Inspiration for this month’s column came from a work colleague. Poised at the threshold of my office door, a brilliant but beleaguered educator shared some reflections upon the overwhelming anxiety that encroaches in winter months. Following two January full moons and frigid temperatures, faculty and students alike seem to require extra doses of comfort. My fellow instructor brandished her cell phone to reveal a photo of her cat sprawled on its back, impaled on an electric heating pad. The cat was smart: he discovered his own form of stress reduction.
Animals, as well as plants, find ways to adjust to changing conditions intuitively. People, on the other hand, seem to experience an adverse mood affect in winter. Around them they see only a cold, stark, dry, desolate landscape, and they quickly become depressed. Experts opine that reduced sunlight and indoor living provoke episodes of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
“Traditional Native people,” Cedric Red Feather reminds me, “look at the seasons differently. They don’t favor one season over another. They see them all as part of a cycle of change, part of the balance in Nature. You’ll hear an elder say, ‘I have lived 68 winters.’ Why does he say that? It is because it is a good thing to have survived those winters.”
If you’re in transit when anxiety strikes, get closer to nature. Trees are great energy transformers. Even the open sky can be an assuaging parent. Native Americans refer to the Earth as their Mother, and the Sky as their Father. While the popular culture has rendered these names kitsch, they can be reimagined and more deeply experienced with just a little original thinking and focus. Address them silently, from inside your heart as something sacred. That connection can be calming and healing. Request comfort and counsel, and await visible signs. Answers appear as forms in clouds, waving tree branches, or acronymical license plates.
Anxiety is a 21st-century reality, but we are not “stuck” with it. For some, angst is a sudden undertow, pulling us into a dizzying whitewater ride. Our lives spiral out of control, and we feel helpless. Breathing becomes shallow; the heart rate increases. Now we have somatic correlatives, physical validation for the intractable notion that something is very, very wrong. How do we address the monumental sense of uneasiness that brings to her knees even the most perspicacious among us?
We can begin by weaning ourselves from electronic devices. Technology can be a friend, but it must not become a co-dependent partner. Harvest moments of silence as golden opportunities for introspection. We lose the precious ability to be philosophic and self-reflective, and this breeds anxiety. Read, reflect, write in a journal. Journaling is great tool for understanding. Writing out our inner stream allows access to unconscious places in need of support and illumination.
Attempting to resist a negative state is counterproductive. Just let it go. Let it happen. Everything has a purpose, even uncomfortable feelings. Maybe it’s the soul, signaling a need for greater insulation. Fold the hands together as in meditation, and create a mantra. I like the one from the film, Safe: “I am one with the power that created me. I am safe. All is well in my world.”
Perhaps mind and body want you to slow down and pay closer attention. They want you to nurture yourself, to engage in self-care. Do something to change the energy and atmosphere around you. Light some incense, turn on the aromatherapy mister, open a diffuser bottle. Drop some essential oils into a hot bath. Add some mini-marshmallows to a cup of cocoa; cover up with a throw blanket. Warm your feet by a fire.
Winter should be a time of cozying in. Thoughts turned inward may yield just as much peace and grace as gazing at a sparkling snowy landscape. Anxiety can be a prompt for educating the self about its need for attention and cultivation. We could respond with self-love instead of reproach to create sanctuary when life seems to rise around us like a blazing blizzard. We can strive to become more like our Traditional Elders by understanding that absolutely everything in life is temporary, and Sacred.