Winter is a time for surrender and soulfulness. In the sanctuary of the dark and the quiet, as winter holds space for us to slow down, we can feel ourselves more rooted to the earth and more connected with the eternal cycle of growth, death and rebirth, says Emma Johnson…
Darkness descends, the world outside is quiet, winds blow, snow falls, the trees are sleeping, surrendering themselves to the season, their sap turned downwards into the earth, shoring up their strength until spring. Gratefully, they have shed the weight of their leaves, their branches free from distractions, a welcome rest in the bitter snap of winter, safe in the knowledge that under the earth, all around them, the work of life is being done.
‘Although it appears that the natural world is dormant beneath our feet… miracles are unfolding,’ says Isla Macleod in her book Rituals for Life. ‘Within the seeds, there is a stirring, an emergence of life that takes place within the dark, when unseen creative forces are at play. From the fertile nothingness, the first sparks of life emerge.’
We associate winter with death, but really it is a time of deep connection to what it means to be alive. As we witness nature giving in with grace and softness to the bite of winter, our own need to surrender to this slow season is reflected back at us. If we can be present to the inevitability of death and loss that we see in nature, we can begin to understand the way that these cycles show up in our own life.
‘Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer,’ explains Katherine May in her book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. ‘They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources… vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.’
Winter literally holds space for us to witness the beauty of the cycle of life and to understand that it is a biological imperative to experience this yearly winter in our minds, bodies and souls. In our relentlessly busy world, we try to avoid winter. We shy away from it, fearful of how it leaves us barren and bare. And yet, nature not only sends winter but, by the very nature of winter, also sends the space around it for us to retreat and heal. ‘An occasional sharp wintering would do us good,’ writes May. ‘We must learn to invite the winter in. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how.’
For humans, winter is a time to slow down and prepare, to shed what we don’t need and to rest. If we take our cues from what’s happening outside, we can reflect that on the inside. Acknowledge the darkness by resisting artificial light when you can, use candlelight and firelight to illuminate cosy spaces, allow yourself time to notice the growing darkness as the sun sets.
Consider this a time of retreat, get the thicker, cosier blankets out of the cupboards, put together a reading list of books that will nurture you this season and reduce your screen time by reading in bed in the evenings. The energy required to do things in the dark takes more from you, so, quite simply, do less. Set stronger boundaries for social engagements or commitments than you normally would. If it helps, you can even set a limit of things to attend to each week, and focus on those events during the day. Acknowledge the things that drain you and the things that fill up your tank and consciously ensure the balance is tipped the right way.
‘I recognised winter. I saw it coming… I greeted it and let it in,’ writes May. ‘When I started feeling the drag of winter, I began to treat myself like a favoured child: with kindness and love. I assumed my needs were reasonable and that my feelings were signals of something important. I kept myself well fed and made sure I was getting enough sleep. I took myself for walks in the fresh air and spent time doing things that soothed me.’
Regulate your nervous system by using your hands to create things – it’s no coincidence that we find ourselves knitting and crocheting in winter. Not only do we need cosy jumpers and thick blankets, but repetitive crafts such as these can also calm a fractured nervous system and allow you to tune in to your inner world more easily. ‘As you make, you are connecting with the winter energies of transformation, creating and reforming something,’ says Macleod.
The benefits of things like this also allow you to bathe in the beauty of silence, something we as humans often shy away from because, in that simpler space, our thoughts and desire are almost too loud. But, if we can attune ourselves to listening in the quietness, there is so much we can learn.
Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge spent 50 days walking solo through Antarctica after he disabled his radio and threw away the batteries in a quest to quieten the constant noise. He knows a thing or two about what truth we can find in the quietness. In his beautiful book Silence: In the Age of Noise, he says that silence is both a gift and a joy, and offers a true chance for deeper self-awareness.
‘Silence can be a friend. A comfort and a source of deeper riches… Shutting out the world is not about turning your back on your surroundings, but rather the opposite: it is seeing the world a bit more clearly, staying a course and trying to love your life.’
In this time of discovery and dreaming, journalling (try our guided January journalling series), meditation and even shamanic soul journeys (read more about that in this issue) can help to connect you with what you want from your life and what things in your life need to be transformed. As nature shifts into a slower gear, welcome the time to be spent in solitude and soulful discovery.
From a lunar perceptive, this is also a vital time to connect to what moves your soul. The new moon in Capricorn occurs between the end of December and mid-January and is fused with an energetic shift that pulls us towards setting our goals and leaning into our heart’s desire. ‘Nature, with her perfect timing, gives us this grounded, earthy new moon… It acts like a fertile soil in which to plant the seeds and set out intentions for the year ahead,’ says Kirsty Gallagher in her book Lunar Living. ‘Pay attention to what you’re being pulled towards and what stirs your soul, as this will help create the theme of the year for you.’
Winter really is such a deep and potent time. Even the weather conspires to remind us to rest, stop and surrender. ‘I love the inconvenience [of snow],’ writes May. ‘The irresistible disruption to mundane life, forcing you to stop for a while and step outside your normal habits. Heading out in a snowstorm to catch the flakes on my gloves, I love the feeling of it fresh underfoot. I am rarely childlike and playful except in snow. It swings me into reverse gear.’
We need to learn to say yes to the winter, to be held in its dark, quiet grip, to curl up and turn away from the cold, to be warm, soft and slow, to dream, discover and connect with ourselves. ‘Welcome to the opportunity to meet yourself in your fullness, bare like the trees, with nowhere to hide,’ says Macleod ‘Opening your ears to listen to the silence and surrendering to the fertile darkness will ensure you emerge in spring renewed and inspired ready for rebirth.’
If we go into winter with the intention of sinking into all it has to offer and all it asks of us, we will be better able to learn and gather all we need to from it.