Winter Blues

Each day the fairies of darkness gather in greater numbers and pull their veil across the daylight hours. They’re inviting us into their season of solitude, their great love of stillness, their reverence for the mystery that is often revealed in the darkest spaces. How easy it is to resist the invitation, to stay busy with the must-haves and have-tos and parties that characterize this time of year, to focus on externals as a way to avoid the quiet realm of the inner world.

There are so many ways to avoid.

The culture says: It’s time to spend! Everywhere we turn there are sales and signs declaring the next best thing. We shop for others because it’s what we are supposed to do without ever stopping to ask ourselves, “Is this really the way I want to spend my time and money? Do we really need more stuff?”

The culture says: It’s time to eat! Feast, make merry, enjoy! There’s nothing wrong, of course, with enjoying a delicious meal with friends, but more often than not the over-eating that our culture pushes only fuels the place inside that wants to avoid what lives in the darker and quieter places inherent to this season.

And then there’s the sleek and miraculous little machines we call computers: magnets for the search to fill ourselves up and find the next great thing. At the touch of our fingertips and click of a button, we have access to the entire world of shopping and information, and it’s frightfully easy to allow ourselves to become sucked into the virtual vortex of “the search.” What are we searching for? A new something, a new adventure, a new partner, a new book – anything but sitting with the right here right now emptiness that pulls at the edges of soul and says, “Stop. There’s nothing left to do. This is the season of being.”

What will we find if we resist the urge to spend and stay busy? We may find wells of grief. We may connect to the tree who has lost her leaves and whose sap is imperceptibly slowing until it comes to a complete stop. The ecstatic life force that will slowly accelerate in the coming months and crescendo in the first buds of spring is now on the decrescendo, slowing, slowing, slowing down and turning inward. The tree doesn’t resist its impulses. It doesn’t fear the loss or the emptiness. It understands in a place beyond understanding that this is the way it must be.

We may find wells of fear. The top layer of fear will attempt to attach onto its favorite storyline – you don’t love him enough or in the right way, you have a terminal illness, there’s something wrong with one of your kids – but see if you can avoid the hook and instead place your two warm and loving hands on your chest where the tight fists take residence. Breathe into the cold places. Breathe into the fear. It will start to soften under your loving attention and the tears may come, warm and salty like a southern sea. Every time the familiar story attempts to pull you back into your head, make a conscious effort to stay in your body, connect to your breath, melt into your heart. There is joy inside the grief, the tender and delicate joy of finding the willingness to be with what is.

And we may find wells of… nothing. Nothing is a terrifying place to befriend, especially if you’ve spent your life avoiding the nothing. Nothing can feel like boredom. It can feel like depression. It can feel like death. But when we find the courage to sit with the nothing, we’ve planted the first seed for new life to take root. Life only wants to be seen, and when we stop running from what is and instead become curious about the experience of nothingness or collapse into the grief, we clear out the debris and send a message to the soul that says, “I’m ready for the new birth.” The new birth can only arise when the old ways and the old grief have been cleared away, when we’ve found the time and courage to grieve the autumn losses and make space for the nothingness of winter. Nature’s wisdom shows the way; we would be wise to follow suit.

I often wonder if the glitz and sparkle of the holiday season is a way to provide a mass produced drug to our culture to avoid sinking into the depression too early. December keeps us on our ballet toes with much to do and much to spend and much to eat, and then January and February hit with a loud thud of nothingness. How much harder is that thud when we’ve been chasing after the glittery carrot from Thanksgiving to New Year’s? The outward pull that our culture pushes with a hard sell is antithetical to the inner yearnings of the soul. This paradox can only result in an underlying yet pervasive mass confusion, kept at bay through the holidays but, as with anything that we force underground, one that comes rearing up with triple force once the noise dies down.

As with every other transition in life, our culture fails miserably in its role of offering guidance through the tricky terrain. Instead of encouraging real rituals that would honor this passage from autumn into the depths of winter, we’re injected with the tantalizing drug of spending and staying busy and spoon-fed a pseudo ritual in the form of watered down holidays. It’s not that Hannukah and Christmas are devoid of ritual, but most people celebrate these potentially enriching holidays with more emphasis on giving and receiving gifts than on the true historic and symbolic meaning. And without meaning, without enacting ritual in a way that engages body and soul, the holidays fail to offer what they’re meant to offer: a way to bring light into this dark time and an opportunity to connect to our core values of service, giving, and opening our hearts to giving and receiving love.

To read about a deeper understanding of Hanukkah, click here

To read about a Winter Solstice ritual, click here.


18 comments to Winter Blues, Winter Light

  • Genna

    Hi Sheryl, I have been following your blog for the past 2mths and I can not tell you enough how much it has helped me work through my relationship and generalised anxiety. You really inspire me. Each week it is like you’ve written the post directly for me. This week’s post spoke very loudly to me as I find myself going out and spending and spending hours on the internet looking for the next thing to buy.. and for what? I can tell underneath all these material desires I am covering up how I really feel and many things I am still avoiding dealing with… I am going to take your advice though and start breathing into it all and just letting myself feel it on a deeper level. Thank you for all of your wisdom and honesty x

  • MEG

    I’m a teacher, and yesterday we had a middle school chorus performance for the holidays. Instead of focusing on Christmas and Hanukkah, each song was selected around the theme of “light”. As I sat there listening to the chorus of beautiful voices, I realized how often I have let darkness fill my heart. As I took a breath, I felt their illuminating words filling me up, enlightening my soul to the truth of life: to love and to be loved.

    My engagement, plagued with anxiety, has made much of my spring and summer months feel very much like winter. I felt the darkness of shame, guilt, and doubt cover me like a blanket. And very different from the stillness of a winter’s night, no calm or serenity came from my darkness. It felt like a never ending hole which I was falling deeper into.

    Now I can say with confidence, that there is light after the darkness. And that light is love. It’s the love that I am still learning how to feel each day, and it comes sometimes in the form of sadness and loss. But it is the love of accepting my inner child, accepting that the way I lived before was damaging to my mental well-being, accepting others for who they are, and accepting the world we live in. As I continue on my path I will remember these times of light; the times of sudden illumination and enlightenment. For it is during these times of clarity that the truth truly pours out of me; the truth of how lucky I am, how much I love my fiance, and how scary love be sometimes. And all of the worries and fears that “things aren’t going to go right”, or “I’m going to screw things up”, or “what if I don’t love him enough”, are silenced and still. Because I know that through calm and light comes truth, and through chaos and anxiety comes worries and false beliefs.

    Last night I prayed for all of you going through this difficult time to find your own light. God bless you all.

    • Beautiful, Meg. Thank you for sharing this story and your realizations. It’s hard to believe at the beginning of engagement anxiety – or any descent into dark night of the soul – but the runes that you return with are always worth the challenge.

  • Westonomy

    Thank you. When I read your blog I don’t feel so “stranger in a strange land.” Especially during all this holiday madness. You’ve inspired me to start my own Winter Solstice ritual ceremony. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • cwb

    Thank you again. I love that writing about being kept on our ballet toes. I also love how instead of giving us another Top Ten List of Ways to De stress – you gave this one resonating message of just being, just nothing. Thank you so much for sharing this – I also feel like you wrote them just for me. I have been reciting that poem to myself.. cant remember the author.. – I heard a bird sing in the dark of December, we’re closer to spring than we were in September.- While it gives me hopefulness and excitement for spring, I’m also trying to just realize that I need to just BE in the winter, not just be waiting for it to end. I also really loved that part about the computer being a vehicle for “the search”. What a terrible machine it can be! But I have to say my best search was finding this site, which brought me through my engagement, wedding time, and now as a newlywed.

  • Marybeth

    So well said, as always Sheryl-
    Great advice on how to temper these things that pull us in that will not feed us.
    I do always love this time of year for the inwardness that no other time offers–staying in, being close to others, giving, feeling connection, not rushing as much, days are shorter w/ less packed in (in the Northeast summer being so short we tend to make the days longer by enjoying being outside ALL THE TIME!). I like that in the fall and winter there is a process of ending of day that feels nesty and cozy.
    The summer has its beauty, but fall and winter are still my favorites:)

    • I love that, too, Marybeth: the warmth of soup, tea, hot cocoa (sugar-free for us!). More time to snuggle up on the couch and read together, listen to stories, play games, listen to music. There’s such sweetness in this opportunity to connect with ourselves and each other but we have to actually turn inside and find the slower ways of being.

  • kim

    nothing, I welcome you.

  • Bianca G.

    I found this especially inspiring Sheryl as I very much deal with “FOMO” i.e: fear of missing out. It makes me question anything and everything that I do and nearly unhappy in so many day to day and non day to day decisions I make. Tonight I decided to skip my company holiday party as I did not sleep last night from illness and could feel my body telling me I needed rest (even though the boyfriend took care of me all day!) While I struggled with this notion that I was not doing “enough” by skipping it and that I SHOULD be out so that I can prove to everyone (and myself) that I am fun, social and independent, I realized that tonight I desperately needed to inner bond and just let myself be and cry A LOT. I have read this article so many times because so often I feel like I am addicted to activities and trying to prove a point to myself that I can do it all. That I am not dependent……but clearly I am dependent on something if I always feel the need to be doing something and feel guilty when I decide to stay in by myself. I have to ask myself what I am avoiding. Loneliness? Fear of commitment? Fear of loss? I’m slowly and painfully learning (through just BEING) that it is a combo deal of all of these things and much more.
    Anyways, thank you as always for this inspiring message. As hard as this anxiety can be, especially during this season, I can only hope that my (and all anxious people alike) can do some true soul searching to find OUR inner light to share. Even in all of the darkness, I know it must be there somewhere. I think I will go sit some more and see what happens

  • yurski

    thank you for this. sweet validation of the pre-christmas melancholy that always visits, and always fights with the “i must shop and be happy, i am blessed and i must feel it”. facing the painful nothing is the hardest fight in life. it’s like lifting off the veil off this world and seeing it’s true gritty, but beautiful self. we are as people so at odds with the flow of life, and especially at this season. thank you for the support Sheryl!

  • Jennifer

    Sheryl, it is the sweet, but painful reminders you serve that we are human & perfectly imperfect. We stem from chaos be it organized or not & this time of year magnifies it. When my soul calls to just sit, wrapped in a blanket & write instead of searching I choose to do that now, because in this chaos of winter & feelings there is an inner silence that is there to teach us what we need if we just listen. Thank you for your words, you remind me as always I am a perfectly imperfect person & the anxiety I have in my wonderful relationship is much like the stillness, if I listen & breathe through it, it will pass through me.

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