This is a guest post from Jessie Steadman, aka "Healthy Coach Jess", a certified health coach, nutritionist, yoga instructor, and Tau contributor. When you attend one of our retreats Jessie will offer you personalized holistic coaching sessions.
Born and raised on the Florida Gulf Coast, my relationship with winter got a late start. The northern hemisphere’s coldest season barely existed there. I didn’t own hats, gloves or scarves growing up because they were unnecessary. More years than not, I made it through just fine with jackets and didn’t need a coat. Of course, relative to the rest of the sweltering year, I felt cold, but there was minimal change around me to observe in nature. I went to college just farther up the coast and upon graduation moved to Texas where there was only slightly more variation among the seasons. It wasn’t until my mid 20s when I found myself living in St. Louis, Missouri, that I met winter face to face. We started out a bit rocky. By this point I was parenting very small humans and, well, most things are trickier with small humans in tow. Always active outdoors, however, I decided that it must be possible to learn to be “winter-active” and I determined to adapt. In truth, during this first phase of our relationship, I thought that winter was there to bully me: change my plans, test my patience, slow my progress, shift my success and generally push against my goal-oriented mindset and way of life. Winter and I would not be settling into a mutually respectful and appreciative knowledge of each other anytime soon, it seemed.
Fast forward two decades and many changes of heart and I’ve learned that what winter wanted for me was something entirely different than what I believed in our early days together. Winter was indeed pushing against, but not against me. What winter pushes against is our drive to always hurry to produce something measurable and profitable. This is what our culture tells us has meaning; it's how our world defines success and demands security. We must never cease in our relentless pursuit of having more, making more, doing more, being more.
Winter suggests a different way.
What winter and the other seasons in their turn show us is that created things need both work and rest. Every year, without fail, the earth slows, sloughs, and sleeps. The plants and animals find rest. If it’s winter where you are and you’re feeling weary, take heart! You weren’t designed to deny your need for regular breaks. When we force ourselves into a season-less existence our bodies often let us know that all is not well in the form of illness, both physical and mental. The depression and fatigue that accompany Seasonal Affective Disorder are well known by many, primarily during the winter months. Modern societal and economic expectations demanding that we continue this hurried pace year round fail to honor the more primal rhythms our bodies know. For centuries our ancestors’ survival depended on honoring the world's natural cycles. People planned and planted in spring, tended and toiled in summer, harvested and preserved in autumn, and paused to restore and replenish in winter. Winter wisely offers us the same invitation if we will receive it.
Why is receiving winter so hard?
As always, the way we live out any narrative has much to do with our mindset. Remember, rest does not equal idleness. Rest is all about restoration. We’re being summoned not to boredom, but to a season of repair that offers us healing and wholeness. To practices and ways of life that help us rest and reset, so that we can begin again, when the season is right. If it feels hard to receive the invitation of winter, try asking yourself what might feel troubling about it to you. Is it difficult to stay with silence? Does the loss of light unnerve you? Do you feel the weight of shadow? Is the proximity to death too heavy? Do you feel insecure without constant work? Does restlessness show up when you slow down? Does your desire to hibernate make you feel unnecessary guilt or shame? You may or may not find answers to these questions – and that’s okay – whatever arises as you consider your relationship with winter, meet it with compassion and grace. Simply naming what’s true is the first step on any journey toward shifting a mindset. Try to accept the possibility that there could be beauty in the kind of letting go that winter models for us, whatever shape it might take in your story.
The idea I propose here is not new, there have been a plethora of articles and books written to convince us that seasonal living can be transformational, ranging from the scientific and scholarly to the poetic and personal. If you want to dive in deeper, one of my favorites is called Wintering, by Katherine May, though a simple Google search might produce one that seems to resonate more with you.
In part 2 of this post, we'll get practical. Say you buy the narrative. You sense the weariness. You even feel the hint of yearning to greet winter with welcome instead of dread. How exactly does one begin to make the necessary shift?