'Everybody winters at some time or other; some winter over and over again. Winter is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you're cut off from the world, feeling rejected, side-lined, blocked from progress or cast into the role of an outsider...... I learnt to winter young...I began to get a feel for my winterings, their length and breadth and heft. I knew they didn't last forever, I knew I had to find the most comfortable way to live with them until spring.'
Katherine May 'Wintering'
Here at in2gr8mentalhealth, as we help systems to rehumanise themselves, we are experimenting in building a different kind of system for ourselves. One which is flexible to the ebbs and flows of different cycles and seasons of the body, mind and soul. -Here we don't fight the natural ebb and flow of life, in fact we embrace the gifts in it all. Creating a workplace like this which is made of flesh rather than the hard, cog-like, machinery of the most western systems feels radical but so important. We are trying different practices, rituals and plans, with our own unique mash-up which draws upon Ayurvedic, Pagan, and Traditional Chinese Medicine wisdom - and of course our own lived experience.
Here we intersperse our energetic summers with more regular daily and weekly practices. Tai Chi, yoga, meditation, rest, curling up with a book, lying in a hammock, plunging into cold water - all have a place here, along with experimenting with a work calendar of annual summering and wintering breaks.
Winter in nature has a lot to teach us and the parallel between our personal winters, and what the seasonal winter teaches us is the central thesis of one of my favourite books, 'Wintering' by Katherine May. In my garden in winter I can allow the plants to mulch themselves and the roots underground do their work. Leaves rot into nutrition. The myceliium beneath the frozen forest floor, the so called 'wood-wide web', keep on communicating, despite no evidence of fungi above the ground. Animals conserve energy through hibernation to survive 'the hungry gap'.
In yoga we follow each energetic physical practice with our savasana, total mind and body stillness. In Traditional Chinese Medicine this phase of the year is linked with the water element, Stephanie Nosco, a psychotherapist who blends eastern and western approaches to mental health, writes about this phase 'water is the most yin of all the elements,,,water embraces stillness and encourages the conservation of energy. Taking more time to rest during the darkening days also helps to restore your energy and kidney vitality',
'Winters are real, and they are asking something of us. We must learn to let the winter in......
Winter is not the death of the lifecycle but its crucible.' Katherine May, 'Wintering'
Our own inevitable winters have taught us that trying to live a life full of perpetual summer is futile, and this has burnt us once too often. Chasing an endless summer sounds fantastic until you think of the constant motion required, the relentless pursuit it needs. Our own dark nights of the soul seem like times of brutal, barren, apparent waste, when all along there was much being prepared beneath the surface, that would bloom later. When you have been frozen in a deep winter you truly appreciate the thaw. As a good friend described it at the time, I was just re-charging my fun pack!
Those of us who have survived more than a couple of our own winters can offer those in the bleak midwinters of their souls, hope, to light the way and remind them that spring will come again. That's what in2gr8mentalhealth represents - the bat signal that says there is hope and spring will come again, and most crucially you do not winter alone.
'Wintering bring about some of the most profound...moments of our human experience,
and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.' Katherine May, 'Wintering'
In fact, we embrace our winter here in the northern hemisphere as an opportunity to regularly recharge not only our fun packs but our activist rocket fuel and to offer ourselves the compassion we show others. We cannot control everything that might happen in our lives, but perhaps our personal winters will be shorter and less engulfing if we more regularly winter by choice, making more space for what nourishes us in our daily lives and our years.
We will be closing down in2gr8mentalhealth activity until the middle of January. Natalie will be practising Tai Chi in the woods and Helen will be plunging into cold water, and besides that we will rest, we will retreat and put energy back into our soil ready to spring again in the new year. Winter is our savasana. We cannot pour from an empty cup, there is no exhale without an inhale, no yin without yang.
Happy wintering from in2gr8mentalhealth!
* At our final meeting today Natalie went the full Elsa. Her smile is real, the hair less so