The Shortest Days of the Year Offer a Great Opportunity for Reflection, Stillness and Contemplation
“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire. It is the time for home.” — British poet Edith Sitwell
In Chinese five element theory, winter is a season of stillness and contemplation, in which our energy contracts to just what is most essential. In the natural world from which Chinese medicine takes its cues, we are back to the germinative stage, stored deep inside the earth, so that in springtime, a few months from now, we can burst forth like the shoots of young plants, stretching toward the sun in our quest for growth and change and impact.
Winter, in other words, is a perfect time to take stock of our own resources, to look around to what sustains us, and to glance ever so lightly towards where we want to be in the coming year. Have we accomplished what we wanted this year, or do we feel like our life is off-course a bit, whether in terms of goals accomplished or whether our relationships have sustained us? Does a future springtime beckon with any need for or desire for change? Winter is the time to retreat, observe and evaluate, which quietly and almost effortlessly lays the groundwork for moving forward in the Spring.
A word that comes to mind for winter is “Inventory.” I often find myself in the depths of winter drawn toward casting an almost effortless look at my resources and evaluating their value and worth in my life. Are they sufficient? Do I need more, fewer, or do I have just the right amount? Are they in any sort of order? Can I find them if I need them? Should I add to them in any way? This is the subtlest of “work” I sometimes find myself cultivating with deep intention, culling what I don’t need to separate it from what I do, cleaning lightly, organizing, all with the intention of using these resources to support me most effectively in the coming months.
Around the world, this time of year at least in the Northern hemisphere is associated with stillness, drawing in, and reflecting — even the light that sparkles off the snow on a winter walk, or from a candle lit in a window or glowing around a dinner table reminds us of how precious our resources are, and our deepest wish that they sustain us.
As we gather forces for a new beginning, how do you take stock of your resources, and contemplate what will nurture and sustain you in the coming year?
Sarah Alexander is a psychotherapist who sees private clients in the Bay Area. January is typically a very busy time for her, with a surge of new clients who have made the decision to try therapy during the depths of their winter. Once a week for several years now, Sarah also makes the trip out to San Quentin, to sit in circle with veterans who are inmates and serving life sentences at that world-famous state penitentiary. These men “live in the depths of winter year-round,” she reflects.
“For those who find that reflection and deep introspection serve them, that’s their way to create a kind of spring (hope, redemption, self compassion) in the depths of winter (prison). They find that rehabilitation is more than their hope for parole; it’s their hope for a better life, here and now, in radical acceptance. It’s their profound commitment to that — to themselves, to authenticity and transformation in community — that keeps me going back every week. More than anything, it is their willingness to be vulnerable in order to become who they really are. . . better human beings.”
Using stillness to foster that deep connection, she says, “is a passion for me, and a good place from which Spring can awaken.” You can read more about her practice, here.
“Embodying Authenticity in the New Year.” Sarah Alexander, LMFT (psychotherapist)
“The Winter Project: A Magical Journey to Help You Fall in Love with Winter” (personal coaching)