Winter Wonderment

“The fear that impermanence [death] awakens in us, that nothing is real and nothing lasts, is . . . our greatest friend because it drives us to ask: If everything dies and changes, then what is really true?”
– Sogyal Rinpoche 

It’s snowing today. An entire landscape is changed. The plants are bending under the white weight, and everything is still, turned inward. Winter inspires awe and demands respect.

I’ve always found it fascinating that some people choose to do extreme sports in this weather. Is it the need to feel alive through electrifying movement while so much has turned to hibernation? Or do we naturally resist quiet and rest out of our untapped fears around feelings that surface with ending, closure, and finality? Why do we treat the end of a year as a downhill slalom? 

A few years ago, I started a ritual of clearing my final two weeks of each year. I steer annual projects towards completion starting in November, so I am certain to have an absence of company and commitments as well as time to reflect and digest everything that’s occurred the prior year. Purpose-driven choices such as these honor my spirit and allow me the space to really observe my inner state of awareness. 

Nature’s patterns play out repetitive and comforting cycles. Trees become bare, taking on new sinewy solstice forms, otherwise hidden throughout the year. I, too, find there are aspects of myself that are revealed only when I stop, settle, and let the silence bring me face-to-face with change. Each year that comes to an end is one that I no longer have at my disposal to grow, to learn, and most importantly, to love.

The wonderment of winter also lies in the stark appearance of so many things disappearing: a reminder that change is perpetual, and we human beings are part of these transitional states, not created to endlessly perform and produce. Intimacy with the knowing that nothing is everlasting allows the truth of what does last to surface. Eternity shines resiliently, flickering through sharply graphic and naked branches, vegetable beds now nongenerative and leaf-blanketed, and the December sky’s unending, gray-white void.

Slumbering forms now shapeshifted from such hope-filled spring greens and fertile food crops of summer remind me it is okay to stop. It’s okay to let go. I can linger in bed a bit longer, move my body more slowly, and read or write poetry when I’d otherwise be writing a proposal, teaching a class, or chasing chores eagerly to their fictitious end. To wait quietly in anticipation of the golden sunbeam’s warming thaw. 

With each ending there are beginnings. With every death there is new life. Within silent moments there is the pregnancy of sound. The wonderment of winter surreptitiously offers these physical koans as windows to what really exists. What is undying and true. 

I hope you have a moment or two to pause this winter. To look around your world and notice how you relate to it. Maybe even cancel an activity or put-off a party so that you can feel into your body and discover how this mysterious season is experienced within. 

Noticing what we notice is yoga. Discovering the correlations between the cessation of form in a season, sleeping and waking, the space after or before a thought, all point to an underlying universal process. May your spaces this season be empty and full. May you discover the joy of simply looking and experiencing whatever is present now. 

May your holidays be blessed. May you find rest. May the wonderment of winter captivate and comfort you. And most of all, may your dreams and desires for 2023 become your reality!

Image credit: Richard Laeton