By Victoria Branson, L.Ac.
When asking someone what their favorite season is, those who answer winter would definitely be in the minority. Compared to the promise and flowers of spring, the endless days and warmth of summer, or the crisp air and beauty of autumn, winter doesn’t seem to have much going on for it on the outside. As citizens of the most materialistic society on the planet, that is exactly why winter has so much to teach us.
Winter is the time of hibernation. The energy of all plants and animals goes deep within for protection from the elements as well as for rejuvenation. We alone as a species, since the dawn of widespread electricity, utterly defy this natural order of things. What do we stand to gain by reclaiming our connection to winter? Sanity for one. A deeper connection to nature and ourselves, health, vitality, and joy. Winter is the time to dig our roots deep and nourish ourselves, and when we ignore this imperative we suffer illness on all levels, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
What does going within actually mean for us as human beings? We can’t literally retreat into our roots like plants, or suspend our physical functions for hibernation or torpor like some animals. For us, going within is meditation. Meditation is the redirection of our focus and awareness from the external world to the internal. This practice is free. No special clothing or equipment is needed. Classes, books, and cd’s can be helpful, but ultimately nothing is needed but the will to set aside our endless fixation on the material world and dive within our own precious universe we all carry within.
When you first start meditating, you will most likely notice that you are living with a crazy person: Yourself. You’ll become acutely aware of the voice in your head that is constantly narrating, judging, questioning, and generally making life more stressful than it needs to be. There are some wonderful books written about this so I won’t go into detail here, suffice to say that the more you meditate the more you’ll gain control over your mind. This has enormous repercussions for your health and happiness. The ability to stay calm and centered in the chaos of life is your birthright. Winter, when all the energy of life is drawing within, is the perfect time to reclaim it.
What is it about winter that allows for such transformative power? From the Five Element perspective, winter is the season associated with the element water, the emotion fear, and the organ Kidneys. Water flows downward to the depths, effortlessly surmounting any obstacles in the way. Fear is the root of all negative emotions. The Kidneys are the root of human beings, serving as the home of Source Qi, Essence, the Fire of Vitality, and governing the most important aspects and cycles of our lives. Grief, rumination, anger, anxiety, and excitation are all at their heart rooted in fear, our most primal survival instinct. Winter is the ideal time to go within and confront our fears, so we may be free.
You may now be wondering, “So what do I do, just meditate all winter long?”. We all have obligations, work, family, hobbies, passions, and the chores of everyday life. Accomplishment of these tasks can be an invitation to bring the peace of your meditative mind into day to day activities. This is what the ancient Zen Buddhist expression, “Chop wood, carry water”, refers to. Awareness even in the most mundane or trying of tasks. Euripides conveyed this idea beautifully with, “A labor sweet, a toil that is no toil”. The work of everyday life isn’t something to get through so you can then enjoy yourself, it is life itself. If you’re not fully present then you’re missing much of your own life, and only you can take it back.
What are other ways to embrace winter? The easiest way to find the answer is to consider how your ancestors spent their time, whether 100 or 1000 years ago. They weren’t constantly looking at flickering screens at all hours, needing to know what everyone they know or don’t know is doing or not doing at the moment. They also weren’t incredibly over-stimulated, stressed, and constantly seeking excitement. Our ancestors knew the value of warmth and family on a cold winters night, of candle light and music to brighten the spirit, of stories and songs to share our experiences. So this evening, instead of tuning into the computer, TV, or phone, try turning off all the lights, lighting some candles, and reading something soulful. Cook warming and nourishing foods like stews and casseroles. Make an ocean bath by putting seaweed or a combination of sea salt and epsom salts in your bathtub and soaking until your worries and the cold melt away. Try writing or drawing or whatever the quiet voice within thinks best. As Rumi said, “Allow yourself to be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you truly love”.
This winter, give yourself the space to heal, rest, and recover. Sleep long and deep. Take baths often. Cook delicious food that you truly enjoy. Take the time to learn how to love yourself, as though your heart is a small child needing comfort and unconditional love. Because even as adults, we all do. Nothing from the outside world will ever come close to the power your have over yourself. Embrace winter, embrace yourself. Go within and see what you find there.
Victoria is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and Oriental medicine practitioner in Beaverton, Oregon. She specializes in pain relief, digestive disorders, women's health, insomnia, and stress relief. Victoria loves to empower patients to heal themselves using meditation, tai ji, qi gong, nutrition, visualization, and affirmations. When not learning more about medicine and healing, you can find Victoria on adventures with her husband and dog, playing in nature, cooking, gardening, meditating, and getting suckered into giving her dog more food.