The importance of Winter


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For the last few mornings, we have woken up to a hard frost and I noticed how much that pleased me. Winter has been mild up to now and the gardener in me has been yearning for a cold spell. Not only because I love these clear, cold days of Winter that I find so invigorating but also because I know the garden needs a period of cold weather to work its magic on bulbs, seeds and plants. It is a necessary phase in the growth cycle that ensures a good crop or flowering.

I notice in my social media feeds a strong focus on Spring already, a sense of hurry, a wish for Winter to be gone and I am curious about that because it feels mis-timed to me. The desire for Spring and warmer weather is understandable. Yet, I know that on 20 January, we are not there yet. Talk of sowing seeds now under grow lights to give them a head start makes me feel rushed, pushed and stressed. The buoyant declarations of "Spring is here" at the first sight of a snowdrop blooming and narcissi or even tulip poking through the ground feel premature to me. I don't feel ready for pictures of gardens in full growth and "throwback", nostalgic photos of a summer gone do not resonate with me at all. It all feels at odds with what is actually happening outside in nature and I want to slow it all right down. I am aware that the Earth has begun to stir in the garden and I have spotted the first snowdrops in the lane. These are pleasing sights indeed and I want to stay connected with how that emergent growth and those first stirrings feel now rather than project myself into the future as if Spring has arrived or back to a long-gone season. I want to be where I am, not where I was or where I will be. Anything else feels like a missed opportunity to be in the present moment, however unpleasant, difficult or trying it feels.

As you know, I like to take wisdom and inspiration from nature and follow her teachings. If Winter is a necessary phase in the natural world, of which we are a part, what can we learn about Winter to help us not only navigate the coldest and darkest season of the year but also apply its magic to our lives? I have a hunch that avoiding Winter by longing for Spring or Summer in our minds is a way to feel protected against the harshness of it, both in reality but above all metaphorically, Winter being a symbol for the difficult times in our lives. When light levels and temperatures decrease in the Autumn, the natural world begins its process of slowing down precisely so it can survive Winter and emerge into Spring with strength and energy to grow and bloom again. The same goes for us and our darkest times can be also be seen as the down time and survival necessary before we can grow and flourish again. There in the yet-to-be-explored darkness lay the seeds for new beginnings and new stories to emerge. I have personal experience of this where moments of positive transformation were always preceded by painful and dark times. I have also witnessed this on many occasions in my work with clients and the therapy often involved clients learning to be with their pain by getting to know it rather than avoiding it. Spring makes no sense without Winter in the same way that light makes no sense without darkness. Only when we can understand their interconnectedness and accept each phase for the purposes it serves, can we truly appreciate and value them for what they are. Let us be where we are, with awareness and presence, our mind open to what is.

This point in Winter feels like I do when I am waking up from a deep sleep. My body feels heavy and still, I can begin to wiggle my fingers and toes but I am a way off being ready to get up and get on with the day! If you feel at all under pressure to be getting on with things as if Spring was already here, to “feel better” as if some change had suddenly occurred and if you catch yourself wishing for the garden to be in full bloom (literally or metaphorically), my invitation to you is to slow down, breathe, go outside and connect with what the Winter landscape looks like, feel the cold on your skin, notice what is around outside of you and inside of you, talk to yourself about it, see it and welcome it.

To go back to my imagery above, it is important to stay with this state of semi-consciousness until we are fully awake, allowing ourselves to gently drift in and out of our own personal hibernation, without artificially pushing or hurrying out of it. Spring will come soon enough, we can be sure of that.