Winter of all seasons stands firmest against the face of business as usual, no more so than in regions exposed to the unpredictability of blizzards. To live in a country prepared for routine annual snowfall like Iceland is one thing; to live somewhere like England, which can never foresee what may fall on it, and so cannot know how best to prepare itself other than by the fate accomplished trading of blame, is another country.
During winter, one world dies back to its bones so that another world can, in due time, grow anew. The skeleton tells it as it is, and the truth is not widely welcomed. Rare is the person who doesn’t wish winter quickly out of the way, and banish from their tolerance any physical adaptations that their body might be making to its rigours, turning them from a sentient upright into a bumbling, slow-motion, morose, sleep-drugged, inturned, sniffling, bundled thing.
Right now, we sit in the cave of midwinter. Just beyond the solstice, after when, for the northern hemisphere anyway, the days start to lengthen again. Not so as you’d notice yet, mind. We are still deep in sitting it out and awaiting due time, despite the fever season of resolutions to start over. Janus, old Roman god of the New Year, faces two ways over a mass of contraries: picking over and casting off the old; ushering in the new – an ushering now usually a little too hasty for my taste J
The thing we often forget about midwinter is that its prevailing energy is ‘not yet’. The cave is a place of preparation and incubation, a space to make reckoning, take stock, let go, rest up. Plans can be made – to realise themselves later, after they have sat and proved, once the days are long and energy quickened enough. Electric lighting, central heating and business as usual have the flimsy, contingent power to make every day just like any other day, and fuel the temptation to forge ahead with our ambitions anytime, anywhere, whatever the weather. Except when your energy levels tell you otherwise and snow has cast glinting spanners into your proud transport works.
The other day I wanted for a campaign to suspend all non-essential work for a whole month of midwinter, a fortnight-ish each side of the solstice. To let more folks live the cave, and also enjoy more licence with the season’s traditional sun/son-welcoming celebrations of generous feasting, evergreen decorating and the company of beloved ones. To ease, where dark and cold, snow and ice upend transport connections and crank heating and lighting into overdrive, the burdens of energy and effort needed to keep those services running, and to reserve them for those upon whose labour and punctuality there is genuine life-and-death dependence.
I’m in two Janus minds about such a campaign. It admits the inadmissible of our culture: a mass slowing-down and letting-up. Enough, less, carnival time – a whole month of it. The backwards mind fears doing more harm than good by stymieing the mindset of battling heroically on regardless, of overextending oneself anyway. The forward mind believes that for every ‘yes, but ..’ that such a campaign would call down, a question from winter’s reckoning can reply. Those less-than-welcome questions. What are you doing if your employment is not essential? What, in the furthest reckoning, is the cost – in lost time, depleted energies, atmospheric carbon accumulation, or lives even – of everyone soldiering on as normal in the face of winter’s stubborn unpredictabilities, or of seeking just as stubbornly to escape en masse somewhere warmer? What unforeseen acts of generosity, conviviality, self-insight and upending of the world might occur in that given-away, freed-up month?
Since neither mind has the influence – nor the energy, nor the inclination at this time – to actually front such a campaign, I settle for a gentler invitation to reclaim the cave of midwinter. Above all, by treating yourself with kindness and making allowances if you find it claiming you – via the hibernation urge, sudden bouts of introspection, best-laid plans foundering in inertia, one streaming cold after another. Take what extra sleep and hearthbound stillness you need; let old bark and flesh drop from your bones. Fall into the frosted-over mirror and trust that, in due time, its promises will reflect back upon you and the world will grow anew.
The very best of the season to you, and every good wish for an inspired 2011.