(I wrote this post about a month ago, when we got the first of what I thought would be a handful of storms. And...that storm turned into dozens, dumping several feet of snow on us. We're still in the thick of it, too. Non-stop snow, terrible road conditions, bad accidents... All of which is causing me a whole lot of anxiety. So as it turns out, I obviously still have a LOT to learn from Winter, my teacher.)
I have to say, I’ve noticed a surprising amount of backlash to winter this year. I know many people find the long nights and cold weather hard to bear – in fact, I am one of them. But there’s a certain magic to winter that cannot be denied.
There is nothing like the colors of winter. The grays, blues, pinks, and purples. On some mornings, the sky looks like taffy – striped with 4 or 5 muted pastel tones. In the late afternoon, that muted blue sky becomes deeper and deeper, turning almost sapphire, while the gray of night slowly overtakes it. On especially nice afternoons, the sunset gifts us with a beautiful pink tone.
Then there’s the snow. I admit, I’m not always a huge fan of snow. Even after decades of living in northern climates, I still hate driving in snow and ice. I still fear weather-related car accidents. And I absolutely despise it when we get so much snow at one time that I have to set my routines aside. Not being able to bicycle or take my daily walks because of the messy, dangerous roads is extremely difficult. Within 24 hours, I get pretty extreme cabin fever. After a week or more of this, I have been known to struggle with panic attacks because I feel like I’m trapped. So yes, I’m not always a fan of snow. However…
You can’t deny that snow is beautiful, wondrous, and magical. There is nothing like the feeling of big fat snowflakes landing on your face when riding your bike or walking around town (assuming the roads or sidewalks are clear, of course – if you’re worried about slipping in the ice, then it’s hard to pay attention to the beauty of the snow). And nothing beats the color of the sky when it’s snowing like that.
Snow is like a big, fluffy blanket laying itself down over the earth. If we aren’t rushed by our work schedules, or stressed about the holidays then we have the chance to actually feel an appreciation for this beautiful change in the weather. Think about how fun it is to sled down a hill. Or to feel and hear the sound of snow crunching under your feet. And just seeing the trees and rooftops decorated with that silver-white sparkle is so beautiful.
The best thing about winter is that it gives us permission to slow down, rest, and contemplate. Granted, our society completely denies this and holds us to wildly different expectations. But the only way we’re going to change anything is to start changing ourselves.
Like many of you, I’m not in a position to make drastic lifestyle changes just because it’s winter. I still have to wake up before dawn in order to get to work on time. I still have to put in the same amount of hours in a day. I still struggle with the holiday rush and seasonal affective disorder. And I, too, have to find my way in the holiday rush.
However, as each year passes, I try to adjust as much as I can. I turn off the TV and computer and read a real book (e-books are a no-no, because I’m trying to let my eyes adjust to less light at this time of year, which translates to less screen time) at the end of the day. I work out slightly less (sometimes simply because the snow forces me off the streets and sidewalks). I try to stretch more and go to bed earlier. I take a lot of time to think and try to pull back from activity in order to spend more time on contemplating how I feel, what I want, and where I’m heading over the course of the next year.
In the long term, I have what I call a “winter goal” – a big picture lifestyle goal that I want to move toward over the next few years to help me create the kind of winter I want to have. I want to start clearing more space for that time of year so I have more down time and more time to spend with family, rather than feeling like all the end-of-year tasks are piling up and that I’m busier than ever.
Ultimately, my goal is to be self-employed and to be able to pull back a bit from work in the winter time. I’d like to wake up when my body says it’s time to wake up (around 8 AM, I’ve noticed, in the wintertime) and go to bed earlier. I’d like to have ALL the holiday gifts finished and wrapped by Thanksgiving so I don’t have to run around looking for last-minute items. I’d like to have holiday cards completed by Thanksgiving, as well. I’d like to have all my creative projects finished by Halloween so I can automate everything – from sales to blog posts – in November and not have to touch my website in December. Which leads me to the ultimate goal of wanting to take the entire month of December off. As a teacher, I used to get July and August off, which is really nice, but honestly, I’d rather have a month or two off in winter – especially December, when all I want to do is bake cookies, knit, and spend time with my family.
Now, here’s how I know that our culture doesn’t support this kind of “seasonal living.” I literally felt scared to type out that I wanted to take the whole month of December off, knowing other people would read this. I’ve already heard many times that teachers are “Peter Pans” who never want to grow up because “real adults” work all year long, with only a couple days off for holidays and illness. There’s still a big part of me that feels like I “should” deny these desires to alter my lifestyle season-by-season – even though that’s what we were MEANT to do. (Electricity and the internet have given us the opportunity to work 24/7/365 – but that’s doesn’t mean we SHOULD.)
So I’m going to dare to listen to my body and believe that I have every right to create a life that works for me and keeps me healthy and happy. I believe this is everyone’s right.
I honestly believe that if we had a little more respect for winter and for the lessons and opportunities it brings, we would feel very differently about this time of year. I suspect so many people hate winter because we live in a summer society. Go, go, go. Fast and hot. Long, long days. Do. Do more. Don’t think, just go. We get angry and frustrated because winter simply refuses to play along with this game. It won’t give us the light or the warmth to allow us to remain in action mode, and our bodies naturally want to pull back a bit, rest, be instead of do. And this is very hard for us to accept.
I also believe that the source of much of our seasonal depression is caused by this inability to alter our lifestyles in the winter. There’s really no social support for those who want and need to pull back and so we feel like we have to fight to keep going, to keep producing. I think it’s easy to fall prey to depression when we feel we cannot give our bodies and souls what they need.
There’s no easy solution to any of this. This is the world we live in and it’s not going to change on its own. In fact, I’d bet that it’ll keep moving in the direction it’s moving in – greater action, longer days, more disruption to our circadian rhythms. I don’t say this out of cynicism, but out of genuine concern. I think it’s imperative that we stay tuned in to what our bodies and souls need and keep pursuing those needs relentlessly. No matter what our society tells us. No matter what’s on our to-do list.
We have to take care of ourselves. That’s what winter is all about. Its severity, for those who live in colder climates, isn’t a mistake made by Mother Nature. It’s a test of will and survival. What do we have to do to stay warm and nourish ourselves in this stark, harsh time?
Breathe. Eat. Rest. Be.
Sometimes, that’s enough. And it should be enough.
So don’t hate winter. Find the beauty and magic in it. Listen for its lessons. And let it change your lifestyle. Let it affect you. Let it mold and shape you.
This time of year was never meant to be simply an interruption of summer. It wasn’t mean to be an inconvenience to ignore.
Winter, as much as summer or any other time of year, is our teacher.