Winter strips us right down to the bare branches. By the end there is nothing pretty or ornamental left. Yes, I’m talking about the horrid black circles under the eyes, the irritated dry skin. Yes, even those few extra lbs from a few too many baking days. (Lord help us.) Like the stark and exposed trees we pass by every day, we have been laid open to the elements. Like the trees, we stand up to the obstacles of wind, cold and darkness. But we also endure illness, fatigue, lack of fresh air, repetition due to too much time spent indoors, stress, bored and bickering children, financial pressures, marital or relational strife, isolation, …on and on.
I guess I just want to say, it’s OK. This, my friends, is some hard shit. And even if what we endure individually is different, hard shit is hard shit. And you are not alone.
There is no hidden rule that states that you MUST BE HAPPY ALL THE TIME. You are not less of a person or a parent for feeling bitter, resentful, frustrated or annoyed or depressed. All these things are human and normal no matter what anyone says or would have you believe. It’s OK to pissed. It’s OK to be sad.
But in all the chaos of cancelled school, illness, cold, dark and fatigue, there are hidden gifts to be discovered. Though it never feels this way in the moment, it is in fact a gift that we are faced with these challenges and hardships. In these times we are forced to see our truest selves. Winter shows us, quite simply, what is. There is no trick lighting or special angle in this unadulterated reflection.
In the winter we learn the shape of things. We learn the shape of ourselves. We revisit this thing we call our self while the earth sleeps, and we get to know ourselves far more intimately than we would care to. But without this period of hardship we can never really know who we are. We can know who we think we are, we can know who we’d like to be. But these winter trials and hardships show us the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We don’t always like it. No, wait. We hate it. But I offer this up for reflection: it’s OK to know your own darkness.
Without that knowledge, how can we know anything? We are not whole without the truth.
In the deep cold of winter I have seen the true shape of myself (there hasn’t really been any choice in the matter) –and am in the process of making peace.
So I write this as a reminder to you and to me: Don’t be afraid of the dark. Without it there is no light. Be kind–to yourself most of all.
Sending much love out to all those struggling this winter. You are not alone.
If you need some help here are some ideas:
1. Ditch the TV and find a book that sucks you in. The experience wakes you up from a winter slumber.
2. Read Momma Zen Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by Karen Maezen Miller. Read it. Make your spouse read it. And then read it again.
3. Lie down. I find that when I lie down flat on the floor in the middle of the play room, or the kids’ bedrooms, before I know it I have 3 wrestling little gremlins on me and we end up laughing a lot.
4. Make a fake garden. We use construction paper and tape flowers up all over our kitchen. Another thing I like to do is cut out photos of beautiful winter scenes and hang them next to my computer. They remind me of the beauty of winter.
5. Watch stand up. Jim Gaffigan is awesome.
6. EXERCISE. Even pushups at home can lighten your mood.
7. Organize your house so that your head is clear.
8. Reach out, help out.
9. Figure out what you need. And then, say what you need.
10. Practice Zazen. In a group or on your own. I am currently working up the courage to find my group. That’s another story all together.