Let's talk about rest.
Real, deep rest.
A slowing down, a hibernation.
I think (hope) the world is slowly coming around to the idea that taking a break when needed is a good thing, but as of right now, talking openly about rest seems radical.
From a very young age, we are trained never to rest. The thing that is valued the most is productivity. Your worth is measured by output. Pushing yourself beyond where you should is depicted as a noble act, burnout is venerated, working long hours is a badge of honor. To do anything less than everything is to be considered...dare I say it....lazy. And therefore unworthy. (Don't even get me started on how ableist and neurotypical this mindset it.)
The cultural pressure to have something in the works, to have a new project on the horizon or be able to name recent accomplishments is strong.
For most of my life, I bought into all of these notions. I forced myself to do things I didn't even enjoy just to earn the respect of those around me, to feel like I was enough. I was afraid to not always give my all, to quit things...even things I didn't like, because my fear of being seen as a failure was so strong. And always, I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water, like I had been forced into a narrow passageway with no escape and no time for rest.
One day years ago, I was driving through a road deep in the woods when I came across a grove of ferns. They were lit by shards of golden sun coming through the canopy, glowing in the heart of the forest. The sight of something so beautiful and simple pierced through the fog I was living in and woke me up. It showed me how disconnected I had become from the land around me, and even from myself. It took me years to change, but I think of that moment as the first step on the path back to myself and to living in reciprocity with the earth and synchronicity with the seasons.
So many of us become disconnected from nature and her patterns, and some of us never realize it. We force ourselves along a way we didn't really choose. We reject rest, we ignore the natural energies of the changing world around us. Especially at this time of the year, there is a lot of pressure to be "on." To throw the best parties, to attain a certain number of "perfect" gifts, to outline a list of goals for the coming new year. To distract ourselves from the inner work we need to do.
But this is not the way in nature. There is a pattern in the forests and fields of productivity and rest - growth in spring, flowering in summer, and fruit in fall. And then comes stillness, rest, a pause to gather energy before the return of spring. The trees have given up their leaves, the flowers of the field know their work for the year is done, the bears have gone to sleep.
By refusing to rest, we are ignoring the pull on our hearts to be quiet, to listen for our inner voice. We are animals too, and are not exempt from these rhythms. It's ok to just stop sometimes, to let a thing die, to go inward and regroup. To do nothing and achieve nothing for a day. Or a week. Or however long you need. You are no less valuable because you aren't doing something, achieving something.
I am, of course, not saying we should forgo gathering with friends and creating cheer for ourselves during the winter. Community is important. But I am saying we should observe how our more than human kin respond to this shift in the seasons and take a lesson from them. We should make time for rest and dreaming, for looking into the stillness and coming back to ourselves. These long nights call us to turn inward, to share stories and dream by the fire, to enjoy the rich, fruitful darkness so that we have energy for the spring to come.
How do we begin to change our minds, change the way we think and let go of the drive to always be in "production mode?" How do we invite rest, look inwards and begin to hear our own voice? I'm not sure there is a simple answer or a right way, but I'd like to share some of the practices I use to keep myself grounded, live in harmony with winter, and sink into hibernation.
Rituals for Hibernation
Go out into Nature
A wonderful way to reconnect with the seasons, to understand and embrace rest, is to go outside and build a relationship with the place you live. Notice how the plants have sent their energy back down into the ground, how they wait and dream of spring.
Feel the quiet sink in, listen to the wind. The birds are silent. A fox trots along the edge of a field on its way home. Everything is waiting, the lake still beneath the ice. If you live in a city, notice the trees in the park, branches bare. The slower pace of life on the sidewalks.
Everything will come again, all things will revive in the spring with the return of the long hours of light. There is nothing to be done now. This is a time for dreaming, a time to take care of yourself.
Herbal Tea for Rest
Stopping to make tea on a cold winter day is such a nice way to take care of yourself and create a little space. Even if you don't have a lot of time in your schedule to pause, you can make this small act a restorative ritual, a few minutes when there is nothing else you have to do. Add your herbs to the cup, pour the water slowly. Feel the comforting warmth of the mug in your hands, breathe in the steam.
If you can, sit quietly by the fire, or by a candle. Or gaze out the window, or into the starry night sky. Let your mind rest and wander with nowhere to go.
Here is one of my favorite, calming brews to make on chilly nights:
- 2 tsp chamomile flowers
- 1 tsp peppermint leaf
- 1/4 tsp lavender buds
Add ingredients to a steeper basket, cover with 8oz just boiled water, and let infuse for 10-15 minutes before straining. Sweeten with honey if desired.
A Winter Meditation
On a quiet night when you have space for yourself, turn the lights down and light a single candle. Take a few deep breaths, feel your heart rate slow. Close your eyes and envision this:
You are standing in a snowy forest; everything is silent, stars shining through the bare branches above. You feel your feet anchoring you to the ground, and you reach out and put your hand on the rough bark of a tree.
Looking up you see that it towers above you, bigger than any other tree in the forest. There is a light at its base, a warm glow from a doorway. You are drawn inside, and descend down into a cozy hollow, the walls smooth stone and patterned with roots. Candles are burning, and you feel safe and cozy here, aware of the world above and the sleeping forest. Maybe there are thick warm blankets to snuggle in, a fire in the hearth. This is a place to rest, to be held, a place just for you.
There is nothing to do, nowhere to go. No one expects anything of you, no one is wondering where you are. You have as much time as you need.
Sit with yourself. Feel how you feel. What is coming up for you? What is true for you? What makes you feel grounded? What brings you peace? Or maybe nothing is coming up, just a feeling calm and rest.
Stay here as long as you want to. When you feel ready, ascend up and out into the forest. Look up at the clear starry sky and breathe the fresh air. Before you open your eyes, know that you've left the candle burning inside that cozy hollow, that you can return to that safe inner place whenever you need to rest and dream.
If you like, you can write down what came to you during this meditation in a journal when you're finished so you can remember how it felt and work through what that means for you. Maybe you felt clarity, or peace, or inspired. If you feel called, this might be a nice meditation to do with loved ones and discuss afterwards. How did it feel to be held, with no expectations? How can you create more rest in your life?
Artwork by Jessica Boehman
Be well, and blessings for a beautiful winter,