As I write this, Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis have both raged around the corners of our home. We have been lucky to escape the floods but the feeling that something ferocious is happening all around us is deeply visceral and strangely effecting. And yet we are here, safe together. There is a sense of peace despite the weather outside.
Today is Sunday and the week ahead of half term. It is a morning of ritual and routine for us; mostly made up of the small things that can mean so much when there isn’t always a great deal of personal time by yourself. I try and make the most of those moments when they come: a cup of coffee, perhaps a hot bath with some essential oils and a page or two of my book. (I’m reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles) My girls are downstairs. I think the television is playing and I can definitely hear chatting. Mornings like these have become priceless to me.
When I first began writing this blog post it was just before Christmas and was intended to be read as a precursor to the busy time ahead. I had been doing a lot of thinking about the forthcoming festive season. Not just about Christmas, but rather all the seasonal and cultural markers that all come together during this point of deep Winter. The Solstice, the New Year, then further ahead to Imbolc and the seeing in of the longer days and the eventual coming of Spring.
I wanted to find an intentional way to live through the deep cradle of Winter that is January and February, and find a way for it to have purpose and reason rather than being a time I was just desperate to see the end of. I really wanted to do things differently this Christmas too. I wanted to have a slower more intentional time with my children, and to celebrate the occasion in a way that made it meaningful to us.
I am still learning about what the word ‘meaningful’ represents for me and for my girls, and how we can put that into our daily lives in a way that feels natural, authentic and sustainable across our lives as we grow. It may be that we do so in a way that isn’t very obvious to anyone else, other than the three of us; incorporating these principles softly and imperceptibly, but having them as part of our daily lives nonetheless.
But I do know that it is something I am very much committed to. To build our sense of family that lives seasonally, as part of the Earth, rather than against it, and to make the time to embrace those seasons, and the occasions that mark them. And to do so fully and with compassion and intention.
This is in the main because of how important nature is to me but also because I think, in this way, it will guide us toward building a loving, respectful, kind and balanced family. For me making a commitment to take things slowly, and intentionally is a way of honouring all the elements of childhood and family life that I think are important.
With this in mind I was really delighted to be asked to take part in a creative project led by Eleanor Chetham from @creativecountryside. The project was a collaborative piece of work bringing together a collection of different voices that all spoke together on the theme of nature, rewilding and finding a space within those places that was both personal and universal.
The words that people shared were uniting and inclusive. It was like a warm huddle of people coming together to offer a little human warmth through some of the coldest and darkest parts of the seasonal year. And speaking personally, it absolutely worked for me.
I have traditionally been someone who has grimaced her way through the beginning of each New Year, seeing it is as something to endure, rather than something that might actually yield any real substance or even pleasure. But that is exactly what I found.
I discovered a common theme among everyone’s words throughout the project – namely that Winter, and it’s associated adverb wintering could be thought of as a time of reflection and evolve. It could be a period in which the very things I turned away from; the darkness, the cold and the quiet, could become welcome and nurturing opportunities. A time to to rest before Spring and the inevitable unrolling of life that it beings. A time to let go of the need to do things, and just enjoy the silence for awhile. In short Winter had a thing or two to teach me if I let it.
With all that in mind and those wonderful ideas in my imagination I have had an opportunity to put some theories and perspectives into real and tangible experiences that have really changed the way I have felt about these past few months.
When I have been outdoors, walking the children to nursery or being out on cold muddy walks with my dog bounding ahead of me and spraying mud everywhere, I have looked for the beauty in the empty landscape around me. I have begun to reevaluate how I look and how I interpret what I see.
I have enjoyed learning how to see winter in a whole new way; marveling at old dried seed heads, miraculously holding on to brown and weathered stalks, their steadfastness oddly touching knowing the wild weather that has blown all around them. So too, those bare and skeletal trees – suddenly there is an opportunity to study their form; to admire their gnarls and bumps and whirls and to see who they are beneath their cloaks of green. And to love them even the more for it.
At home I have concentrated on making an inviting and cosy place to be in – with fairy lights and blankets – music and warming food. These small things just help propel the sense of time slowed down with some cheer, and a conscious honouring of it.
And there is much to be said for all being huddled together – listening to the wind and the rain do it’s worst against the window panes, and the fire burning brightly creating a safe and wonderful retreat while it does so.
But personally the biggest change is how I address my own personal thoughts and feelings. I have always found the lack of sunlight and warmth on my skin difficult. I can get gloomy, with a tendency to brood and feel low because of it.
Whilst all of those aspects of my character remain – I have worked towards inviting those very parts of my nature to make themselves more at home, rather than trying my hardest to make them go away. I have sat with my thoughts and really tried to listen to what they have to say – discovering in doing so that welcoming my thoughts is a powerful way to feel comfortable about them and ultimately to make sense of them in the long run
I have rested more than I have ever done, resisting the urge to do more in order to make the time pass quicker. I have let chores and plans take longer to action and complete. Winter has a different energy compared to the fire of Spring and Summer and I am learning about who I am and who we are as a family as we move between those different times of the year with grace.
As a final thought I do wonder now how I will approach next winter having experienced this one as I have? I know certainly I will have less dread and fear of those darker days – and I think I will be more confident to welcome and learn from those periods of reflection and introspection that this time of year always brings.
It comes back to the phrase that I often refer to – the ebb and flow of life. And how not to be afraid of it but to understand and welcome it as an essential and wonderful part of being alive.