It is the holiday season and the frenetic rush is on. There are gifts to buy and parties to attend. There are family photos to be taken and annual cards to address and mail. There is unspoken pressure to be creative (Pinterest Christmas crafts, anyone?), generous, attractive (Instagram selfies in your party best!), hospitable, and happy at all times. The old carol says that it’s the most wonderful time of year but despite the veneer of good cheer, many people struggle with a nagging sense of melancholy, resentment, and exhaustion during the winter months. Why is this? The wisdom of Chinese medicine tells us that it is because many aspects of the holiday season (at least as it’s observed in the United States) run directly counter to the natural order of things.
“Humans, just like the natural world, are meant to cycle through seasons of dormancy and new life, activity and contemplation, celebration and sadness, blossom and harvest, openess and closedness, austerity and abundance . I believe that the seasons serve as a lesson book of the soul, instructing us when to move fast and when to slow down, when to act and when to rest, when to focus on the world outside and when to hibernate and go down deep.” – Adam McHugh, author of The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of DistractionEverything in nature points to the fact that winter is a season of dormancy, slowness, rest, and hibernation. Branches are bare. Fields and skies are gray. Leaves rot on the frozen ground. Some animals are hibernating, others are making do with rations that are much leaner than other times of year. On the surface it appears that nothing is happening, but winter is also a season of preparation. Just as a good night’s rest is necessary for the day’s activity, the austerity of winter is a necessary preparation for the extravagance of spring. But the holiday season pushes us to do almost exactly the opposite. During the holidays most of us are overwhelmingly busy as we scurry from one celebration to the next. Austerity and simplicity are the furthest things from our minds as we buy, buy, buy, eager to exceed our loved ones’ expectations with the perfect gift. We pay lip service to the spirit of the season, but how many of us find the time for deep meditation, prayer, or reflection? True intimacy with God and our loved ones is impossible amongst all the hubbub, chaos, and noise. Although modern technologies such as artificial lighting, central heating, and systems of transportation that give us access to out of season foods from hundreds (or even thousands) of miles away mean that we are impacted much less by the seasons than our predecessors were, human beings are still a part of nature and cannot help but be affected by the seasons. The energy of winter is conducive to simplicity, comfort, warmth, and rest. The short days and long nights of the season are an invitation to take the time and space for contemplation and are an opportunity to connect more deeply with ourselves, our loved ones, and with God. Winter is a natural time for turning inward and for retreating from activity and noise. When we ignore these rhythms we reap the consequences in the form of exhaustion, depression, nagging respiratory illnesses, winter weight gain, and a gnawing sense that something isn’t quite right. With a bit of attention, however, it is possible to live in greater harmony with the season. A few simple strategies include: