Winter is upon us, now. The air hollows itself out, offering only cold and wind. The ground is freezing, slowing, and stalling its growth. Grass browns, trees harden. Earth, it seems, pauses.
Perhaps we would be wise to do the same.
Winter arrives, for many of us, in a bustle of activity: Holidays and more holidays, parties and more parties, gifts, clothes, decorations, busyness. Much of this is fun and exciting, but the reality is that after these holidays are over, we often find ourselves more exhausted than we were before.
What if, instead of getting caught up in the rhythms of everyone around us this year, we intentionally approached this winter with a decision to pause? To rest? To hibernate? What if we sought to take a cue from nature and slowed down this winter, instead of pushing ahead?
While we can’t exactly hibernate and sleep for most of the winter (although at times we might wish that we could!), we can take a lesson from the pause of nature and the hibernation of bears to reconsider how we might approach the winter season through both rest and rejuvenation.
Trees: In nature, we see that trees stop flowering. They are in a state of dormancy; their growth slows and even stops in some cases. This dormancy is actually a good sign for the tree, as it is a normal part of its life cycle and important for the tree’s overall health.
The same is true with us. We need seasons of rest every year — pushing too hard can hurt our creativity and our health. This winter, we can allow ourselves to press pause on our continual pace of productivity and rest. Consider a “staycation” or a couple long weekends where you intentionally let your mind and body rest, rather than work. This will set us up well to leave the winter season rested and ready for the creativity and life that comes in the spring.
We need seasons of rest every year — pushing too hard can hurt our creativity and our health.
Bears: Bears are dormant, too; during their long “winter sleep,” bears are resting because there are not enough food sources available for them to survive otherwise. They are pulling back because of the limitations upon them, and rather than fight reality, they accept it and live accordingly.
We can do the same. Winter, with the lack of sunlight, the lack of warmth, and the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, may need to be a time of rest for many of us, especially those of us who tend toward depression or seasonal affective disorder. It is important to be gentle with ourselves in this season and participate in activities that help us thrive, rather than pushing ourselves harder and trying to “get it together.” That might mean accepting the need for counseling, for extra sleep, or even for extra time with friends to lift our spirits.
Trees: During the winter months, the less obvious parts of trees — their roots — are in a state of being “resting but ready.” This phrase points to the dormancy of the roots, which, like the rest of the tree, slow growth for the cold season. However, roots seem to be ready to expand when conditions are more advantageous (e.g. less cold) than they might be regularly. Although resting, the roots are still prepared to stretch and grow if the conditions are right.
This is a wonderful lesson for us — to be resting but ready in the winter months. As we intentionally rest our minds, bodies, and spirits during the darker days of the year, we can still be attentive to ways that we can continue to grow. Might winter be a good time to start journaling, take an art class, or start a book club? We can stretch ourselves in new ways when we are ready and looking for opportunities to grow in every season of the year.
Bears: During their season of hibernation, bears are actually able to maintain and restore their muscles. Unlike humans, who lose muscle tone easily, bears can stay as strong through their hibernation as they are during the summer months — their body makes a special protein that helps accomplish this miraculous feat. They emerge from their torpor in the spring as strong as ever.
This is a wonderful lesson for us — to be resting but ready in the winter months.
What if, like the bear, we understood the winter season to be a time of strengthening ourselves, just in different ways? What if, physically, we used the winter season as a time to refresh and renew our body through indoor activities like dancing, barre, and even indoor triathalons? We could emerge from the cold of winter with strong and healthy bodies. Rather than feeling lethargic, we could use the winter months as a time of refreshing.
However we approach the coming winter months, let us live into this season with intentionality, allowing ourselves to rest and renew.
How can you approach this season with a restorative perspective?
Image via Madison Holmlund