It’s 7:05 pm and I’m ready for bed. It’s been dark for hours and it’s very cold here in the upper midwest. Chipmunks and black bears are hunkered down; honey bees are doing a well-choreographed dance – a constant movement toward the center of the hive to stay warm.
It’s my understanding that hibernation isn’t really about long periods of sleep but of slowing the body down enough that the heartbeat and breathing can also slow. For animals, instinct, daylight and temperature dictate the timing of hibernation. I am clearly influenced by the lack of daylight and cold in my desire to turn in by 7; but I have to be a bit more intentional than other animals about slowing my pace. It can be difficult to make time for slowing and simply being; for resting in the present. Being in the now allows feelings to surface and sometimes overwhelm. When I’m busy, I can maintain enough motion to notice the feelings but not really tend to them.
My work closes down the last week of December and with a pandemic still raging, I was able to slow down and be for 10 days. I had no plans and no routine. Like many, I’ve dealt with a lot of loss this past year. Spending time intentionally doing nothing brought up grief and tiredness and tenderness. Giving myself time to pay attention to where I feel these emotions in my body and the space to wallow in the sadness feels both indulgent and vital. The constriction I feel in my chest moves me to tears when I let it. I recognize grief and give myself over to it. I am not overwhelmed or exhausted by it. Rather, I sense a loosening. Like I’ve given myself enough time to be sad that I can let some of it go. In recognizing and staying in the darkness, some of the pain is washed away.*
What would it be to give ourselves time to hibernate each winter? Time to slow down enough that our breathing was affected? For more than an hour yoga class or a 20-minute meditation? If your initial response is like mine, it’s something like, “well I could get laundry done,” or “maybe I’ll catch up on email.” Getting tasks done may be necessary but chores don’t slow your heart rate. What would it be to truly slow down that much? Is that even sustainable?
Now that I’m going back to work, I know I will move back into the daily rhythm of life and lose the feeling of this odd spaciousness of time. My energy will be more focused, and I know it will be easy to notice that I’m grieving, but not actually give myself over to that sadness.
This time off with nothing to do was a gift. It was a sacred time. I’ve so appreciated it, I almost want to schedule “hibernation time” into my week. But I know that’s not the same. I do want to remember this time, honor it and make space for it again. Doing so means being willing to be present to myself. Not just how capable or strong I am, but also present to the broken pieces, the sharp edges. There is wisdom there. I just need to slow down enough to learn. Learn from my own inner wisdom, learn from silence, learn from the dark.
*it feels important to acknowledge that for those living with depression, darkness can overwhelm and crush. Pain isn’t washed away but can become more debilitating. My experience is of grief, not depression.