It’s early December and the days grow shorter. Where I live in Northern California, our “winter” doesn’t consist of snow and single digit temperatures, but the quality of sunlight is nevertheless different, many of our trees are dropping leaves, and the rains will inevitably come. The natural world is entering a time of rest, of dormancy.
I believe that we too are pulled to enter a time of rest and reflection in the winter months, as part of the natural cycle. This is a time to sit by a window with a cup of tea or cocoa, to watch the world outside from the warmth and comfort of the indoors. This is a time for quiet nights at home, reading, journaling, or just staring at the fire (or the cats). This is a time for sleeping late, staying in pajamas, and puttering around in slippers.
Instead, many of us are swept up in the hoopla of the December holidays. When our bodies and spirits naturally yearn for quiet and contemplation, we load ourselves with obligations: shopping for presents, multiple and repeated gatherings of friends and family, workplace parties and gift exchanges, and on and on. Events and activities that are perfectly enjoyable once in a while are heaped into December like cakes piled into a garbage can. Too much of a good thing becomes unappetizing.
I know multiple people who already (it’s only December 5!) describe themselves as stressed about the holidays and struggling to keep in touch with what feels important and meaningful during this time. This struggle comes, I believe, from this tension between the contemplation we yearn for and the activities we are pulled into.
My online dictionary defines dormancy as “a state of minimal metabolic activity with cessation of growth, either as a reaction to adverse conditions or as a part of an organism’s normal annual rhythm.” Most of us don’t have much understanding of ourselves as needing to go dormant as part of an annual rhythm. Sure, we need to sleep each day. We slow down a little on the weekend. We might even take a vacation once or twice a year.
But these restoratives don’t always qualify as “cessation of growth.” We travel on vacation, meeting new people, exploring different cultures. Our weekends are filled with to-do lists, things that need to get done before the next week rolls around. And a good night’s sleep can be elusive, and our racing thoughts wake us before the alarm goes off.
No, I think we need to recognize our own need for periodic dormancy and then honor that need. Possibilities:
- Declare your day off a “sick” day and stay in pajamas. Nap and vegetate just as if you had a terrible cold.
- Schedule a weekend retreat for yourself at a local retreat center. If this is cost prohibitive, find a friend to switch abodes with for the weekend.
- Turn off the phone, tv, and computer for the day. See what happens.
- Try going without electricity for a full day (spoiler: you end up asleep a lot earlier).
- Observe the Sabbath (I would like to find a nice link about this idea, but can’t find anything I like. Stay tuned for a future blog post on Sabbath!).