I didn't used to love the winter. It was a bleak, dark and dreary time where my heating bill went up and friends opted to stay indoors. It seemed hope dissipated with every dropping leaf. One winter I decided to lean in to the discomfort of the winter. I set up a sit spot in my backyard and went there every day for 10 minutes. It was there that I started to see there was wisdom in the stillness. And that the stillness wasn't actually all that still. Small birds and squirrels still scurried about. A few crinkled leaves still fell and blew in the wind. I started to actually look forward to my time outside with growing curiosity about what I might see, or what I might notice bubbling up within myself. But it was cold!
There is definitely an energetic shift in wintertime. Sometimes that can be the energy and excitement of holidays, making plans, hopefully attending some gatherings, shopping for intentional gifts for loved ones, becoming over scheduled, and eventually overwhelmed. Interestingly if you look around in outside in wintertime, no other living thing is working that hard. For the last 200,000 years or so, humans have existed more like all the other living things around us. We rested more because there was no electric light to do work by and fuel for fire and candles had to be conserved. The hard work required in autumn of harvesting and maintaining food stores for the winter took so much energy we were ready for the time to rest. And even though we have light and heat whenever we want it now, I think we are still ready for rest.
We were forced to be in the darkness more often. And now we can avoid darkness at all costs. But living things need darkness. Sometimes the darkness allows other things to be illuminated, like turning off the houselights so you can see the stars better. We all have small "stars" within us that cannot be seen in the blazing light of summertime. If you've been going full blast managing your infertility, winter could be a time for you to sit quietly with it, not necessarily entertaining it all day long, but to take a break, make a new plan, or give yourself a chance to name it, talk to it, and learn more about what the pain is teaching you about yourself.
I learned recently that garlic needs the cold to germinate. We don't usually think of things growing in the cold, but some plants do, and that includes us. There is wisdom hiding in the dark and cold, but we cannot see it if we're too busy constantly running from it. Only in the last 80-100 years have humans started to shift their lives so drastically away from what the rest of the natural world is doing. For example, look outside right now. What are the plants doing? What are the animals doing? What are the trees doing?
Yes I know we are not plants or animals or trees necessarily, but we can absolutely take a note from them in designing our expectations about winter. Winter is a time to rest and dream. The important work of spring and summer cannot happen without this rest. Do you think the squirrel feels guilty for resting after all her hard work in autumn? Probably not. Nature is not making outward showings of its accomplishments during this time, but it is preparing for important growth in the upcoming months.
Relaxing into the darkness can help you feel less overwhelmed than trying to fight it off. When we can receive the calm, quiet mystery of this season, we can also access these unseen parts of ourselves we push into hiding the rest of the year.
I know that we cannot completely hibernate, nor do I think that would be good for our human souls. This is permission to be more intentional with your emotional needs during this season. Say "no" more often. But do get outside intentionally. Remember, "no bad weather just bad clothes." Letting your eyeballs get some vitamin D will be imperative in maintaining your mood during these grey days. I love Katherine May's book called Wintering, and love how she's turned the season into a verb - something we do instead of just something we endure. Below are a few ideas about how to winter through your infertility this year.
Bundle up and go for a nighttime walk without a flashlight. Let your eyes adjust, notice where the light is coming from and the busyness of the humans in the homes you pass by. Bring awareness to your breath and how your body takes in cold air and exhales warmth.
Bundle up and go for a daytime walk. Soak in whatever sun may be available to you, stay on the sunny side of the street.
Turn off all the lights in the house and light a single candle. For five minutes (or longer) watch the flame dance and change as it responds to the air in the room. Notice the shadows the light casts, and practice gratitude for the light this small flame produces, and also gratitude for what lies in the shadows, of this room, and of yourself. Sometimes it is only being in the darkness of the pain of life struggles such as infertility that can begin to show us the parts of ourselves that have been hiding out in the darkness. I bet there is something important about yourself you have learned since enduring infertility. You are resilient. You are still here.
Take a note from a tree. Find a tree barren of all it's leaves. Notice how it stands out naked in the cold. It's branches are splayed out willing to receive whatever blows it's way. And yet it stays standing tall and strong, deepening it's roots and strengthening it's core through each hard day it endures. Just like you.
Winter is a time where life unfolds quietly. The days after solstice start to get longer minute by minute. Let your time spent in darkness prepare you to allow the return of the light and renewal of the springtime to come.
Allison Ramsey is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and fertility counseling specialist seeing clients online throughout North Carolina, Washington State, and internationally. She’s a member of Resolve, The Infertility Association and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Contact her to start feeling better.