When everything is broken, everything is up for grabs, and that is the gift of winter - Katherine May
The last several weeks of the year, the time between mid-November and year’s end, can be a time of immense activity. We rush around in a dizzying pace with seemingly endless events, parties, shopping, cooking, baking, visiting, and entertaining. It’s a time of year to catch up with loved ones and wrap up any lingering work deadlines. We spend more of everything – time, money, energy, and ourselves.
Then it all comes to a screeching halt. The last week of the year can find us abruptly stopped. This confusion to the nervous system can leave us feeling off-kilter, unbalanced, and totally unsure of day, time, or remembering if we showered. This slowly starts to give way to the realization that the new week brings a whole new year and the return of our pre-November cadence of life. But…should we dive right back in? What if we took a softer approach to life come January? What if winter was a verb? I first heard of the idea of wintering in late 2021 when I read Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May. What I love most about this book is she eloquently articulates what I have already been practicing for years: a season of retreat. Wintertime is a dichotomy of energy. It beckons us to create resolutions and to become “the new you in the new year”, to set goals, and to jump in head-first to ‘conquer’ the year. We feel called to go outside and play in the snow. Simultaneously, we also feel called to rest. To retreat into a warm pot of roast and potatoes or beans and chili. To light the fireplace and put on oversized socks while snuggling up with a good book and a hot cup of tea. What if we can embody both? Wintering is an invitation to explore the idea of going inward to become anew. It is in times of wintering that we can rejuvenate so that we can accomplish, achieve, strive….when we’re ready.
So, how do we do this? Here are my top five tools for wintering. These are things that have evolved over the years in my own practice of retreating. I hope you find them as helpful and warming as I do.
5 Tools for Wintering
1) Normalize a season of rest. We don’t always need to be striving, pushing, achieving, or moving forward in some way. Our bodies require rest every 24 hours. Nature shows us the ebb and flow of the growing season versus the resting season. We have thousands of winters throughout our lives (thanks for the reminder, Katherine May). Embrace it. Make it normal. You’re not being lazy. You’re giving your mind, body, soul, spirit, and bank account what it needs – a break. 2) Prepare your nest. The house becomes a little depressing when we take down the Christmas and Hanukkah décor. The magic of the holiday season becomes a barren landscape and feels cold and dark. Try decorating the house for ‘winter’ after Christmas. Leave up a few twinkle lights here and there, add some comfy throw blankets to the living room, bring in candles with earthy smells like olive oil, cedar wood, white fir, frankincense, and patchouli. And create a space in your home that is your cozy corner – a space that it is perfect for reading, meditating, or snuggling up on a frosty day. 3) Fuel your body and mind. When wintering, it’s important to stay hydrated (hello cracked skin) and to fuel the body and mind in ways that align with the season. Even if you’re ‘dieting’ for your new year’s resolution, find healthy recipes for soups, chili, oatmeal, or anything you can make in your slow cooker. Roasting winter vegetables like brussel sprouts, squash, and yams will give your body exquisite nutrition and will leave your house smelling warm and inviting. Consume things that fuel you for goodness – including media and what you read. Stay away from things that fuel the seasonal affective disorder and seek out things that make you laugh or change you in some way like Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening. 4) Winterize activities. Remember wintering is not about ‘being lazy’ (see number 1), it’s about being intentional with your time. Being outside in nature is a splendid way to winter. Being in nature helps to align our body’s rhythms with what is happening in the environment. Cold weather aids nervous system regulation. This helps to combat seasonal depression and keeps us moving since we need both rest and movement. Walking, hiking, playing in the snow – get outside. 5) Embody. Wintering is an embodiment. It’s a way of being. Creating space and décor in your home, choosing comfy socks and sweaters, drinking warm tea, making a roast in the slow cooker, burning candles made of earthy scents, embracing the cold by getting out in nature, and fueling your mind with things that make you feel good are all part of wintering. It’s like preparing your nest and then loving being there. It’s an intentionality that invites you to be mindful in whatever it is you’re doing in any given moment. This is way beyond goal setting. It’s intention setting. How you show up for yourself matters. The beauty is that Spring is coming. Soon enough, you’ll open the windows and welcome the warm sun and the fire energy will return. For now, embrace the retreat. And become new when the next season is ready.