For those of you living in places where you see your breath when you exhale, and you don’t exalt in the joys of sub-zero weather by strapping on three layers of woolies to frolic in the snow-covered woodlands, then I apologize in advance for sounding obnoxious.
I am freezing this morning. It is 20 degrees and I am in a thick sweater, jogging pants, and socks. I sit outside and the morning sun creeps over the trees past my left shoulder. If I close my eyes, this is how I used to feel inside my house during winter.
I am ready for wintering.
My son misses winter.
In his most rebellious pubescent voice, he declares he will be in Toronto next year for Christmas. No matter what. What seems like a subtle blackmail, he says he recorded me saying that we would be in Toronto next year for Christmas so that means we have to go.
I raise my eyebrow and refrain from smiling as his little assertion is so mild and almost adorable compared to the raging category 5’s my daughters inflict upon us. Then I take a deep breath and listen to his case, admiring my maturation as a mother as I don’t grab his device full of blackmail material and hurl it into the jungle.
He misses the snow and everything that goes with it: the winter sports like snowboarding, toboganning, skating, winter hikes; the snow fun with the snow people and angels, the snowball fights, the snow forts; the extreme cold and then warming up with hot chocolate.
For Christmas, he had Mikey for his Secret Santa and all she wanted was hot chocolate and marshmallows for Christmas. He bought her a kit and they have been making hot chocolate when it cools down every evening. I remind him that we do have winter here in Costa Rica. We go through the seasons every day. It is winter in the night time, a fresh spring in the morning, a hot summer mid-day, and the chill of fall in the evening.
He fulfills the pubescent stereotype again and rolls his eyes.
I get it. It’s hard to even think of winter in a land where it feels like summer forever. I miss winter too, not shovelling the driveway or scraping the ice off the windshield, but the act of it.
The act of wintering.
Suddenly to be healed again and aware that the very ground of my being – my mind and spirit – was given time and space in which to go on growing…In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within there lay an invincible summer.– Rainer Maria Rilke
From December 25 to January 6, I prepare myself for wintering. In the past, it was easy. The external weather conditions dictated the type of preparation – collecting extra socks and mittens; having less commitments; bread making to warm the hous; and making more time for handwork and reading to the kids. Now, there are different types of preparation.
Yesterday marked the end of the twelve holy nights. In the Christian calendar, it is the Epiphany – a day that celebrates the arrival of the three kings, the Magi, who followed the star that led them to the birth of Jesus Christ. This was a recognition of the divine nature of Jesus Christ, a manifestation of God.
Although I no longer formally observe the Catholic faith, the religion of my upbringing, I have found a deeper connection to some of the feasts and celebrations throughout the year, using their underlying symbolism as simple guideposts or prompts for inner work.
Now I celebrate the Epiphany more simply, using its other definition; it is a time of sudden insight or understanding, the light at the end of my twelve dark nights where I purposely become blind to the outside world as I open eyes to my inner self.
These twelve nights are part of my preparation of wintering. These nights signify a a focused sacred period to enter the “dark night of the soul,” to meditate on deeper themes and allow the work of darkness – the stillness, the silence, the time of sleep and dreams – to shift things through rest and contemplation.
In Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, Katherine May writes:
(Since childhood), we are taught to ignore sadness, to stuff it down into our satchels and pretend it isn’t there. As adults, we often have to learn to hear the clarity of its call. That is wintering. It is the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.
The season of winter is important and its physical presence traditionally signalled that it was time to stay in and contract. When the children were little, I would sit by the window with a hot coffee and watch the snowfall in the early morning hours. When it would finally stop, it was like the blanket of snow also covered sound, uncovering a quiet that I once thought could only be found in winter.
As I try to imagine winter here each year, to invoke the themes in myself to celebrate these cycles of in and out, inhale and exhale, passive and active, wake and sleep, light and dark, my senses betray me. Birds pierce through my illusion. The sun burns. The smell of the jungle signify life and movement.
My external world is an unreliable ally in this quest “to winter.” I turn to my inner world, my personal rhythm, my mental state. Winter is a time of bareness and darkness. There is no growth or flourishing – only stagnation and decay.
I am on winter break. Three weeks without classes and it is tempting to be active. There are beaches and the sea. The warmth pulls at my body to be active and externalize myself.
But I know better. Winter is my deep inhale. After the blizzard of Solstice, Christmas, and the New Year festivities, the “snow” settles. There is the tidying, organizing, and planning. After today, moving into mid-January, I will sense that particular silence. The call to rest.
I loved Rudolf Steiner’s concept of winter, a time of wakefulness. Yes, we go inward, but the earth is awake. Summer is the land of dream time and sleepiness. Winter invites us to enter and do the work in the underland, the world beneath.
I know this pretend winter is not what my son wants right now. He sits shirtless, sweating, and wishing for a break from the heat. All I can do is move slower. Say no to commitments. Eliminate the busy. Create for space for stillness and time at home. In the evenings, I will make him his hot chocolate, put the fan on full blast, take a book off the shelf, and cuddle up with him on the couch to help him feel what ultimately he wants to feel as life moves our family in a different direction, more apart than together – cozy and warm.
How do you winter?