While our streets come alive with music and light and our days are filled with social intercourse, the natural world around us shuts down this time of year. Animals go into hibernation. Deciduous trees draw their sap back into themselves. They are not dead. If you were to scratch the tree’s surface, you will see they are still alive and well. Still they stand barren, only a few premature buds betray that the tree is really only biding its time. The same goes for spring bulbs. They need to suffer through a cold period, in order to produce the hormone that will cause them to start growing again when spring arrives. They need the winter, a dormant period, to bud and flower later.
Our way of life demands that we are always on. The faint rustle of the motorway is always present somewhere in the background. Shops are open almost every day of the year. With the arrival of the smartphone, there is really no excuse to be out of touch. You are always at the service or even at the mercy of friends, family, your co-workers or boss. Even the holidays are a seemingly endless parade of involuntary obligations. We have to dress nice, decorate the house elaborately, cook even better and visit the in-laws. Of course you can choose to switch off the phone, to ignore the internet. Still this quiet time feels stolen, from useful hustle and bustle.
Winter used to be different. People like to sleep more in winter, and our ancestors most likely did just that. Hiding under the covers is an efficient way to keep warm and use your energy wisely. There was little to be done outside the home, the fields were empty. Apart from closest kin, they had little means to travel in winters. Paths were most likely drenched in rain and sleet or too icy to venture very far. It was probably not a very enjoyable time of the year, but they were in tune with their surroundings. It is not surprising that they celebrated the return of the sun with great enthusiasm. Even though it might take a while longer, they knew for certain then, this austere period would eventually end again.
Nowadays, food, light, warmth and company, is always available in abundance. That is a good thing, right? We have all created this world, and many people enjoy this constant connection, it is like an umbilical cord that feeds them meaning and a sense of belonging. It seems to work for the majority of people, social animals that we are.
Others, and I guess I am one of them, feel lost in this state of complete availability. I often have to repress a howl in winter: stop the world, I want to get off, just for a short while. I find quiet time, a dormant period is hard to arrange these days. But if I neglect to listen to this call of nature on my own terms, it will rear its ugly head regardless. When I am not quite myself, when I feel naked and vulnerable with three layers of clothes on and hungry for nothing in particular at all, I know it is time I withdraw into myself. Of course I read a little, I sleep a lot, I eat. I spend time with my family, I have to work, but apart from that I stay out of the world, temporarily off the radar and the carrousel.
A period like that should not last too long. Others will probably call this a seasonal affective disorder or even a winter depression. I have to come see it as indispensable to grant myself these times. While I seem to do nothing, new energy and ideas build up inside me without any effort. After a while, it enables me to peak out from under the covers, to care again.
It may seem nearly impossible, but I think it would do our world good to lie dormant once in a while. To ponder within ourselves nothing in particular at all for a while, with the static gone because we have all abandoned the frequency. And to awake at the first sign of Spring, refreshed, reborn.