There is a lot to learn from winter. Go slow, tune in, and plant your seeds for growth in spring.
Have you ever considered what it must have been like for our ancestors pushing through a long, cold winter before the creation of electricity and gas? For them this time of year held the very real threat of death by cold or starvation if they weren’t properly prepared. Prior to the existence of readily accessible energy and implements to warm them, cook their food, or light their homes at the flick of a switch – surviving winter’s extreme conditions was something that was worthy of celebration.
Although our modern lifestyles aren’t impacted as much as those of our ancestors who didn’t have the luxuries of instant heating, we too are influenced by the changing seasons as our body and mind respond to the shifting temperatures and phases of nature. Just as nature accepts and adapts to these changes, it is a good time to remember that we must also adjust. Life is in a constant state of change. For our greatest success it is essential that we work with these natural cycles to evolve.
Winter is the time of year where the pace of life slows down and we become less active. With colder temperatures, fewer daylight hours, and wetter days, we naturally want to spend more time indoors. The darkness and stillness surrounding us in nature offer an opportunity to rest, look within, and reflect on our lives. We are invited to become aware of where we are physically, mentally, and spiritually and consider where it is that we want to be going when the time for movement comes. Our truth can be revealed when we allow ourselves to surrender to this natural cycle of finding stillness.
The winter solstice, falling on June 21st this year, marks a turning point. We have experienced a descent into darkness. Trees have shed their leaves, nature’s growth is in a state of suspension, temperatures have dropped and we encounter the longest night and shortest day of the entire year. From this point on the days will become longer as the sun shows promise of returning to its full strength in the coming months.
For our ancestors who lived off the land, making it to another solstice was a reason to celebrate. For them it was a time to acknowledge their survival of the darkest time of year and the rebirth of the sun. It was a time to rejoice at the start of another cycle and show their gratitude for the community and resources that had contributed to their continued existence.
The cycle of life
The winter solstice was also seen as an opportunity to honour the cycles of life, death, and rebirth. Death is a natural part of any cycle. In nature, the trees have recently discarded their leaves, ready to grow new ones in the spring. We too would benefit from releasing any ‘dead wood’ in our lives, to enable new growth in the approaching months. When we accept death as a necessary part of regeneration, we can more easily welcome the changes that occur as we embark on new beginnings.
While we no longer face the same threat of starvation or illness because of extreme weather, winter solstice still represents a turning point for us each year. It offers an opportunity to pause and reflect on where we are in our lives and what we want to see blossom in the coming months.
Winter and Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the season of winter relates to the water element, which includes the bladder and kidneys. The bladder and kidneys store, balance, and distribute our bodies’ fluids and maintain our energy reserves. When the water element is depleted we may experience exhaustion or feel overwhelmed as we struggle to cope physically and emotionally without healthy energy reserves to fuel us. Stimulants such as caffeine and sugar can deplete the kidneys and disrupt our energy flow. Overwork and not giving ourselves enough yin (receptive, quiet, passive) time will also deplete the kidneys.
Just as you wear suitable clothing during winter to help cope with the cooler temperatures, there are certain foods that are better for the body at this time, helping to boost the immune system and fight off colds and flu. Avoid eating raw, cooling foods and instead focus on warming and grounding foods such as soups and stews, broths, lentils, and beans. Foods that naturally grow during this season are most favourable, such as squashes, potatoes, root vegetables, winter greens, cabbage, mushrooms, apples, and pears. Adding small amounts of salty foods can be beneficial as they promote a descending, grounding quality and help bring heat deeper into the body. Salty foods include miso, soy sauce, seaweeds, millet, and barley.
The lessons of the water element
Emotionally the water element in TCM is associated with fear – especially fear of the unknown. Sometimes the prospect of simply sitting quietly with our emotions can trigger all kinds of fears as we try to regulate or resist our responses to different experiences in our lives. This fear of what we will encounter can use up our energy reserves in a desperate attempt to control, manage, or run away from these feelings. When our minds take over, we can no longer hear our intuitive wisdom. The lesson of the water element is to listen to and follow our intuition – to go beyond our limiting beliefs and allow ourselves to be guided by our higher consciousness. This is what keeps us safe and aware of opportunities, helping us respond to life and able to utilise our resources appropriately.
Don’t be afraid of the dark
Sometimes we avoid the dark within ourselves – our fears, our shadow side, our less favourable qualities. But once we realise that it’s these parts of self that can offer our greatest gifts of learning, then we will realise they are what make us perfectly whole. These are the things that keep you searching for new growth and understanding about your place in the world. It helps you get clear on where you are now and what you need to do to move forward in the direction you wish to go. Now is the perfect time to tune into your inner truth, become clear on what you want your life to be like and what you need to do to strengthen and grow the part of you that you want to bring out to shine. Don’t be afraid to hear what your heart really desires and be ready to take action to bring it to life.
Take this time to rest, recharge, and let go of what no longer serves you, ready to begin the new cycle ahead. Enjoy the winter for the stillness and awareness it offers. Don’t be afraid to hear your inner truth. It may mean making changes, however the rewards will be worth it. You can live the life you’ve always dreamed of.
- What do you need to let go of at this time to allow you to reach your full potential?
- When it comes to resources and support, are you grateful for in your life?
- Do you have fears that are preventing you from living your life more fully?
- What strengths can you draw on and begin to bring to life with the increasing light?
- Make use of this time of stillness to rest and recharge
- Gentle exercise such as Qigong, tai chi and yoga can help support the body and mind
- Increase grounding and warming foods and limit cold, raw foods
- Make time for meditation to listen to your inner instincts
- Appreciate the cycle of life, recognising that death is an important aspect of new growth
- Create a vision board to represent what you want your life to be like and keep you on track to the success you have always dreamed of
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