December 27, 2020

As we who live up north approach shorter and colder days, we discover our need for coping with the misery in our lives. A few years ago, while going through a challenging time, I met one of my favorite writers, Faith Sullivan, at a writers’ event. When I shared how I simply could not get going with my writing, she told me that this was my time for gathering, for wintering.  She further explained how this can also be a productive time, a time for collecting my thoughts, for retreating into myself, for gathering what it is I want to say, to write about.

The secret to coping with the darkest of days also lies in the life-affirming power of the natural world. In wintertime, we can embrace the cold and learn from these fallow periods when life is simultaneously dormant and alive.

What do you think of when you think of winter? Is it a stressful imagining or a peaceful one? Cozy? Uncomfortable? Necessary? With the inevitable approach of colder months, many of our memories or associations with the season are both good and bad.

These fallow periods in life when we’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of the outsider can be productive times–times to gather, to winter. They can transform the hardships that arise before the ushering in of a new season.

There will always be wintering/gathering times: periods of sadness and solitude. We must prepare for them as best we can. What might this look like in practice for you?

There are ways we can care for and repair ourselves and also embrace the opportunities that these times, these seasons offer when life knocks us down. When we embrace our misery, we learn from it. I offer some ways here. 

  • Recognize and meet your needs for self-nurture and healing in the cycles of sadness or difficulty that life throws at us.
  • Accept that times of sadness and grief are a part of the cycles, a part of our lives.
  • Find nourishment and the transformative power of rest and retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear.
  • Ponder how we can change our self-talk into positive statements.
  • Discover how to relate to your own fallow times.
  • Reflect on the internal process winter sets into motion that embraces the harshness of life as part of the cycle of nature.
  • Seek out the peace and solace found in nature’s winters. For example, observe everything from the hibernating nests of mice, wolf dens, and the survival tactics of bees, to the wonder of the northern lights, and the frigid cold of the Arctic Circle and how those who choose to live there embrace winter.
  • Weigh the importance of snow in adult fairy tales such as “Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey. This book still amazes me.
  • Practice self-care–getting enough sleep, taking short afternoon naps, and generally slowing down daily routines.
  • Recognize when you need to coil into yourself. Protect yourself. Grow. Anticipate spring. Feel the turning of the year with daily gratitude.
  • Keep and pass on rituals: family rituals, holiday rituals, rituals of lighting a home fire or candles in the long evenings. Of hygge. (More on this another day this winter.)

To welcome winter and our gathering times is to survive them. In order to live through life events that change our lives is to embrace these them.

I have a friend who likes to travel north in the wintertime. She likes how cold air feels clean and uncluttered; she tells me she can think straighter up north in the solitude of the cold. She likes the cleansing power of breathing in the scent of snow. And she reminds me that cold has healing properties. For example, we apply ice to a joint after an awkward fall. Why not do the same to life?

If you find that highlights of the year (like holidays) pass with little joy and too much stress, if you miss feeling the different seasons and instead seem surprised upon their arrival, embrace this winter with all that it has to offer. Get outside and be in the sun on those days as often as possible. Scandinavian friends tell me there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!

Just as trees pare back and hibernate for the winter months and are then ready to grow and blossom when the spring sun returns, change will happen for us, whether we like it or not, whether we are ready for it or not.

That writer friend, Faith Sullivan, was right. Those years ago, after my gathering/wintering time was over, I wrote two books: Missing My Best Friend and Scoria Roads plus numerous short stories, poems, and even a sermon! Some have won awards.  Thank you, Faith.

Know that during gathering/wintering, everything is up for grabs. This is the enormous gift. Make this time irresistible. And be prepared for the unexpected.

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