On (Finally) Welcoming Winter….
…or… How I learned about the difference between meteorological and astronomical seasons and decided that winter was actually okay.
It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that I was a full grown human before I understood what “winter” actually is. As in, I was hurtling-toward-middle-age-with-a-mortgage-and-a-career-years-old before I grokked what “Winter Solstice” was actually all about.
Up until that point in my life, winter was met with grimness and apprehension. Fall helpfully ushered in these feelings of dread accompanied by cheerful statements like “Dontcha just love sweater weather?” and “The leaves are amaaaaazing this time of year!” and “I’ll take a quadruple venti pumpkin spice latte please!”
Watching the sun dip lower in the sky and the leaves turn and drop from the trees, feeling the temperature change and hearing friends and colleagues attest to how much they just loooooove this time of year only added to my sense of impending doom.
“No!” (I would protest in my head), “Don’t you see? The darkness is coming and it will last for so very long! Also, it will be cold and that is a problem.”
I’m not exactly sure what shifted for me, what tidbit of information filtered through to my grey matter but neurons fired, electrical and chemical connections were made and suddenly, one day, when I was already a grown up lady person, I came to understand that “Winter” began on the Winter Solstice. And that shift in understanding was quiet and momentous and profound.
Suddenly, I no longer “hated” winter. I loved winter! Okay, okay…I had much less animosity toward winter. It was still cold and dark, but newly (amazingly) glorious. “Winter” now meant the returning of the light! The beginning of the arc back toward warmth and greenery and life. How had I not understood this for most of my life?!
That I suddenly comprehended this event, the shortest day and longest night, marks the turning away from the darkness and toward the light was truly life changing. “Winter” came to mean something radically different to me (…as did “Summer” I later found out to my chagrin).
Many of you may be thinking “Duh, Amy. We know this. What’s your point”?
Well, for years, I have struggled to articulate the momentousness of that realization. How one tiny shift in perspective, how such a small change in understanding can alter an entire lifetime of belief and perceptions in an instant. And how, armed with this new perspective, a grown up lady person might have a totally different lived experience of the darkness and cold surrounding the shortest days of the year. Winter became….well…kind of awesome.
I tell this story for two reasons.
Reason number one: Self-Care in Times of Darkness -or- How to Hibernate Well.
It is both cold and dark here in Portland, Oregon. It is early in the morning as I write this sitting swaddled in cozy warm blankets, drinking delicious hot coffee and enjoying my handy-dandy SAD light. Accompanying my adult onset comprehension of what winter actually is, has come an increasingly enthusiastic embracing of all things warm, fuzzy and comforting. Self-care has become a religion. (Preach and hallelujah!) I have purchased electric blankets and wool leg warmers recently and am a changed person. I have reveled every morning for the past couple of months in the bright fake “sunshine” of a SAD lamp and I cannot recommend these highly enough for folks living in northern and cloudy climes who feel the effects of astronomical seasons in their bodies and minds. I have given myself permission to take baths for no other reason than I am chilly and to have hot chocolate whenever I like. And I pause often to reflect on how very lucky I am to be able to care for myself in this way and I want us all to be able to do so without reservation or guilt.
I may be fairly new to all of this, but I know I’m not alone. I recently had a conversation with someone about how in our middle age (so much wisdom!), we have come to embrace and lean into the experience of being in the darkness, of cocooning ourselves in the warmth and quiet available only at this time of year. Learning to allow ourselves to slow down and enjoy the short days and longer nights and finding a sense of camaraderie with the other smart mammals who hibernate this time of year and who offer no apology for doing so. In this day and age, resting can be radical self-care.
So, if you need a nudge or permission – please, go run a bath and have some hot chocolate. Maybe put on some leg warmers and take a nap.
Reason Number Two: Naming the shifts in perspective that we experience helps us solidify them and own the experience/s in a meaningful way.
These small shifts that change the way that we experience reality forever, deserve to be identified and held dear. They cannot be shifted back. They cannot be undone. The fabric of our existence and our comprehension will be forever altered and this is truly momentous and profound.
Over the past year, in between bouts of complete overwhelm, there have been innumerable chances for clarity to come to the fore. To see, understand and apprehend what is most vital, important and meaningful to us. For many of us, personal and cultural values have been closely examined. Some of these values have been found worthy and good and others have been identified as deeply problematic and in need of repair or disposal altogether. To see clearly what is working and what needs to change in our lives, in our country and our world (even if the path to those changes remains murky or closed) is a gift.
Quite frankly, this year has been like an overly enthusiastic evil Santa Claus. Handing out misery and despair and dismay to one and all, cackling gleefully as he makes the rounds. “Gifts” abound for all of us even if they don’t feel like gifts in the moment.
2020 has been a year of abundant opportunities for shifts in perspective as we have collectively been through a lot. I’m working on remembering to balance a desire for positive change and forward movement with honoring what is happening especially during this time of year and finding ways to be gentle and kind with others and with myself.
There has been so much that elicits grief and anger and outrage this year. So many experiences and events that have asked us to look into the darkness to see if there is a way to shift this reality into one that promises the light and the warmth and the life that we know is there. A shift that is not only possible but also inevitable. Winter shows us this every year. After darkness, there is always light. I look forward to connecting with you again in the New Year. Happy Solstice.
May you find warmth and comfort and joy this season of holidays whether you celebrate or do not.
May you feel free to embrace the shifts in perspective this year has gifted us.
May you experience a gentle transition into the New Year.