into the already impossible timelines of my future and I can’t even distract myself with a device!
Waiting. Stillness. Resting. Hibernating.
If you feel like you need to winter, or want to winter, I’d love to share some learning to compassionately meet this time. And when I say compassionately, I mean let’s give a beating to the inner standard tyrant who tells you that you need to be getting better all the damn time. Just stop, please.
Again whether that’s literally surrendering to the season and light (if you live in a place that drains to darkness this season), or if you can feel the decomposition of life ushering you into a cycle of winter creatively, emotionally, and productively, this is for you.
Elbow out space. Defend it.
I get it. There are things to do, people to care for, responsibilities to meet. You’re busy and important. And that’s the point. The part of us that’s hooked our sense of value or worth on being busy or important is going to kick and scream, threatened by space. We might see memes about Hygge and think “That seems so nice, why doesn’t cozy chill feel good to me?”
When your list stretches to infinity, taking space or slowing can feel like sentencing your future self to “being behind”. First, we need to understand what happens in winter. Mammals gear down and settle. The surface of the Earth freezes, things are still, but there is so much life happening under the surface.
There is so much happening within you. If you pad your schedule and give yourself a little more space, you’ll begin to feel what’s there. What’s there doesn’t always feel good. For goers, stopping completely in spaciousness can be anxiety-provoking. I recommend doing this in small ways that have your system experience a sense of space. Try things like:
Build in an extra 15 minutes between appointments and lay on the ground for 5 minutes.
When you’re standing in line or going ‘between things’, bring a book to read instead of your phone (or do nothing and let your mind wander).
When out shopping, park further away and walk at half the speed you normally would, be present to your breath. Slowing your outer pace will ripple into your inner pace.
Notice the texture of discomfort as you experience it, see if you can stay with it, instead of rushing away from it.
Down Gear Slowly. Move without being “productive.”
If you’re driving on the highway, going from fifth gear into reverse is going to seriously mess up your engine. A lot of goers have two speeds: Go and collapse.
If you’re used to being on the move, holding a lot, wrestling yourself into stillness will likely turn up the volume of your thoughts to an intolerable decibel. Knowing what to gear down, and what to keep moving with can be a way into wintering that feels nourishing instead of impossible.
Gear down decision making, problem solving, deadline hitting, and tasks or engagements that take will-power, emotional lifting, or have high stakes or standards.
Move in nature. For me, it’s skiing. I get the speed, the endorphins, the exercise, prevent energy stagnation in my body and my mind is out of the grind. Or forest walks. Or cold dips in the ocean.
Meeting and moving in the natural world, with the season and weather as it is helps to reorient habits of activity from to-do-list production toward embodiment that aligns with winter.
Puttering or cooking or doing creative things with your hands is also a way to dis-engage from the pathology of productivity, while allowing your mind to both chatter and settle.
If you aren’t in a geographical winter, mimic these conditions with practices that bring your attention inward, are reflective and incubatory. Play with creative practices or exercise that don’t have outcomes, where you aren’t measuring their success, but are practicing on behalf of presence and connection with yourself.
This pain will not hurt you.
Moving into winter can be painful, but relieving.
I first learned the concept of pain not hurting when practicing Vipassana meditation at a 10-day silent retreat when I was 18. We sat for 11 hours a day, but by day 4 were encouraged to sit without moving. Have you ever sat without moving for an hour straight? How about several hours?
That’s the point. When we can stay with and observe the pain, instead of react to it, we learn about impermanence through the changing nature of sensation in our bodies. We learn about the ways we reject experiences, long for others and become attached to things.
When your body, mind or soul are aching for stillness, or you’re thrust into lower levels of capacity or the dark unknown, there will be pain. Turns out, there’s pain everywhere, but for many, keeping a high clip to their pace doesn’t give space to notice or feel that pain.
When you slow down, it’s common for grief, disappointment, fear and shame to come bubbling up. Doubt, anxiety, and introspection that comes with some side-eye or self-disgust. And who wants to feel all that?
You don’t have to trust me, check it out for yourself: If you have a tendency to escape your pain through activity, achievement, success or being someone and getting somewhere, when you finally slow down enough to feel all the shit, and move through the shock and overwhelm of it, there is pleasure in sorrow. There is kindness in disappointment. There is peace in allowing grief to do what grief does. There is a tremendous amount of relief to be found in making room for the pain, in the gentle acceptance of what is.
Numbing Indulgences can be kind
On the note of pain, no one is getting awards for being evolved. I swim in the land of seekers. I’m surrounded by people who are actively focused on healing, growth and development, who care about doing meaningful work and making the world a better place.
I love getting to relate with folks who’ve done a high degree of personal work, we get to go deep, real, vulnerable and play in nuance.
But, there’s a trap I see a lot in this space. The internalization of perfectionistic standards and the endless acquisition of “better” that the dominant culture reveres makes people turn their personal or spiritual development into a make-work-project of achievement. And thus, anything that isn’t high-vibe, high-standard, deeply-values-aligned gets the thumbs down.
“Evolved” people never get to just be lazy losers. Even your nourishment needs to be regulating to your nervous system, baring enlightening insight, and healing your ancestors at the same time! So. Much. Pressure.
The number of people who confess to me, with shame, the habits or indulgences they frequent makes me sad. We all need breaks. Even from the things that are good for us.
Eat. Drink. Binge watch HBO. Read fluff. Gossip with your friends about your take on Harry and Meghan. Ease up on being good. Get stoned. Be petty or jealous. Pout about not getting what you want even though you feel too privileged to pout about not getting what you want.
I’m a massive champion of doing the hard and deep work of waking up and growing up as human beings. I’m also a fan of NOT pathologizing everything that doesn’t make it onto a self-help checklist.
Kindness. Kindness. Kindness. Cut yourself some slack my friend. We don’t need to optimize our wintering! In fact, I think that’s one of the most magical qualities we can cultivate in this seasonal landscape – chill the fuck out about all the standards and expectations. oy!
Meet the dark however you need to meet the dark. It may feel hard. It may feel indulgent. It may feel sweet. It may feel like a roller coaster of all the things. You’re doing a good enough job.
Wintering is such an important part of living regeneratively. May each of us find our ways to do the work (or non-work) of surrendering to the dark days of winter.
Happy Winter Soul-Bunnies.
Sending so much love from beneath the covers.