The Richness of Winter

IMG_2186It’s not here yet, but for the highly sensitive among us we feel winter’s imminent descent with each minute of daylight that joins the tribe of night. The days are shorter; the leaves have almost completed their arabesques and twirls of their final dance. Soon the branches will lay stark against early twilight skies, the cerulean blue now articulating the crisp line of bough that was shrouded inside summer’s leaves.

What crisp lines of soul will be revealed during the internal time that winter invites? 

Many of my clients share that they dread winter. It often holds memories of anxious times, or times when the sheets and blankets of bed felt too heavy to remove. They fear that they’re not far enough into their growth and they’ll fall prey to the underside of winter, the long black fingers that creep into the crack between sleep and wake and pull them into the crevices of aloneness and despair. I remind them that they’ve been attending to their inner world for many months or years, growing their spaces of safe refuge and strengthening their tether to their loving adult self. But still, the fear remains.

We fear winter when we fear ourselves, when we haven’t developed a relationship to our empty places, our grief, when we haven’t carved out space in daily life for the emergence of memory and loving reflection. 

Winter is an invitation into the quiet spaces inside. While summer is an expansive time of water, heat, and parties, winter carries the polar opposite energy and is a time to contract inward and allow a hibernation to occur. This doesn’t mean we sleep like a bear. On the contrary, we find a sharp-edged wakeful serenity in the slowed-down pace and revel in the opportunity to dwell in the quiet and solitude.

The key is not to be afraid. The key is to remember that your foothold into Self is strong enough to sustain the storms and darkness of winter. And if your relationship to Self hasn’t been firmly established, this is the time to commit to the inward journey. Allow the spaciousness and solitude to facilitate your spiral into yourself. This it the time to commit to a daily practice – like mindfulness, Inner Bonding, or yoga – that will help you notice your thoughts without hooking into the story and encourage you to dip down into your true self.

Another way to approach winter without fear is to focus on what you cherish about this season. And I don’t necessarily mean the holidays (for many people the holidays only exacerbate the depression); I mean the small grace-moments that appear with greater clarity, like the tree-limbs against the backdrop of sky. As one client shared, “Music sounds better. The air is crisp and my senses are sharper.” Other winter graces include:

  • Hot tea
  • Candlelight
  • Bubble baths
  • Movies under fuzzy blankets
  • Slow walks in blue twilight
  • Crisp winter sunlight
  • Time to read

Again, the key is to embrace the time, to resist the urge to fill the empty spaces with busyness. To experience the richness of the soul time, you must be willing to contract into the underlayer of feelings that we can more easily push underground during the external seasons. As soon as we slow down, the grief emerges like slumbering creatures, as if waking up from its forced hibernation. If we find the willingness, we taste into the edges of grief. We taste, then, into the pathway of healing.

Winter embodies the feminine principle: internal, slow, feeling, round, moon, soul.

Our cultural resistance to winter correlates directly to our cultural resistance to the feminine. We cherish the masculine and extroverted ideal of moving quickly, staying busy, and measuring our worth according to our achievements while we denigrate the qualities of the feminine; I can’t tell you many times as week I hear from my clients, “I feel so guilty when I do nothing.” While there’s an essential place for the masculine energy, we’ve elevated the masculine to a God-like status and buried the feminine in the process to the point where we feel guilt when we drop into being and “nothingness.”

In winter, the feminine aches to emerge. Lay the guilt aside and allow yourself to drop into being. Follow this season’s call to turn inward and be curious about what you’ll find. This is how we connect to Self, and it’s through filling the well of Self that we provide ourselves with an unwavering safe place of anchor and wisdom from which to handle the seasons of life.

21 comments to The Richness of Winter

  • Tina

    Quilting by the wood stove, hot tea, warm cats, good books, so much good sleep, listening to the lake ice groan…Winter loves me. Thank you Sheryl for the reminder.

  • Marybeth

    Ah, love:)
    For me winter embodies an insular, cozy, reflective energy versus the go-go and ‘on-ness’ of summer energy.
    Probably opposite of what most feel perhaps, but I feel more connected to others during winter because of the indoor activities and probably b/c of the increased connectedness to myself.
    Last, I grew up in Buffalo, so we learned how to embrace the winters positively-instead of dreading.
    Skiing, skating, long crisp walks, hot cocoa, etc.
    We plan to do the same for our daughter since we live in a similar climate!
    Afterall, winter is nearly half the year here.
    If we didn’t embrace it, we should just choose a warmer climate!

    • I love hearing about people’s positive experiences and associations to winter. It helps offset the general cultural message that “winter is hard.” And yours are lovely, Marybeth : ).

  • lalalove

    I loveeee this post! I am a winter lover 🙂 And as always, I love your writing – “tribes of night” and “arabesque” (got so excited when I read that word!) I love the crispness of winter and how magical everything seems. I love the darkness because light is more comforting and exciting (all the lights everywhere and candles..) I also love that it feels inclusive and inspires you to comfort others – when its freezing outside, coming inside is a refuge – warmth is a release and it invites people in. In the summer, to me, it’s just miserable and there is no refuge anywhere!

  • hopeful

    I have always thought I had seasonal depression. I always felt like winter was ripping me open and exposing all of my intrusive thoughts. Holidays always make me depressed, because the fleeting time surrounded by all of the ones I love is always too short. I always literally felt cold inside. It was the weirdest feeling that I can’t describe.

    This year I feel a little different, and I’m hoping it’s because I am becoming more grounded with myself.

    Thanks for hitting this on the had, again.

  • Joan

    Hi Sheryl, My question here arose from reading your article, “Good News, Bad News: All Your Emotions Will Soon Pass”.

    After I open up to the pain and/or gain insight into a lifelong self-negating belief or pattern, I experience relief and sometimes a profound sense of sadness–almost grief-like feelings. Could you help shed some light on this?

    Thank you.

    • Yes, the grief is usually a result of the recognition of how long you’ve spent in your wounded self. Move toward the grief without needing to understand it and you’ll likely understand it (it’s the paradox of wisdom arising when you let go of needing to know).

  • Jennifer

    beautiful, thanks so much Sheryl, along with the last reply. It was a good reminder for me as I was noticing I was feeling a bit “blue” after a slew of visitors, and being out of my normal routine. An aha moment was noticing that it’s been 2 years since I lost my baby right at this time of year, so it makes sense in a way I didn’t initially understand. Thanks for the reminder to go within, and make space for our feelings and creating a sanctuary of soul.

  • Val

    I love this post Sheryl. Last winter, was when my intense relationship anxiety began. I have come such a long way but recently I have felt it creep back, especially because of the change of seasons, in fact I have felt fearful that it would all resurface again, which I know is irrational. So thank you for this post it’s timing was perfect.

  • lynne

    What a wonderful post – you put into words exactly what happened to me! After years of dreading winter I became emotionally ill almost 2 years ago around Dec/Jan. Id run away from difficult thoughts and feelings for years till I could run no more. At the time it felt like the worst thing that could have happened to me but its turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Iv grown as a person and faced up to my life – winter allowed me to grieve and release years of pent up feelings.

  • Camille Murphy

    Love reading your words Sheryl. They are a source of comfort and guidance that support my journey to complete inner self fulfilment. Winter holds very dark memories for me however already during the recent dark nights I find myself embracing the tv, duvet, hearty food and the sense that it’s okay to slow down. How do I tind the right balancr though? Doing enough to still feel achievement whilst enjoying the down time?

  • K

    I just want to support what others have said – I LOVE WINTER! I sure hate snow shoveling, and I hate the kids being sick everyday. But there is something about the “hush” that comes around. It’s almost as if it quiets others – makes them cancel their plans – slow down to a pace I feel I can keep up with.

  • Courtney

    I love the winter! It’s summer that gives me anxiety. Your supposed to feel so happy in the summer, but for some reason it just makes me feel feel lonely. This is likely because of all the pressure to be loving life, socializing and and having fun.

  • Cami

    I found this post very interesting. I am from Arizona where winter is such a small part of our lives. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and we are still enjoying days in the 70’s. It feels as though it takes life a bit longer to slow down and we are still all a bunch of hustle and bustle. Winter is my favorite time of the year because being outside is finally bearable! However, I want to be more aware of my emotions this season and see if there is a correlation that I have not picked up on in the past.

  • Candie

    I have spent the past 10 winters miserable, if a doctor was to describe me he would have diagnosed me with SAD. This winter I’m totally different! Winter involves more solitude, more time for thinking and reflecting. Once I learnt how to be alone with my mind and feelings and move through them I could free myself of the anxiety. I’m now able to focus on cosy movie nights with my children, Christmas, making comfort food, activities such as foraging for conkers (I’m from England) and I’m really looking forward to snow and crisp winter mornings. I think I finally learnt to move through my feelings rather then avoid them- its actually ok to be me! Thankyou for the brilliant advice, I often read through your blog and see many parallels in my experience with anxiety and yours.