Winter is the season of reflection, stillness and celebrating the light within the darkness. (You can find a visual depiction of the Seasons of Transitions here.) As the hours of sunlight diminish each day, we turn inward, both literally and figuratively, and find ourselves with time, space, and silence spread out before us. As adults, we might resist this turning inward as we know that in doing so we have to face ourselves. We watch our children delight in winter’s joys – making snowmen and snowballs, sledding and skiing, watching snowflakes fall like magic from an ice blue sky – and we notice the part of us that hangs back.
The dark time is here, the time of touching the unconscious and what dwells there. Reflections simmer just below the surface of the skin. Memories push up to consciousness. We sit and watch the crackling flames of the fire and remember a camping trip with a grandparent long ago. We gaze into the dying embers and a sense-memory emerges in the body of what was happening last year at this time. One of the beauties of transition is that they invite us to re-live the past at deeper layers so that the grief that didn’t have room to be fully expressed at the time of the loss now emerges, floods the body, and moves through us, thus clearing the space for the present moment to take hold. The body remembers significant dates before the conscious mind; as we settle into the quiet season, the memories surface more readily.
Two nights ago I was sitting with my family in front of the fire. My boys were playing while my husband tended the logs and I rested on the couch. As if it was happening today, a memory surfaced of what occurred on that night exactly two years ago: my husband returned from a two-month work trip to San Francisco. I saw us embracing at the front door. I felt the grief of his absence and the painful joy of his return. A wave of nausea welled up, for I was four months pregnant with my Asher, who was now (in present time), amazingly, a full-fledged person before my eyes. The miracle of life’s cycles filled me with awe and I said to my husband, “Here we are. Our family is complete.”
The natural human tendency is to avoid grief and loss, and for this reason winter can be a more challenging season. We may moan and groan about the hassle of snow and the limitations of cold but, while there is a practical inconvenience inherent to this season, I don’t think that’s what the complaining is really about. The truth is that it’s hard to go inside. We live in a culture that moves quickly and derives an almost addictive high off the “inhale” of life. We resist the exhale because we know, intuitively, that with the out breath comes the embedded feelings that long for release. As long as we keep moving, we can avoid the darker places.
But when we consciously embrace the opportunity in this season, we access the potential for growth, healing, and transformation. Nature’s lessons are potent and immediate; there is a reason she lies dormant and invites us to do the same. Just as the body requires sleep in order to recharge, so the soul requires quiet times in a day, a week, a month, and a year to turn inward and regenerate. If we’re constantly on the move, we don’t allow for the necessary elements that create the space for deep soul rest and healing. It may look like nothing is happening, but sometimes the most profound layers of growth occur underground.
Winter is also the slow season. Although the days are shorter, the hours seem to stretch out longer. With less to do, we’re invited to settle into the slower state of being. The gardens lie fallow and so do we, and against the pure blankness of snow and silence we see the seeds of the new aspects of ourselves and our children that are taking root and will sprout into bloom next spring. But for now, amidst an hour or two of outdoor snow fun, we spend more time reading, sewing, cooking, observing and settling into the stillness of now. We notice the hour of darkness descending earlier and earlier. We light the candles and notice that even in darkness there is light.
Just as there is light within this dark time, so there are opportunities for the birth of new resources right now. A few days after the time changed and the temperature dropped, my husband noticed that our fish aquarium felt cold to the touch and thought to make her a “cozy.” Everest immediately jumped at the idea and declared that he wanted to learn how to sew. So they got out the sewing kit and within minutes my son was making his first cozy. In the warmer months, the two of them spend their time together outdoors creating stone steps and jumping across the creek. But winter naturally invites a different set of activities and on the dawn of this winter, Everest learned how to sew.
When we follow this season’s energetic impulse, the soul unfurls like a blanket of snow. It’s the liminal stage of the cycle of transitions: in-between autumn and spring, between the old and new, poised between what is no longer and what is not yet. The liminal stage is often the least favorite stage of transitions as most of us have a hard time surrendering to uncertainty and nothingness. But once the surrender occurs (by intention and grace), we find that hidden beneath the nothingness of snow is a beauty and purity that only arise in winter. Just as there’s beauty in the loss of autumn leaves, so there’s great possibility inherent in the nothingness of winter. It’s from this intersection of opposites that we derive strength and hope. The bulbs are sending down their shoots. The seeds are resting, harnessing their potential. And we lie fallow, watching for the birth of the next stage, the inner spring that is never far away.
Through her websites Conscious Weddings and Conscious Motherhood, her blog Conscious Transitions, and books, Sheryl Paul helps people traverse the tricky terrain of transitions. She’s the author of The Conscious Bride and The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner and has appeared several times on The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as on Good Morning America and several other international newspapers, radio, and television.