December: A pre-introduction – coping with the weather

The darkness has arrived.  It is engulfing us.  And it is crushing some of us.  Winter can be a difficult time for some of us, for our mental health and our physical health.  Winter weather can restrict and isolate us.

Before I get onto this month’s topic, I want to say a bit more about how I am currently thinking about winter this year.  In the past I have battled against it, I have set myself up to fight the winter.  This has involved SAD lamps, meal plans, cooking and freezing in bulk and late winter holidays to sunnier places.  But I was constantly on the defensive and to be honest, my success was limited.  I would still get to the end of winter having faced worse depression and increased physical pain.

Then last winter came and it was my first winter not working and so I wasn’t going out and seeing people and wasn’t feeling useful and so on.  All great things for your mental health.  In addition to that, most people I knew were working full time and I can’t go out in the rain on my own because I can’t put on my own wheelchair waterproof.  On the whole, these things are still the case.  I do now know people who don’t work which is good but I still can’t go out in the rain without help and the cold is bad for pain and the dark is bad for mental health.

Then, last Christmas, an amazing friend of mine gave me the wild unknown animal spirit deck.  And shortly after, I started my blog series, looking at each animal more closely and getting to know them.  The first card was the bear.  And it was one of a few things that really transformed my approach to winter.

Instead of battling, the bear teaches us to go with the seasons, to let the rhythms flow with us not against us.  We can embrace the urge to hibernate, as long as we balance it with more active times in the spring and summer.  I’ve already repeated a lot of the bear post in many other posts so I’m not going to talk much more about it, but I do recommend looking at it.

Along with the bear, I was also finding I was reading about the necessity of the darkness.  The need to have space and time to go within ourselves and to nurture ideas and seeds which aren’t ready to be externalised and made vulnerable.

Some of what I was reading was talking about changing the way we think of darkness.  It is not the absence of light, but something immensely valuable in itself.  Without the dark, we cannot see the moon, we cannot see the stars and we do not appreciate the light.  This is a time of rest, of restoration, of recuperation.  A necessary part of the year.

But of course, the winter can feel long and this is why we have festivals and celebrations.  December has long been considered a holy month, holding as it does the winter solstice and later the Christian Christmas as well as Hanukkah, and various other feast days.


Tipping the balance 

Yesterday was the autumn equinox. The day when night is as long as day. From today until March, days will be shorter than night.

Yesterday, I did a tarot reading. A four card draw with no particular question. The cards I drew were very relevant to how I feel about this time of year.



There are two cards, the six of cups and the hermit, which are both about the unseen, about going within, about going underground.  They echo the turning of the season, the way nature is closing in and hibernating and plants are losing their leaves and focusing on their roots.

In a lot of tarot decks, the six of cups is about childhood, nostalgia, naïve happiness, and generosity but this has never been a meaning that has chimed with me.  Instead I choose to look at it from a different perspective, asking myself what fuels me, what brings me to life, what grounds me.  If you look at the image of the tree with it’s multi coloured roots, you’ll hopefully get a sense of what I mean.  Where other people look to childhood memories to make them happy, I chose to look at anything which makes me happy, which feeds my soul.

I love that this resonates with how I interpret the hermit card.  I feel that it’s about taking time out from other people’s thoughts and views and finding out what my own are.  As part of my nature and writing project, for example, I’m doing a lot of reading and learning and watching documentaries which is great and I love it.  But I need to ensure that there is space within that for me to mull over ideas, to form my own opinions and to draw together my beliefs.  We live in a world where we get a lot of external stimulation, we take in a lot of information every day and that’s great.  But we also need to balance it with internal stimulation and creating (in a very loose sense of the word) our own offerings.  We cannot just take from the world, we must also give.

There is also an aspect of balance in the 6 of cups – the outer world of the tree mirrors the inner world of the roots.  This reminds me strongly of the bear animal spirit card and the idea that there is a time for everything, but no time can be a time for everything.  A link I’ve shared quite a bit is one to Terri Windling’s blog post about bears and it feels so relevant here.

For [Terry Tempest] Williams, the bear embodies “opposing views, that we can be both fierce and compassionate at once. The bear is above ground in spring and summer and below ground, hibernating, in fall and winter — and she emerges with young by her side.

The winter months have always been a challenge for me. I love sunshine, dry weather and warmth… now, however, I am learning to appreciate winter’s stark gifts: it slows me down, turns my thoughts inward, keeps me closer to hearth and home, strengthening the introverted side of my nature, without which I couldn’t write or paint. I am learning at last to follow the bear; to trust in the process of hibernation and gestation. I am learning patience. Slowness. Stillness.

All things have their season. And spring always comes.

– Terri Wilding

That all things have their season is a pertinent reminder for those of us who struggle with winter and the darkness.  And this sentiment is echoed in the second half of my tarot reading with the Wheel of Fortune and the frog.

Both of these cards remind us that we live in cycles, like the bear, and we should embrace them rather than fight them.  You feel the turn of the circle more if you are battling to keep it still than if you go with the flow of it.  For me, this means accepting that winter means early nights and less activity and preparing for this.  So gathering documentaries I want to watch and books I want to read, in preparation for days when I don’t necessarily want to get out of bed or leave the house.

And both of these cards, in reminding us of the cycle of life, remind us too that as Terri says, spring always comes.


Seasons are straightforward, yes?  We learn in school that there is spring, summer, autumn and winter and that they change as the earth moves around the sun.  Simple?

Nope… Otherwise why would I need a blog post about them?!  Seasons are not a static concept, they have changed through history and throughout the world.  For example, the ancient Egyptians had three seasons; winter, spring and summer.  These marked three important events in the year; the flood, the time of growth and the time of low water.  In some parts of the world today there are still only two seasons; wet and dry.

Le Rouge’s Grant Kalendrier from 1496 shows the four seasons we are familiar with but the titles he uses for each season shed some light on the focus for each.  Winter – the season of woodburning.  Spring – the season of flowers.  Summer – the season of harvest.  Autumn – the season of vintage.  From these images we get a real sense of the importance of seasons to our ancestors.  They were not arbitrary lines drawn in the year with little impact of our lives, these were the way they knew when to sow and gather certain foods and thus they were literally a matter of life and death.  Indeed, the word seasons apparently comes from the Latin serese, to sow.  The changing of the seasons was often accompanied by rituals and marked the importance of the earth and her gifts to the community.

From my own life as a farmer’s daughter, the changing seasons meant changes in how we spent our time.  Summer meant more jobs for us, it meant picking fruit, it meant going to country shows to sell strawberries and it meant very long days for my dad.  And as well as seasons, there are other markers in the year which were historically used.  For example, you don’t pick asparagus before St Georges day or after midsummer’s day.  After that, you would leave it to go to seed, thus providing you with a harvest next year.

Some Asian counties have six seasons which mark spring, summer and autumn but also early winter, late winter and monsoon or early and late autumn.

For indigenous Australians, the number of seasons varied from group to group depending on where in the country they were.  Some have two, wet and dry, but those people in more variable climates have more.  These seasons tell people when to move to another place, when the fruits of certain trees will be ripe, when the fish will be easy to catch, when to hunt certain animals and so on.  The stars which were visible at certain points of the year also mark the changing seasons, for example for the Pitjantjatjara the rising of the Pleiades at dawn marks the start of winter.

Other cultures, such as the North American Indians, also incorporated natural events into their calendar.  For example, seeing the ducks leave on their migration was a sign of winter coming.

Today, whilst a lot of us in the west live detached from seasons in the agricultural sense, they do still hold crucial information about the timing of events such as the hurricane season, the wildfire season and flood seasons.  I also find that trying to attune myself to the seasons helps ground me in time, helps me feel more rooted to where in the year we are.

To live in tune with the seasons can help to create a balanced life.  Most of us can’t always be “on”, be extroverted and be sociable all the time.  Equally, most of us don’t thrive well if we are always alone.  In this way, letting the seasons guide us, gives us time to be with people and time to be with ourselves.  I am reminded of the bear from the wild unknown animal spirit cards and her wisdom about having times of inwardness and outwardness, times of activity and times of rest.

“There is a perfect time for everything. If the tulip surfaces in heart of winter, the bitter winds won’t give her a chance.” – Rebecca Campbell

To mark the transition from one season to another makes us more aware of these changes, it makes us more attuned to them and the subtle differences that build on each other.  To celebrate the season which has left and to welcome the season that comes is to acknowledge the wonder in both.  Being more conscious of the changes has helped me to go with them, not to fight my urge to retreat when winter comes.  To embrace it and to allow myself time to do so means I am more restored when spring arrives rather than exhausted from battling against it.  And I know that as I slip into hibernation mode as the days grow dark that I will not be there forever, that when spring arrives, as it will, with it will come a time of activity.

Living with the seasons means embracing a cyclical life, one of balance and for me this means one of self care.  Our years are filled with seasons, but so too are our lives.  If the season you are in now is difficult, you know that it will pass.

All things pass

Autumn steals the summer’s warmth
Hibernation tugs at souls
Slowing into desolate months

All things pass

Skelton trees, bleak shadows of former selves
Finally, Orion, Greek hunter, pierces the dark
Pinprick beacons of hope

All things pass

Sunlight revives winter weary bones
Fresh, vibrant shoots burst through soil
A patchwork quilt of colour surrounds

All things pass

At last, sunrise to sunset stretches
Ahead with possibility and energy
Perseid meteors scatter short-lived nights

All things pass

I’d be really interested to know what marks the seasons for you and I am going to ponder this a bit as well.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

As we head into the colder, darker months, I am trying to come up with a plan of attack for my SAD.

I have a SAD wake up light in my bedroom which makes opening your eyes in the morning a little easier.  I also have a SAD lamp on a timer in my living room.  When I was working I had my lamp next to where I had my morning coffee.

Try and get into the sun; getting as much natural sunlight is an even better option but is often not as easy as it sounds.  As well as logistical issues, there’s the complication that SAD makes you lethargic and makes you feel like you can’t actually be bothered to go out.

Which is where routine and planning comes in.  If you do something every day or every Wednesday or whatever hopefully it will become habit and you’ll be more likely to do it even if you can’t be bothered.  Planning specifics also helps.  If you think you’ll go for a walk one day you might but if you decide you’ll go for a walk to the coffee shop on Monday lunch break you’re more likely to do it.

Exercise is supposed to be good, and you can link it with being outside, but not an option open to all of us.

When you’re feeling low it can be really easy to get into the habit of eating lots of comfort food, fast food or no food.  None of which are going to help your mood.  Eating well sounds easy but I know it’s hard.  Try batch cooking and freezing.  Plan ahead.  Decide what you’re going to eat each day and do what you can to make it easy for yourself.  If prechopped vegetables mean you’re more likely to eat them, go for it.  If shop bought soup is going to mean you’re more likely to eat, do it.  You could also look at vitamin tablets.

If you can, try and get into a healthy sleep routine to ensure you get enough (but try and avoid too much!) sleep.  A disrupted body clock is one of the possible causes of SAD.

Ask for help with tasks you find difficult.  For example maybe a friend could cook an extra portion of a meal and drop it round.  Maybe someone could pick up some things from the supermarket.  Or help you tidy your home.  It can be hard to ask for help but often people don’t know how to help even though they want to.

Medication can also help and if you are experiencing symptoms of SAD please talk to your dr.