Have We Misunderstood Winter?
Not a snowflake in sight but winter still has had an impact on our lifestyles and the issues clients are bringing to their coaching sessions. There are two distinct themes.....
The first is reflection, going within, staying home and keeping snug and warm. Whilst this can easily turn into the couch potato or hibernation, with excesses of eating and drinking combined with inactivity, I think traditionally it's more about looking inward, contemplation and learning about ourselves. It is the introvert time of year as opposed to the more extrovert Spring and Summer. The Living Fully website calls winter 'the most misunderstood season of all'. Describing this as, 'A beautiful season of intimacy and reflection, winter gives us the opportunity to stay inside and look inside'.
In contrast there is the New Year resolution theme. The time for new beginnings and developing healthy habits, going on diets and training for marathons. Steve Wright (Radio DJ) informed us that January should be known as 'Fibuary' because it's the month we tell the most lies! That suggests it is a time when we least live up to expectations (our own and those we perceive others have of us), we give ourselves a hard time and punish ourselves, perhaps for the excesses of previous festivities. It is certainly a month when many decide they can no longer tolerate situations that haven't served them for some time. I am reminded of the Chinese Doctor I visited who scalded me for the polarities of my culture- if we were more moderate with our Christmas celebrations, would we be more relaxed with our January regimes?
Those living in sunnier climates might see similar themes to the first when the weather is challenging- perhaps rain or extreme heat. The same desires, to conserve our energy and protect ourselves from the elements, surface. So is the New Year fresh start just a random calendar imposition out of step with elements?
Some historical investigation reveals the significance of the winter solstice to people in the northern hemisphere. Solstice rites are one of our oldest celebrations, dating back to the dawn of modern civilization some 30,000 years ago. Most cultures recognize the significance of the longest night that will yield to increasing daylight. In a world where darkness and cold was at best dreary and at worst difficult to survive, the winter solstice was recognised as an opportunity to celebrate the beginning to a gradual return of light and eventual warmth.
Many late December festivities make use of fire (representing the sun), candle light, feasts, singing and dancing, and opportunities to start fresh. Many of the yule celebrations were adopted by the Christian Church and the spiritual significance of this time of year is profound. For Christians, the birth of Christ means a turning point between eternal death and eternal life so Christians celebrate Christmas as the beginning of a new spiritual age of eternal life.
According to Lisa Hutchins writing for tryskelion.com, 'For neo-pagans, Yule is also a time of spiritual beginnings. Jul, or Yule, is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning 'wheel'. The winter solstice is the turning point in the natural cycle of the year; this darkest night in all the year is followed by a day that will dawn just a little bit earlier. Because Yule signifies the completion of a cycle, the period around the winter solstice is considered to be a good time for spiritual work. Some believe the dark nights of winter are when the veil between the spirit world and the living world is the thinnest. It is therefore an appropriate time for self-examination and meditation on hidden energies-both the energies lying dormant within the earth, and also those within ourselves.'
Yule traditions celebrate nature's renewal, and help affirm our connection to the energy and power of the earth and the cosmos. Lisa continues, 'Whether celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Yule, we can all delight in the season as a time to renew family ties, take joy in our natural environment, reflect on the events of the old year, and look forward in anticipation to the new. As the winter solstice demonstrates to us, every ending is a new beginning.'
Edna Brien adds "In a way Winter is the real Spring--the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature." So maybe New Year's resolutions aren't so out of step with the energy of the season. But rather than this being the time when we naturally launch new projects and ideas, it is more the time for preparation, learning and work behind the scenes. Not zoning out in front of the TV or computer but acquiring knowledge, making plans and preparing the ground for new seeds to be grown when the weather's warmer.
Many of us live quite out of the reach of nature with 24 hour city life, light and heat. We might have the illusion that we call the shots and control our energy. In my 20s, I would have questioned whether nature's cycles had anything to do with me even though I was reminded quite forcefully each month! Now I regard our being as a kind of partner dance, we have free will but we are wise to consider how we feel and tune into the energy surrounding us. It's not only more enjoyable to flow with nature but it means we have even more energy available for the path we choose.
I'd love to hear about your experience of winter in the comments box below. To hear when an article is published and receive news and offers, sign up to my mailing list on the right