How to survive and thrive in the coming winter

Posted on: October 30, 2020

“My mind is a bad neighbourhood – I try not to go there alone” – Anne Lamott

The clocks have gone back, it’s dark by 5pm and the winter months stretch out before us. I’ll admit to a nip of anxiety about how I’ll cope with the dark months ahead under lockdown when deprived of the usual seasonal pleasures: Christmas parties, caroling with my choir and winter sun getaways. Warming myself on the fake flames of a “digital Christmas” seems a poor substitute.

I once went on a 7-day silent meditation retreat in a remote manor house in Wales – I had to hand over my car keys and mobile phone on arrival. No talking, no books, no journaling and no eye contact for 7 days – just me and the inside of my head. By the middle of the week I was so desperate for interaction I was sneaking out after bedtime to talk to the sheep.

It was excruciating – yet by the end I felt an inner peace I’ve rarely experienced before or since. When recounting my experience of voluntary silence to friends and colleagues the overwhelming response was “I could never do that!” It seems that most people would rather bungee jump a 1000m chasm than be left alone with their thoughts for more than 10 minutes.

The Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “Sa-wain”) this Saturday 31 October was the precursor of modern Halloween. The Celts marked the mid point between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice as the shift to the darkest phase of the year – a time to release the light and prepare for the transition to winter.

We live in a culture that demands perpetual spring and summer – youth, growth, expansion, light – and is terrified of death, decay, contraction and darkness. We’re stuck on one side of the cycle and have lost our faith that day will always follow night and death will always be followed by rebirth.

Maybe there’s an opportunity this year to consciously embrace the darkness and solitude – take these restricted winter months to sit with ourselves in “retreat”, uncover the bogeymen in the dark recesses of our mind and make friends with those unloved parts of ourselves we’d sooner deny. Maybe in embracing our own inner darkness we’ll start to dissolve some of the outer darkness we see in the world?

Writer Charles Eisenstein sees COVID as an initiation – a rite of passage for humanity from adolescence to full adulthood. A transformative space where we go beyond the known territory and are tested to find new resources within.

So this Halloween I invite you to take time to reflect on these questions:

  • What parts of yourself are you afraid to meet?
  • What old habits that no longer serve you do you want to release? (put them on the bonfire)
  • What practices and relationships will support you to go deeper into yourself in these winter months (some of mine are Kundalini yoga, cold water swimming and listening to inspiring thinkers)?

Let me know what you discover….