Transition Through Winter
Do these fast-darkening days in the Northern Hemisphere have you looking back towards the summer months, longing for the short nights and long days? Or maybe you wish to hop on a plane and fly off to New Zealand where summer is just about to begin.
If so, you’re hardly alone.
For me, this transition from fall to winter, and then waiting patiently, or not so, for spring is always a tough transition. Maybe it’s because of living in northeast Ohio, a region known for nearly as much cloudiness as Portland, Oregon. An area where an army arsenal was constructed in WWII because of the year long dense cloud cover. I mean, even in the summer we’re not guaranteed endless days of blue skies and sunshine. Maybe this is the reason a summer scene of looking up through green tree branches against a blue sky can take me to a peaceful place.
But as a life transition coach, I’ve began to think about this seasonal shift into winter more in terms of a transition, instead of just dismissing my funk as another case of the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder. How can we use the knowledge found by exploring the three stages of a transition–Letting Go, Moving In-Between, Accepting a New Way–to help us navigate this season? What if instead of trying to ignore the affect this season of dwindling light has on us, we embraced it and discovered new ways, new guides, new opportunities to cross through the long dark nights with less trepidation?
**Granted, sometimes we all need professional help to navigate the holidays if the blues turn into serious depression. Reaching out for such help is a necessary option to keep in mind, an important action step if needed. Please always keep this in mind.***
Seasonal changes may affect you but not others around you
By definition, a transition is a reaction to a change that affects your roles, relationships, situations, or life views. What change affects you, may not affect your closest friend the same way. Also, remember that as with all transitions, only you get to determine when to move on and how to move on. While others may seem to be diving into the frenzy of the holidays, you may need solitude, and need to decline invitations from well-meaning friends and family trying to help you get in a festive mood.
Letting Go of the Old Way
Summer is gone, and with it so go the opportunities to be outside more, along with dressing lightly and not in scarves and bulky sweaters. Even though it may sound silly, make a list of all the things that are changing for you with this season. Include the things you’ll miss the most (I really miss slipping into sandals), the activities you won’t be able to do now (perhaps walking outdoors until 9pm). Even include the foods, the vacation, the simple events, like family picnics or roasting s’mores around a campfire.
Consider a ritual to release this list of things you’re letting go of. Maybe it’s tossing it in the fireplace. Or maybe it’s painting over top of it with a layer of your favorite color. Or maybe it’s tearing it into pieces, grabbing a glue stick and gluing them all down in a random design. Think of this as the beginning of transforming what once was into new energy.
Next list, write down all those things that you will still carry with you into this season of darkness. Perhaps friends and family make the list, your values, your workout routine, your desire to take care of your body. This list is the one that goes on your frig, or on your bathroom mirror, or someplace where you’ll see it often.
Argh. This is the toughest phase, at least for me. It seems endless. I can’t find my new routine here. It’s dark now at 5pm, and that makes it feel like I should be in bed by 7pm. Worse, I’m tired and feel like I want to be in bed by 7pm. Yet, in the summer, I would never think of hitting the hay that soon.
Yep, the in-between is a time where the schedule or routine has shifted; the new one not yet visible. So what to do?
Foremost, be gentle with yourself. Recognize that your body and your mind are adjusting to less light, colder weather, longer nights. Instead of wishing you could stay up past 7pm, if your body is saying it’s tired, go to bed. When you’re cold, you throw on another sweater because you’re listening to your body tell you that it’s feeling chilly. So, too, with other signals it might be sending you about resting more. Yes, even in this season of excessive demands, rest is incredibly important to your well-being.
Plan some activities that bring you pleasure. These don’t have to be expensive trips to the Bahamas. Instead, maybe it’s simply stringing twinkle lights in every room. Maybe it’s snuggling with your furry friends more often. Maybe it’s taking a new class at the local yoga studio. Try to plan some type of bodily movement every day, even if it’s just walking outside and around the block. Too dark out? Perhaps it’s time for a gym membership, or taking your lunch hour to get outside for a 20 minute walk. Little things can make a big difference here.
One activity that is helping me navigate these darkening days is taking a new class. I love art-journaling, and when my dear friend Suzi Banks Baum at Rising Forth offered a new class–Advent Dark Journal–I jumped at the opportunity. It’s a lot of black gesso, collage, writing, and paint. It’s messy, but deep and rich and satisfying. Taking this class from Suzi has been an invitation to embrace the darkness instead of running from it, keeping busy, baking, feeding the holiday frenzy. One suggestion Suzi had this week was to go outside and create a simple nature mandala as an act of blessing the earth that blesses us. Leaves, twigs, moss, a few acorn husks later, I now have a reminder in my backyard that even during this season, the earth blesses us with different kind of beauty and abundance.
Another activity Suzi has us doing is writing down gratitudes. What can we be thankful for, from this laptop I’m typing on, to the technology that allowed me to easily email a photo from my camera to my downloads, to my feet touching the insides of soft slippers, to the cup of tea steaming nearby. This breath, this heartbeat, and then this one. We write them all down. And that’s when something shifts. My internal compass moves from feeling blue to lifting in a song.
If you need some gratitude inspiration, treat yourself to Gratefulness.org for daily quotes, weekly poems, and so many other wonderful reminders and expressions of gratitude for the ordinary. And writing down gratitudes makes them tangible, real, hard to be ignored when later we wonder what we could ever be grateful for.
The key here, as we navigate the In-Between, is to move, listen to our bodies, make conscious healthy choices, and discover gratitude. And then repeat for as long as necessary.
Accepting A New Way
Finally, and I don’t know when this will happen for me let alone you, we will come to accepting a new way of being. We’ll recognize it because it will feel like coming home instead of trying to escape it. It will feel like things are going to be OK. We will start to look more forward to the coming spring that once seemed eons away and less backward to the glory days of last summer.
Maybe it will be when seed catalogs arrive, or on spotting the first tender green daffodil shoot. Who knows? Maybe it will happen at the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, with a gorgeous full moon in a dark night sky. But chances are the feeling of knowing life is going to be OK, whatever season we’re in, is a very personal one, and not generally calendar driven. Just because December 22nd means the days are now growing incrementally longer, it doesn’t mean we’ve suddenly come into a new way of being this winter.
So how shall we navigate this seasonal transition? What experiences, activities, practices will help guide us through this change? Whatever it is, I encourage you to write through it, journal your thoughts and feelings, challenges and triumphs, gratitudes and experiences. Create a record, your own Dark Winter Journal. So that when the days inevitably begin to shorten next year, you will have a journal to pull off your shelf, open, and read about how once upon a time, you survived the darkness of winter.
In a life transition? Begin discovering your own survival techniques. Click here to receive your Free Transition Survival Guide: 5 Strategies to a Stronger You.
Ginny Taylor is a life transition coach at Women of Wonder where she guides women in life-changing transitions towards a new beginning. Journaling and creative expression are some of the practices she helps women discover on their transition journey. She is a certified Transition Writing Specialist, certified Journal to the Self instructor, and holds an MFA in creative writing. Read more about Ginny here.