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by Madeleine Forbes
December is a time of paradox for those of us tuned into the seasons. And even if the rhythms of the land are not ones you pay attention too, you probably know what I’m talking about.
One one hand, there’s the buzz and gaiety of the holidays — brightly-lit spaces, gatherings with family and friends, the hustle and chaos of feasting.
And on the other, there’s the stillness of the land. The trees stand bare; the sap moves inward, stalling growth. Movement is kept to a minimum. The birds forage quickly, finding what spare sustenance they can. The days themselves are fleeting; nights long and cold.
In the depths of winter, we need the solace of holiday joy — we need to reconnect to the light and laughter that brings warmth to the coldest time. But we need the dark, too — we need to connect to that pause, that rest, and allow ourselves to remember what it’s like to stop for once. To pause some more, and to listen.
Most of the time, we avoid that space like the plague. We rush into gaps in conversation, fill quiet moments with books, with music. We fight the stillness most of all with the endless scroll, scroll, scroll of our ever-present devices. I’ve been noticing lately how quick I am to reach for the screen to fill almost any small window of time, any moment when my mind might otherwise be still. We all do it. At restaurants and in lines, across dinner tables and in movies, I see the blank expression descend as the digital world opens up.
But as I’ve paid closer attention to the seasons, what I’ve come to appreciate is just how important it is to have these times of doing nothing. Not just moments, but whole months when the energy of what we’re striving for changes. We should allow these fallow seasons to occupy their own space, and to honor the energy they bring.
When winter comes, we see the bones of the farm. Without the lush growth, the fruits, the foliage, the shapes of the trees stand out. I can make out the curve of the landscape, the stark shape of what’s here.
In much the same way, when I allow myself to slow down, I find myself looking at my life, my work, and the shape of my days. Taking time out of my inbox and away from my workspace brings perspective. I can see where the stress points are — where something’s jutting, not right; where a part of my life is bearing too much load, where I need to do some pruning or restructuring.
The land is quiet but it’s not dead. Beneath the soil, the organisms that turn the matter discarded by the forest into rich new soil are hard at work. The garden, thickly composted and rested over winter will be a fecund source for the new growth come the spring.
If I allow myself to create space and rest, I know that the energy I bring to future projects will have a different quality. You might not be able to take a complete vacation from your work, but you might be able to postpone the start of new projects until spring, to allow yourself to pare back your activities to a minimum, to give yourself permission, if not to stop completely, to at least stop growing.
Because we want to be growing all the time, don’t we? To earn more, do better, be better.
And yet, over winter, most of the living things around me know their goals are much simpler. They survive, they live off their reserves; they preserve themselves until the light comes back and it’s time once more to get creating.
So, in my work and in my life, I’m playing with the idea of allocating a season not to grow. A season when, if I have any extra time or energy, I can spend it nourishing and nurturing myself without the pressure to see immediate results. A time when, as far as I can, I allow myself to take time. To have space. To reconnect to the void, the darkness, the space from which all things are created.
The light is important — I wouldn’t for one moment forgo the precious time I have to spend with those dear to me. But the dark is equally important. And in between the noise and the parties, I invite you to take some time to connect to the silence and the dark. To step outside, perhaps, into the frozen air and tilt your head up to the black infinity that is cold, dark space. To remember that sometimes, the most powerful contribution we can make is to be receptive to the silence, and to allow the truly meaningful ideas to emerge.
Like the hard ground, it can seem impossible sometimes that anything could really grow from silence. Don’t be put off by that. Resting is a part of the cycle. The winter is a powerful time. Come spring, everything will change again.
Madeleine Forbes is a writer living off-grid in the hills of central Portugal. As an immigrant and former city-dweller, she started The Seasoned Year as a space to share her journey into the landscape, and help others deepen their connection to seasonal cycles. You can sign up for free Letters from the Land and follow Madeleine’s blog via her website; or follow her on Instagram and Facebook.