For many years I have tried to reframe my feelings of the months that I grew up experiencing as winter. I’ve heard other people who grew up in the northern hemisphere, but now live here in Australia, express similar feelings. We always feel out of step with Northern traditions that are seasonally based and from which we see iconic images based in the Northern seasons. After all, I spent 30 years having a cold Christmas, plus a few more reinfections on visits since then. After 38 years in some of the hottest places in Australia, my body and psyche still can’t quite connect the months with the weather and traditions. Or is that what is really going on?
I remember that first Christmas in sub-tropical Darwin, standing around a pool in 33C (91F) heat and 70% humidity, searching for a bit of shade and talking to people who were still strangers to me. And there was alcohol, lots and lots of it! We never even had a glass of wine for Christmas when I was growing up, so the whole thing just seemed wrong…sunburn, strangers and beer!
But Christmas and the idiosyncratic northern traditional decorations placed in the sunny, southern environment have been the least of my concerns over the decades since that first year. What I have repeatedly noticed is a desire to hibernate during these months. I get my chores done in the cooler part of the day and during the 100+F heated afternoons, I darken the shades and try to stay cool inside the house. Even better if I can nap…and read…and not do anything very energetic. And lately I find I don’t even want to eat very much, and certainly not cook!!
My most recent discovery as I nap and read, has been the book ‘Wintering: the power of rest and retreat in difficult times’ by Katherine May. It has been enlightening about what constitutes Winter and the traditions of wintering which are also restorative measures, some even suggestions you might get from a good friend. The author is not judgemental, and in fact is quite self deprecating, but generous in sharing what she has learned.
The one thing she did not exactly address is for someone transplanted, in a completely different climate and place who cannot seem to transition to the local seasonal differences. Sometimes exotic plants can survive seemingly hostile environments, so why not me? At times I’ve wondered if I might have to surrender and leave this hot arid place. But each time we have a break and I come back to the place we have lived for 29 years, I’m so glad to be here that I put all thoughts of leaving to the back of my mind. Most recently as we flew back into Alice after Christmas in Adelaide, I looked out the airplane window at the heat haze and the half moon and recognised the beauty I now know as home.
Just as I began writing about Wintering, another theory dovetailed into the mix of thoughts–this one from a podcast. Charlie Gilkey (The Good Life Project podcast) is an expert at coaching people. He says we all have ‘seasons’ of varying productivity levels. For him summer is his ‘stupefication season’.—meaning, low productivity, low focus, depressive even. It was a true revelation because it is the same for me, but I thought I was the only one. For years I’ve noticed all I want to do in summer is hibernate. I have been thinking it was something about longing for the winter I grew up with, but I now realise, it is more about where I am now. The intense heat depletes me. I have recognised that the decluttering project in which I’m currently engrossed, seems to fit perfectly into the energy level and mental attention I have for things right now. And that is what Charlie recommends too, fit your activities to your seasonal levels, however they work for you. It kind of makes sense on a very practical level–while I’m inside so much in the summer (perhaps you in the winter) to have an activity that requires me to be inside and that is imminently flexible. I can do a lot or a little and organise things any way I want them in any given day! Yay!
Gilkey further talked about people having circadian rhythms throughout the day, which I already knew about for the physical body, but they apply to the mental processes as well. We can benefit from recognising and planning around these on a daily practice. People like me who are ‘larks’ and have the most energy in the morning are best to do things that require focus between the hours of 7am and 1pm. I’ll have to work on that one. I should be doing my art work then, but I do all my other jobs then, which means the art I produce in the afternoons is probably wanting for better attention. Of course this isn’t always possible because Life gets in the way, but he also says you can account for that in whatever schedule you try to set up. I’m not so much into ‘schedules’ at this stage of life, but I am mindful of energy levels and patterns and try to work with them. You can allow for some mornings to be taken with other things, but in those afternoons when you may not be as sharp, you could ready your materials for the next morning session. He also suggests whenever your ‘stupefaction season’ is, to try and do less. In the six weeks or so since piecing May’s Wintering ideas together with Gilkey’s rhythms in life, I’ve felt more at ease and, strangely, been happier and more productive with the very selective goals I’ve identified.
Doing less and relaxing about it is my new approach for this time of year. If that isn’t ‘Wintering’ and practicing rest and retreat in troubling times, I don’t know what is. This is my new way of summering.
(Apologies to both May and Gilkey for overlaying their ideas, if this is offensive. It has been so helpful to me and I wanted to share…)