Imagine a scene in mid to late November: the enhanced energy of fall is beginning to contract under the cooling temperatures and longer nights. Most of the flaming color is gone, as the leaves have fallen from the trees to blanket the ground against the upcoming cold and transition into rich soil to nurture new plants in the spring. Nature is slowing down. Animals, having mostly completed their fat-building eating and frenzied food collection and storage of the fall, are now seeking dens in which to hibernate. Those who slow down without hibernating are checking their stores of food for winter or burying the last of the food they will hide. Those birds and larger herbivores who will seek warmer climates for the winter are departing; those who will stay are readying themselves for their hardest season. Predators are stirring; hunting is easier in the winter, but they, too, are less active except for hunting. The air is cool and crisp. The first flakes of snow begin to fall, heralding a time of silence.
Imagine another scene in mid to late November: Halloween, the herald of the winter holidays, is over. Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching, and already Christmas decorations and holiday specials are visible in the malls. As the daylight shortens, the lights in homes and offices, streets and shopping areas do double duty. People spend longer hours at work, as end of season deadlines loom. There is work now to do for the holidays as well. Preparations for Thanksgiving do not eliminate preparations for Christmas; a quickening pace of time requires an earlier start to preparation activity. The anticipation of parties is in the air. The energy is humming. People are rushing. Traffic is increasing. The imminent winter is something to be overcome. Weather notwithstanding, there is work to be done and activity to accomplish.
The dichotomy between these scenes is obvious, but it is not a difference that is noticed in the world of humans, much less observed. Yet, those who are most sensitive among us can strongly feel a misdirection to the path most followed by people, by our social structures. It was not always this way. Of course, our ancient ancestors followed the paths of the seasons. Yet, even more recently, those engaged in agricultural occupations also honored the promptings of nature. Spring was for planting, for nurturing the soil and new growth, for feeling the inspiration of awakening and renewal. Summer with its longer daylight was for extended work, for caring for the growing plants and animals, celebrating life and anticipating the harvest. Groups cooperated to finish the increased workload, and to celebrate together. Fall was for the harvest, for gathering in, for finishing repairs to or building shelters, for storing and preserving and readying for the winter. The increased energy of fall facilitated this preparation. As the days shortened, the nights lengthened and the air grew colder, preparations were finalized and families gathered, celebrating the harvest and beginning the season of reduced activity. Winter was for turning inwards. Darker hours meant more time in front of a fire, time to repair or mend gear, or to create crafts, time to think or to spend on relationships. Social gatherings happened, but without the hurry and frenzy. The work of spring, summer and fall was over, and the stored food and supplies provided sustenance until spring.
Winter is still for turning inwards. Most of us no longer have to grow, harvest and preserve our food and supplies for winter. Cities especially, but also rural areas, with the advent of electricity, are no longer bound to the season’s ration of light. Not many of us have to build a fire or live with the cold. Home maintenance is done by contractors at whatever time an item needs repair. It would appear that the seasons no longer affect us. At heart, though, our bodies, our genes and cells, follow the ancient rhythms. Winter is a time to reduce activity, to be still more often, to think, read, meditate or pray, to sleep longer, to commune with others in a more relaxed way. We need to draw in our energy to replenish it. There is often a feeling that it would be nice to hibernate, even though humans are not a fully hibernating species.
Sadly, the techno-social structure that supports us – electricity, stores full of food, central heating, cars and mass transit, and the omnipresent pressures of work and work deadlines, the social events that are “musts” and which themselves incorporate deadlines and hurry – this structure has created a kind of amnesia of the need to turn inward and slow down. We, too, are creatures of nature, and reflect its cycles. It is to our detriment that we forget this. Illness, breakdowns and burnout result if we forget too long. The energy of nature is the same energy of which we are composed; we are not robots. We are not children of technology, composed of the energy of technology, whatever may be the momentum of the moment. However we do it, may each of us this winter find a way to turn inwards, slow down, and, hopefully, feel our connection with the natural world with which we share an origin.