I am looking out my second-story bedroom window into the old orchard that surrounds the house and is being covered in snow. The snow makes the wind visible in constantly shifting currents. One minute, the whole earth seems to pause as if it was taking a breath in. The frozen wind disappears. And then, it breathes out and the frozen fury appears.
In November, when we set the clocks back, I felt a sense of trepidation, a fear of the approaching winter and of what it might bring with it. This year might bring more fear than most, due to the unstable political climate. Now, it’s almost the solstice and the holidays. Winter is clearly here, despite the calendar date. Snow covers the ground. It’s cold and the nights are longer and the daylight disappears faster each day.
I know some people love the snow and look forward to winter. When I was still working as a teacher, I remember the joy that filled the school with the first snowfall. Students could barely focus on the academic lesson when Mother Nature had a deeper lesson in store for us. They would rush to the window and look out with wonder. Each snow was the only snow they had seen, ever. The first snow, beautiful and exciting.
Yet, for others, winter is a turning in. We cuddle within a new skin or shell, not only of warm clothing, but of doubt. We wonder if the warmth will ever return. Will the earth ever bear fruit again? Will the dark continue to dominate the light?
And probably ever since there have been human beings, ever since there has been life on this planet, this dread has been experienced. Not only due to snow⎼ or ice-covered orchards and roads ⎼ but the earth itself turning within.
Somehow, we need to embrace rather than turn away from this challenging time, and appreciate this snow fall, the light reflected off snow drops, even the feel of being cuddled by warm clothing. The felt need to get to work, school or wherever can create a conflict within, set us at war with ourselves, and make it difficult to embrace this time. So, we need to be aware of our own warmth.
We share so much with humans throughout history. But often we think our situation is so totally unique we feel separate from all others and don’t notice what we mutually share. So we need moments where we close our eyes and come back to who we are. Where we are. To our breath.
Maybe try that now. Close your eyes and turn your attention to your breath. Take your time to notice the reality of what you are feeling, or sensing. To notice the shear sensing of your eyes closing. To noticing the temperature of the air coming in your nostrils as you inhale. And the feel of the air going out your nostrils as you exhale.
We can bring to mind an image of humans breathing like this for millennia. People have been dreading winter for millennia. Even now, all over the northern hemisphere, people are experiencing similar feelings to our own.
Can you imagine people last year, people a thousand years ago, people in the 12th century when the earth was cooler, people back when humans first came to this continent, preparing for winter, collecting food and fuel, experiencing the human equivalent of hibernation for thousands of years. Sit for a moment and feel what you feel and recognize that so many others have felt this. Humans have been feeling the breath and feeling the onset of winter for thousands and thousands of years.
When we breathe in, we store up oxygen, fuel, food. When we exhale, we turn that stored energy into movement. Each breath is a turn of seasons. We inhale and turn within. We exhale and we go out into the world with others.
Feel the energy coming into your body as you inhale. Your shoulders rise slightly, your chest and belly expand. Then notice how you exhale, you relax, you settle down, you come gratefully to this particular moment.
But what we make of winter is our own. How we face any challenge is our own to determine, along with everyone and everything else. And it is not just the weather that brings spring and light and warmth to our world. It is us, too. We are also earth. What light will we bring? What light will I bring?
So, with the solstice and holidays upon us, I wish for all of us a wonderful time and an opening. And a realization of how much when we breathe, the world breathes. That if we want to feel the spring, we need to help make it so.
Humans created holidays for many reasons, but one reason is to remind us how much we share with others and how responsibility for others is what holds our societies, and our lives, together.