Today is the Winter Solstice, the point in the year that marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Not only is it a celebration of the returning light in the Northern Hemisphere but it is also the start of a new season: Winter, when nature is dormant, wildlife hibernates and the trees that have shed their leaves now put all their energy into their roots deep underground. Winter is a fallow period for us on our smallholding too as we have learnt to use the time to reflect on the growing year now finished and plan for the next, to concentrate our efforts on repairs, maintenance and preparation for the Spring, to tidy up but also to retreat indoors and rest. Winter is a season of stillness when the natural world slows right down in order to survive the cold and dark to eventually emerge in Spring rejuvenated, renewed and ready for new growth.
If we look outside, we see naked trees, bare earth in veg plots, dead leaves on the ground, decaying plants… it can feel bleak, grim and miserable – and it is - but that is the reality of what is happening right now. For the natural world, Winter is part of a cycle; it comes and goes, and comes again and goes again. It is the same for us humans but the society we live in does not accommodate this well at all. Achievement, strength, beauty and positivity are valued more than frailty, vulnerability and darkness and we are led to believe that a worthwhile and successful life is one perpetual Summer. Just writing these last two words leaves me feeling exhausted! This attitude is so far from reality that when we encounter tough times we are ill-equipped to weather them. The message out there, overt or otherwise, is that feeling vulnerable and not coping is not an option and has to be immediately transformed into a more positive, jolly state of strength, vitality and fortitude. The reality is that all of us go through periods when life is easy and periods when life is not; both are normal and can be welcomed for what each of these seasons bring us. Times of continuous growth, happiness, wellness, high energy are just not sustainable and to expect them to be is a huge discount of our human-ness. Whilst miserable times are certainly difficult to experience, they reward us with much learning and wisdom at the end of them, which gifts us the opportunity to be the best we can be. Such is the message of Winter and personally, I am aware that I increasingly cherish the season.
In her book Wintering, Katherine May writes: “Doing those deeply unfashionable things – slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting – are radical acts these days, but they are essential. This is a crossroads we all know, a moment when you need to shed a skin. If you do, you’ll expose all those painful nerve endings and feel so raw that you’ll need to take care of yourself for a while. If you don’t, then that old skin will harden around you.” This metaphor resonates profoundly with me. The whole book is a poignant and comforting read that explores the fallow periods of life and invites us to embrace our personal winters. I highly recommend it.
Christmas week can, for us humans, often feel rushed, pressured and chaotic, quite at odds with what the natural world is doing right now. The Winter Solstice can be the break we need: a timely invitation to slow down and pause, to reflect and contemplate, to go down into our roots, deep underground, inwards, to accept our own shadow, to find and listen to our own voice and to settle and spend some time at rest. Fallow. Idle. In the noise of the Christmas frenzy and other busy-ness, we lose ourselves. In the quiet of Winter, we find ourselves again. Each of us will have their own preferred way of finding that quiet space within. As well as filling my lungs with fresh air by spending some time outside each day, I like to craft, bake and read my way through the festive season to help me slow down, pause and rest.
Happy Winter Solstice, dear readers! May you pause and take time out to get to know your own darkness and may the returning light guide you into the new year.
May I also take the opportunity to extend my good wishes to you all for a festive season filled with joy, peace and tranquillity. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!