The leaves fall off. The branches are bare. The air is frigid, and the landscape barren. Movement slows, rivers turn sluggish, and the days are short and dark.
All is desolate, frozen. It seems like nothing ever will grow again.
Despite all evidence, we trust that spring will come again.
We have faith that the breezes will turn warm, the ground will thaw, and tender green leaves will sprout in exuberant, wild profusion. As has happened for millennia, once again the air will be perfumed with blossoms and mud, and alive with insects buzzing into activity.
All signs of spring disappear during the cold winter months, as the energy of all living beings, plant and animal, goes into retreat. It retreats, but it does not die. It waits for the new season, and for the new growth.
Winter, the season of retreat, is preparation for new growth.
Like the plants and animals, like the Earth itself, we can allow seasons of growth and retreat to become a part of our own creative cycle. And we can learn from the Earth to take our own cycles more in stride.
There’s no need to panic in the “winter” of our creative activity!
Too often we work in thrall to an inner taskmaster, who screams and rages when production is delayed or stalled. Trembling in fear of our inner taskmaster, and terrified at our own sluggish productivity, we berate ourselves for not pushing harder. We panic that we have been unable to keep our production levels up, and we worriedly wonder to ourselves if we will ever be productive again.
In my coaching practice, I see so many clients put so much pressure on themselves to push harder, and berate themselves for not being further along than they are. They are afraid of pausing, and terrified of looking less than perfect.
They so desperately want to be “flourishing” — in the springtime of their endeavors, so to speak — and to present to the world a picture-perfect, sunshiny, summer day. And yet, what they express is that they are so tired. Their souls are crying out for rest and renewal, and yet that seems to be the hardest thing for them to grant themselves.
It is a revelation to observe the relief that comes when they allow themselves the care and self-nurturing they need. Ironically, letting go of the demand for production and perfection usually occasions a tremendous burst of creative energy as well.
How much easier would life be if we allowed ourselves seasons (or even moments!) of recuperation and renewal?
How much calmer would we be if we knew that each fallow season was actually a preparation for a new season of growth?
How much less panic-stricken would we be if we trusted that spring will come again, and with it a new surge of vitality and creativity?
How much more energy would we receive if we allowed ourselves to rest?
The thing about winter is that it’s dark, quiet and slow, and we’ve been conditioned to prefer light, movement and speed. We have separated from our connection with the Earth, and from the wisdom of those who plied the Earth, like the farmers who knew to slow down and turn more within during the winter months. I, like so many of us, seem to live on the academic calendar and start revving into gear come Autumn.
Light is an easy friend — bright, sunny and cheerful. Darkness takes some work getting used to: not everything is open and apparent; many things remain hidden, unknown and mysterious. One is extroverted, active and dazzling; the other introverted, dreamy and intuitive. Yet, both are worth knowing and befriending, for one could not exist without the other.
How can we honor our season of retreat?
How can trust help us be more comfortable with the darkness that sometimes obscures our next move?
How can we remember the light of summer even in the darkness of winter, yet without trying to force the winter to be another summer?
In the darkest day, remember that the sun will come out tomorrow. In the darkest season, remember that spring is on its way.