"Store your energy now. When spring comes, you can burst out of the ground."
With apologies to T.S. Eliot, April is not the cruelest month. February is far more foreboding. Even as hope springs eternal, Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow. We're tempted to crawl back into our proverbial holes and, if we have no sweetheart, we may feel like staying there well past Valentine's Day.
January is no picnic, either. It's the starting line for a multitude of sprints and marathons. In the New Year, the world pumps its fists and waves the flag of resolve, shouting, "Ready! Set! Go!" It seems everyone is jumping on the treadmill, but I don't want to enter the race. In fact, I don't want to get off the sofa.
The kids are gone and the too-quiet house feels barren with the Christmas treasures all packed away. A random pine needle, stuck in the weave of the sisal rug, mocks me: You are dry and brittle, just like me! Or so it seems in my dull, winter malaise.
Is it really necessary to charge through this season with reckless abandon? I see others using winter to plunge into projects and tick things off their lists, yet I remain not a fan of the New Year's resolutions that spawn a flurry of activity: Exercise more. Swear less. Take a knitting class. Plan for retirement. Whether made under societal duress or in a moment of quiet desperation, those declarations often seem like a formula for failure, disappointment and self-recrimination. In fact, a University of Scranton study shows only 8 percent of us will actually achieve our resolutions.
Bestselling author Melody Beattie says, "I don't believe in resolutions; I believe in goals." She suggests writing down goals as they occur to us throughout the year.
"If I am facing a problem, spot a need, feel a new want, I turn it into a goal and add it to my list. I also use goals to get me through crisis times, when I'm feeling shaky. Then, I write down all the things I want and need to accomplish on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis." 1
This makes sense to me. Why not set goals as the need arises instead of under the pressure of calendars and in the wake of holiday exhaustion?
I brew a cup of kombucha. The little tag on the end of my tea bag is meant to be encouraging. It reminds me of the menu at Café Gratitude: I am beautiful. I am bountiful. I am blissful. What I feel is unproductive... tired... sluggish... cold. As I wrap myself in an afghan, I chide myself because for the first time in my life I actually live in a warm climate. I conclude that my persistent chill and vague sense of blah are a conditioned response to living, until a few years ago, in the East and Midwest, where winter is, after all, winter. My body, and apparently my soul, still expect the assault of darkness and ice and snow, an imprint unfazed by palm trees and only temporarily alleviated by a walk on the sand. I play the Fireplace for Your Home "movie" from Netflix over and over again while the space heater blows next to me.
"I feel defective," I tell Courtney Shelburne, a Los Angeles-based Plant Spirit Medicine healer and massage therapist. I haven't been to the gym. I don't feel like writing. I don't want to be around people.
Contrary to what we are led to believe, Shelburne explains, winter is not supposed to be a time when we are full of energy and tackling big projects.
"We can use the guidance of the winter season to more deeply discover, the essence of our self," she says.
Shelburne's thoughts echo the advice of my wisest friends, who often implore others, "Be gentle with yourself."
Instead of viewing winter as a time to advance ourselves, what if we embrace the season as sanctuary time? What might that look like? More meditation? Reading winter poetry? A massage? A writing retreat? An extra yoga class? (My yoga instructor, by the way, reminds me that we are well past the winter solstice. The days are getting longer. Spring will be here soon.)
"Think of yourself as a seed," Shelburne suggests. "Go to bed early. Sleep later if you can. Store your energy now. When spring comes, you can burst out of the ground."
I meditate on this as I pour another cup of tea. The little saying on the tag at the end of the string says, "Patience pays." I envision my seed morphing into a bulb. In April, the bulb pushes an iris through the surface of the earth -- a strong green stalk with velvety violet petals. Beauty takes its time and nature takes its course. It is a revelation. I have permission to just simply be.
1. Beattie, Melody. Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. Hazelden Publishing.