Surrendering to the Seasons
‘One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken.’ - Leo Tolstoy
Since Pablo arrived, we’ve been teaching him to walk off the lead on Chapel Common, a beautiful stretch of heathland on the border of Hampshire and Sussex. Scattered between heather clumps are silver birch trees of all ages with corvids at the top, caw-caw-caw-ing out across the landscape. This autumn the Common has been bursting with fresh fungi erupting from the ground, including the mysterious, enchanting fly agaric - the mushroom of fairy magic.
The descent into autumn and winter tends to split public opinion. Some dread the short days and low temperatures, longing for sunshine and the signs of spring growth. Others love the raw, fresh cosiness of the season, drawn to the joy of Christmas and the hopefulness of a new year. Either way, by February there are few of us not desperately searching for something green amid the grey.
As a species we have developed a habit of living, not in the present, but in the past and future. We are the only animals to do this, and through mindfulness, enlightenment or whatever else we call it, many of us are trying to return to the present moment - because the present is all that really exists. We are swept along on a ripple of the past, but the future is so abstract, so unpredictable and intangible that to worry about it is almost pointless - except to help us live kinder, happier lives in the present.
Perhaps one of the reasons we react negatively to autumn and winter is because we ignore our own natural rhythms. Despite, or perhaps because of, our advanced evolution, we forget our primitive roots - forget that we are just animals with overactive brains. Being animals, we are built to synchronise with the cycles of the natural world, and when we avoid doing this, we become depressed, exhausted and unhappy.
We only have to look at other species to see how we should be riding the seasonal waves. For most birds and mammals, autumn and winter is a time of rest and restoration - to slow down and nourish ourselves in preparation for spring. In Britain, dormice, bats, butterflies, frogs and hedgehogs hibernate over winter, living off the energy they harvested over the summer. They don’t pretend summer is still here, but accept the change in season and surrender to their natural instincts.
Aside from a two week Christmas break (if we’re lucky), we don’t slow down for winter at all. Our fast-paced, pressurised lifestyles require us to work flat out, twelve months a year, regardless of the weather, temperature or the needs of our own bodies.
Instead of fighting winter, we must try to embrace the season and allow ourselves to slow down. It’s easier said than done - there is no holiday allowance for hibernation, and we all need to work hard to pay our bills and find satisfaction in life. We all have families to care for, hobbies to pursue, fitness goals and parties. It’s the eternal struggle of trying to balance your own needs against the demands of life.
This winter, I’m trying to give myself permission to restore my energy and take stock of the past year, rather than powering through January as though it’s July. In the natural world, winter is a time for sleep, food, rest and warmth - so why don’t we treat ourselves with the same care?
I have a big year coming up - I’m publishing two new books, one of which is the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on. As autumn winds down and winter takes hold, I’ll be drawing inspiration from nature and working on a plan for the next twelve months - reflecting on the past year and gathering energy through festive cheer and rejuvenation.