Winter: the season of paring things down to the essence

by W. David Stephenson


Winter.

All things considered, it is not my favorite season.

Cold.

Dark.

Forcing us to stay inside much of the time.

Limiting our opportunities to get together with others in large groups.


Come to think of it, winter has a lot in common with COVID. As someone in the group said the other day, it’s as if we’d been in a dark cave during COVID, a little disoriented, and waiting to get out, but a little apprehensive about what we’ll find.


But there’s another side to Winter that I want to explore today, one that’s less understood, but hopeful and essential to not only nature, but also our inner lives.


I first learned from Toni Stone of Wonderworks Studio, the productivity coach who we lost six months ago, that seasons were central to her teachings. As Toni said about Winter:

“This is the time of sacred nights, a wintertime process of deepening roots. Our ability to go down deep in life is sourced from the contemplations of the winters. This North direction invites us to go within, rest, and reformulate views. Our culture must come to appreciate the need for this phase of rebirth.” - Toni Stone, from Seasons of Prosperity

I don’t think I appreciated this phase of rebirth until this year.


I was always too wrapped up, especially during the holiday season, in the hustle and bustle of shopping, and the push to finish projects before the year’s end. Then after the new year, we seemed to push on, propelled only by grit — hoping to hang on until Spring.


This year, aided by two weeks flat on my back courtesy of COVID, was different.


I started to appreciate the critical role that Winter plays in the cycle of life — and of thought.

Think of the seasons and what each represents.


Spring is full of activity: coming outside again literally and figuratively. Planting new flowers. Planting new ideas. The days are longer — right up to the Summer Solstice, the longest day.

There are lots of expectations (but perhaps, as we have learned this year, but enough expectancy!).


After the Solstice, things begin to wind down imperceptibly, but we don’t notice it until the end of Summer, because we are busy tending the plants and ideas sowed in the Spring.


Finally, all this frantic activity comes to its conclusion as we harvest our crops and bring projects to conclusion in the Fall.


Nowhere in all this activity is there really a chance to reflect. We need a time to slow down, to reduce things to their essence.


We need Winter.


This Winter, I took advantage of our restricted activity and reveled in how it reduces things to their essence. The majestic tree trunks and branches that were obscured by the leaves during the rest of the year. The non-migratory birds, perching before they sweep in on the feeders. The few deer still wandering in search of food.


Equally important was what I couldn’t see: the seeds nestled beneath the snow drifts, conserving their nourishment until the warmer weather comes.


Indoors, the Winter is also a blessing. Somehow the arm chair and cup of coffee or warm cider is more enticing now than in other seasons. The longer time available to sit and read tends to anchor us, and I’m more likely to read more thoroughly and reflect on characters and their motivations and pause to reflect on all matter of issues — and even started journaling about them. As in our group, I also sometimes think for the first time about death and its meaning.


Most of all, I’m less judgmental. I forgive acts by others that used to enrage me, understanding that they, too, are under incredible stress and may act in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. I even tend to cut myself a little more slack when I find it hard to write for a concentrated period of time.


Winter. I still can’t say it will replace a spring breeze, or the pleasure of watching the nesting birds from my swinging chair while waiting for the meditation group to begin, but I now see it as a crucial part of the circle of life — and the one most likely to yield insights about what’s really important about our lives.


Winter/North

by Toni Stone, from Seasons of Prosperity


….winter is reformation, winter is recreation …


This is the time of sacred nights, a wintertime process of deepening roots. Our ability to go down deep in life is sourced from the contemplations of the winters. This North direction invites us to go within, rest and reformulate views. Our culture must come to appreciate the need for this phase of rebirth.


Winter is a time of transformation, an enormously powerful period. We have been all around the directions, full circle now we survived the ordeal.


We are open to new freedoms. In the North we face new “demons” within the self. Dark repressed aspects of consciousness must be overcome.



Participants’ Reflections:

  • Just a quick gardening note. The spring flowering blubs that we plant in the fall—the tulips, crocuses and scillas—they require a period of very cold weather in order to bloom. If you want to bring them indoors, you still have to put them in a cold place for weeks or months depending on the type of flower, in order for them to work through that phase to grow.

  • Thank you so much. I was struck by the phrase ‘planting ideas.’ Sometimes those ideas get planted and we don’t know they are. We hear something and it has all winter long to germinate and incubate. Then, all of a sudden in spring, we have this brilliant insight and idea and we don’t realize it has been incubating.

  • During the meditation what came to me was the cycles of life. I’m in the winter season of my life. I’m slowing down and more introspective. Sometimes it’s hard like winter is, hard with the losses in aging. It’s an important stage of life and it also occurred to me that the global consciousness, how important it’s been for the world to slow down. It’s made all of us have time to reflect where we are and who we are.

  • This reading is like a metaphor for the stage of life I’m in. I do think during this pandemic and winter has really nourished me at this time of my life, as I am much more present with not doing but being with myself, with my thoughts and feelings. It's so important to have that space and know it’s an important time. It’s not something we fly through.

  • You highlighted what I think about how we are constrained in space and time. We are defined by our address, city, state, country, municipal government, state government, federal government. We’re defined in time by seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years. It’s all arbitrary. We’re caught in it. We’re caught in the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of the holidays. It creates busy-ness and keeps us constrained so we don’t do something, like think for ourselves. I think this is the gift of the daily meditation. We’re at least giving ourselves 15 minutes every day to just think outside of the constraints of time and space which is a gift. Thank you for that reminder.

  • Thank you for speaking from your heart. I’m thinking that all your walks in nature were the grist for today and how nature is such a teacher if we just still ourselves in nature, listen and learn.

  • In the 1990’s, I used to study natural wealth. The idea that nature manages to manufacture this incredible range of products using locally available materials at ambient temperatures, and then recycles its waste. Compare this system to the one developed from the industrial revolution. Nature is teaching us the natural way to conduct business.

  • I appreciate your thoughts. I’m a full believer that nature and all its creatures have it down pat. It’s us humans that are causing all the trouble. Nature and its creatures speak in different languages, and just because we can’t understand it all, it doesn’t mean the intelligence is less than ours.

  • Just contemplating everything and living here during winter in the cold north, we need super cold in order to produce ice wine. If you haven’t had ice wine, it’s a sweet treat. It’s the sweetness of the wine that needs the extra cold of the grape. A blessing of winter.

  • Thank you for your words and your reflections. We all go through our trials and tribulations and are visibly vulnerable, move through our emotions, cry and laugh, all part of life. Who knew it could be done with Zoom. Thank you, each of you for coming today. Thank you for honoring yourself enough to show up and spend time with you. This quiet time goes a long way. I hope you all have a good day.

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