Why I hate winter….but not really

I think possibly I have developed some faith.

I have been thinking about winter.  It is hard to NOT think about winter, since we are smack in the middle of it here in Atlantic Canada.  My smarter-than-me phone told me this morning it was ZERO degrees American.   That’s cold, for me.   When you translate to the 19.6 degrees Celsius it is less compelling for someone raised on the Fareinheit system, but zero….whew.  It is winter.

Winter conjures a lot of negative stuff for me.  Old family of origin stuff, of course.  Winters were long and hard in Maine when I was a kid.   My family was fairly poor, but only as poor as most of my classmates, so we all knew what it meant to have the house barely warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing, and that when we went out to play it was wearing extra layers of clothes we already had, not special technical fabrics or down or polyester filling to our coats and pants.  Down was for rich people and polyester hadn’t been invented yet.   So there was a lot of cold and wet involved in winter, and that special, awful, burning feeling in your hands and feet as they start to warm up again after playing outside for hours in the snow.

I also had the spectre of my mother, who was not a warm, positive influence at the best of times.  She was at her worst in winter;  felt closed in, imprisoned by winter and by being a mother-at-home without a car.   So there are some negative things that just arise for me when it is cold and snowy.

Snow
Snow

I have worked hard to restructure that part of my brain. In 1994, when I moved from Louisiana to upstate New York, I was determined to make winter my friend.  I got snowshoes.  I got really excellent snow tires, four of them.  None of that “all weather radial” nonsense for me;  after my first accidental 360 with my all weather tires, I replaced them.   I got cross-country skis and taught myself to use them.  (Note:  simply translating my running skills to skis was not a good strategy. It was years later that I had to unlearn a whole pile of bad habits).  I put on extra sweaters, extra blankets, and sucked up the extra expense to have my house warm enough for me to feel okay.

Fast forward to now.  I live in Canada.   As my brother and his wife asked, in all kindness, “What were you thinking?”   They, of course, live in balmy Chicago.   But yes, I live in Canada and suffice it to say that I wasn’t thinking about winter when I made that decision.   I am here now, though, and working through my negativity every single day.   Every winter day, that is.

winter trees
winter trees

I heard on the radio that loveliest of winter expressions from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons at the very same moment I reflected that in only 12 weeks, or less, actually, we’ll be celebrating the vernal equinox.   And that’s the faith part.   I have learned to have faith in the sun rising and setting, and in the days lengthening and shortening.   Nothing stays the same but this pattern of change is something I can count on.

BUT…and this is a big BUT………I don’t want to spend the next twelve weeks wishing for winter to be over.  That’s not okay with me;  that’s like giving away three months of my life and I don’t have it to spare!   So it isn’t enough to just grit my teeth and wish for spring, resisting what is actually happening in hope that the future will be different, better, a destination.

That’s a hell of a way to live your life, waiting for the next thing to happen.  I think I have had enough of that.

Sun rise in winter
Sun rise in winter

I wonder how much of my childhood self is caught up in my winter blues?   The self that didn’t have any hope for change, that had no capacity to take action on my own behalf, the child who was stuck in a family and home where unhappiness was always the order of the day….that’s who is awake and operating when my negative side starts to dominate.

So I need to reconnect with my faith in the pattern of life on this planet:     because I can count on the sun, I don’t have to give my winter away to negativity and complaining.  I can take care of me.   I can notice how I feel and think about winter.  I can sit quietly with those thoughts and feelings.  I can remember how it was to be a kid in that setting, and also remember that I am no longer that child, no longer in that life.   Now I have choices:    I can ski, and snowshoe, and eat roasted root vegetables, and drink warm comforting drinks and be present to the winter, without wanting it to hurry by to get to spring.   Some days I’ll likely resist the winter, and feel constricted and angry and frustrated by what I perceive as the limits of the season.   Whether I resist or not, though, I know this:  the sun will rise.  The sun will set.  The days will grow longer and then, in June, they’ll begin to grow shorter.  No matter how I feel about any of it, this pattern of change will go on.   On this I can depend.

Finding the deep desires of your heart

What is your heart’s desire?  What do you REALLY want?

Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/
Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/

Notice what happens inside you as you sit with that question.   What is my heart’s desire?  What do I really, really want?  Watch your mind generate all sorts of answers, excuses, plausible reasons not to even consider the question, and perhaps even responses that are socially appropriate.

Maybe you were taught that it is rude to WANT something.  Maybe you had many experiences of disappointment in your wants, to the point that you stopped WANTING.  Or you told yourself you didn’t have any WANTS.   Maybe you are very busy trying to make sure other people get what they WANT, and your own little wants have lost their voices.

Watch your thoughts as you start to consider this question.  Notice if you resist the question itself (“I don’t need to read this stuff.”)  Notice if you reject your ideas about what you might want.   How do we get past the mind’s pattern of criticizing itself?   It is hard to know what you really want if you have an inner critic telling you to shut up all the time.

A beautiful place to sit and ponder
A beautiful place to sit and ponder

Now try an experiment.   Get up on your feet.  Yes, you, right now, on your feet!   Jump up and down a little bit, get your breathing going.    Now hop around on one foot, then the other foot, and maybe even wave your arms around up over your head.    Yes, get silly and move around vigorously, shaking your head, letting your jaw go loose, maybe letting some sound out of your mouth….
“ahhhh,   ooommmmmm,  raaaahhhhhh,    bbbrrrrrrrr…” whatever sounds come out as you are jumping, jogging, shaking, and waving.

Oh, yeah.  Just let ‘er rip!  Let your body move, let your voice come out, get energy flowing all through your body.   It could be a dance, could be cheer-leading, could be gymnastics or calisthenics  whatever works for you, but it needs to be vigorous, free, and energetic.  Yahoo!

Now let your body come back to a still place.  Feel your feet firmly on the ground, feel the breath in your body, notice your heartrate, still elevated, and notice what is happening in your thoughts, in your mind.   And now, just standing there, let your answer come….What do I really, really want?   What is my heart’s desire?

Let go of any judgment, any self-criticism.  What do I want, now that I have let my body start to have its voice?  Just notice what ideas come up for you, and see if you can make note of them without commentary.  What do I want?  What does my heart want most right now?   Nothing is off limits…whatever arises for you, that’s what you want.

And your job is to let it be okay that you want what you want.   That’s all….you can want whatever it is that you want.  Just wanting is a big thing for many of us.  This  exercise is a beginning. Your heart’s desire is there waiting for recognition.

What did you find out when you tried the little experiment?   I wonder what would happen if you did it several days in a row?  Could you get more skillful at letting the body’s truth come out?  Could you start to recognize self-criticism and learn to just let that go?

Starting over. Starting over. Starting over.

The sun comes up every single morning.  What a gift, what a blessing.   When we conceive of the new day as new opportunity, everything opens up.

Sunrise over Cundy's Harbour, Maine, Dianne Carrick 31 Dec 2012
Sunrise over Cundy’s Harbour, Maine, Dianne Carrick 31 Dec 2012

  Today is just beginning.   That means that my experience of today is also, yes, just beginning.  So I have choices.  I can choose to make this a new beginning or a continuation of what was.   Actually, of course, today is always both of those things.    Taking a leap into something new can be frightening.   We shrink from fear, pulling ourselves inward, like an everlasting snail withdrawing his tiny horns from an aversive stimulus.   But once pulled in, once shrunken into myself, pulled away from the world, I am tight, tense, afraid, anxious, then actually interacting with the world becomes difficult. I am constrained from acting as I might want to act.  I am unable to feel my own experiences of the world because I have shrunk away from them.

What if?    

What if?    If only I realized that I am always and everywhere interacting with the world, actually am part of the world, taking in the world through my breath and my eyes, my ears and my skin, and adding parts of myself to the world just by being alive and being present, well, might that awareness not help me to know that fear itself is an illusion, just as separation is an illusion?

Starting over
Solstice dawn.
Solstice dawn.

Well, it’s a thought, anyway.   I was talking with my friend and body-worker Kathrine Walker about this miraculous interface between the human body (MY human body, your human body) and the world.   We were working with a meditation on the breath, visualizing the lungs right down to the alveoli, the location where the amazing happens:   air from the world interfaces with the body and becomes part of the body.   I recalled the other places where this occurs:  in the sensory organs and within the digestive system.   In each system, there is a specific place, specific part of the body which developed for its particular interface with information from the world….the retina gathers light energy and converts it to something your brain can understand.  The hair cells of the basilar membrane of the ear can take sound waves and turn them into neural transmissions.   Inside your nose are receptors that collect molecules of substances that waft in on the air you breathe, and those molecules are turned into information for your brain to interpret (“Hmm, apples….that reminds me of fall and our trips up river to pick apples.”)   The world is coming to us every moment of every day, and the world is becoming us.

When I breathed into that awareness, when I actively sought to notice air becoming me, sound shaping my mental experience, feeling the sensation of really deeply looking at colours, I could just barely begin to touch this reality.   But it meant something.   It meant that I could let go of a lot of my striving.   No matter how hard I try, I can’t keep myself safe from the world.   No matter how much I try to control myself, my future, my life, things are happening every single millisecond that I cannot control.

The good news about that was this:    I don’t need to set goals, to create rigid structures for Self-Improvement, to follow somebody-or-other’s plan for getting a better body, more spiritual soul, sharper intelligence.  I just need to breathe and to be, and in so doing, I am becoming more part of the world and letting the world become part of me.   

Could be a scary thought.  Or it could be extraordinarily freeing.

On this last day of the year, I think I’ll choose to find it freeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All I ever wanted…

“All I ever wanted since I arrived here on Earth were the things that turned out to be within reach, the same things I needed as a baby — to go from cold to warm, lonely to held, the vessel to the giver, empty to full. You can change the world with a hot bath, if you sink into it from a place of knowing that you are worth profound care, even when you’re dirty and rattled. Who knew?”

This quote is from an article in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/eating-healthy-habits-how-to-satisfy-your-soul_n_1940936.html) that is an excerpt from Anne Lamott’s new book.

It sure made me think.  To go from cold to warm…from lonely to held….from empty to full.  All body states, all states of being in the body.   We think, and so because we think, we assume that thinking holds the answers or the keys to our well being or our sense of “okayness.”      Thinking is an important tool, for sure.  It is essential for solving problems, and for generating new creations.  But to FEEL okay is a body thing.

 

It is funny, or at least ironic, that we assume that we need to THINK about stuff in order to feel better.  We certainly know that our thinking can make us feel worse.    So we make the logical assumption that we need to think in order to feel better.  But what if that is a false assumption?

Maybe we just need to FEEL in order to feel better.  Maybe we need to get in touch with what our body is experiencing right here and right now.   If I can’t feel what’s going on in my body, then I am out of touch with the largest part of myself.   So when I can’t FEEL, I need to move some energy in my body so that sensation becomes available to consciousness.

Check in right now.  What are you aware of IN YOUR BODY?    If you aren’t feeling all that much, get up, swing your arms around, pick your knees up, one after the other, jog in place, or do a few old-faithful jumping jacks.  Move enough so that your breathing changes.   Then slow your motion until you find a place of stillness, and check in again.  What’s there for you?  Where are you on the cold-to-warm, lonely-to-held, empty-to-full continua?  What is your full experience right in this moment?

 

 

 

Days of darkness

Dawn is easy to find this time of year, in New Brunswick.  It happens so late in the day that most people who are not teenagers are likely to up when the sun appears.   By the same token, the sun sets early, too….earlier and earlier for the next six weeks.   I am grateful to be living here on Atlantic time.  When I lived in Bangor, Maine, on Eastern time (but only a wee bit to the west of here), the sun was effectively gone from the sky well before four pm in latest fall.   It always seems hard to me to go to work in the dark and return from work in the dark;  to have all of the daylight hours taken by work, presumably indoor work.  But when I lived in Maine, that four pm darkness was really hard to take.

 

 

 

We exacerbate the body’s struggle with the dark hours by adding a time change to the situation.   The decision-makers don’t live here.   They live in a more moderate, more temperate, more middle place, one where the length of day doesn’t fluctuate as much with the calendar.   They may also live a more indoor life.   When the light your body lives in is generated artificially, internal processes change.   There are concrete, physiological reasons why people feel better in the summer, at least in this climate, and sun exposure is a part of that.    So as the days grow longer, I get out my therapy lightbox and make sure that most days I get some sunlight or some light from the box.   I notice the ways that we as a society create cultural experiences and values to help us get through this darkness.   I carefully consider what I need and want to support me in feeling well and whole while the darkness feels encompassing.  And I actively try to think positive thoughts about the dark days.

 

What changes do you notice in your body as the days get shorter?

How do you honour the body’s needs?   Are you able to sit back and reflect on what you need during this time of year?

Can you notice the pull of social demands around the holidays and then choose whether and how to join in?  More on that later….

 

 

Fall bounty

image

I’ve been writing and thinking about darkness, and the lack of light, and how the late fall contributes to my own desire to hibernate.  But here is a lovely little picture of the fruits of the fall;  vegetables at the Boyce Farmer’s Market in early November.   The colours are muted, compared to summer vegetables and fruits, but they are still full of good nutrition and of course the pungent onion may help us to remember that we are, in fact, alive…if we can smell and taste and even tear up due to a vegetable!

The darkness is an opportunity.  It provides us with a chance to slow down, to listen to the still small voice within, to take stock of our lives and our selves.   The holiday season is a last final frantic rush of business before winter;   perhaps a way that we try to distract ourselves from the realities of reflection.   I used to be so busy that I didn’t have time to think, to stop and ponder, to wonder.   I suspect I used to make myself that busy.  Of course social expectations support busyness…do you know anyone who says, oh, I’m not that busy…?   People find being busy to be a status symbol of some sort.   But I think often we want to stay too busy to look at ourselves and look at our lives.  We are too busy to feel our feelings, except superficially.   We like it that way.

The darkness and the cold draw us toward quiet, toward reflection.   Rather than being something to try to escape, perhaps we could see them as opportunities to carefully consider how we are living.   Taking some quiet time in the dark days may help illuminate a path for the future, for a way for life to be different or maybe just for US to be different.

Make sure you take some quiet time this solstice season.  Don’t let the forced gaiety of the holidays overwhelm your need for time for yourself.  Don’t let social expectations flood you so that you can’t feel what you really feel.  Just because “everyone” is happy, you don’t have to pretend.  And know, too, that everyone is NOT happy.   People feel what they feel, and usually that’s a range of feelings.

May the blessings of the season of darkness be yours.