Tis the Season

In the bigger scheme of things the universe is not asking us to do something, the universe is asking us to be something. And that’s a whole different thing. —Lucille Clifton

I was admiring a heap of shiny purple eggplants yesterday when a forcefully upbeat voice on the grocery store sound system sang out, “Tis the season to be jolly!”, jolting me out of my vegetable revery. One single heartbeat later, a gentle voice—this time inside my head—whispered in response, Tis the season to be. Simply be—whoever you are, however you are, wherever you are. Just like in any other season.

Over the course of my healing from trauma, I’ve been inexorably drawn toward fuller embodiment as exactly what I am: a human animal inextricable from the natural world. In part, this has meant a deeper awareness of the effect of the seasons on my biology. Tricky territory for me. Those of you who have read my book know that pre-recovery, the early-onset chronic dysregulation of my nervous system greatly exaggerated the tug of yearly cycles. Too often plunging me into depression in fall and winter.

Thanks to hard personal work and lots of help from supportive others, though, I’ve now experienced a half-decade of increasingly steadier regulation, of feeling the more natural—sinuous, not spiky—ups and downs of life. So, this fall, as the days grew shorter, the nights lengthened, and the temperatures cooled, I felt ready to lean in. Ready to sense into—without fear—my energy levels dropping, my desire for quiet growing, and my hunger for stillness sharpening. To let it all be. To experiment with embracing the season from within, regardless of what outside influences might be telling me about how I should feel or act.

On this day of the winter solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere, I want to share with you some results of that experiment, of following my biological impulses and inner knowing. I trundle off to bed for the night whenever I feel sleepy, no matter the time, sometimes as early as 7:30. In the short hours of delicious velvety blackness between sunset and bedtime, I eschew most artificial light because it feels too harsh to my eyes. Instead, I light a few candles and maybe a lamp or two on their dimmest settings, happily padding around the darkened house. I naturally wake early, bundle up, and sit outside to witness the sunrise in the company of the chittering hummingbirds and rustling rodents who share their space with me.

I decline social events that require amping up my energy in the evening hours since my current biorhythms don’t match that pattern, and I have opted out of the extra chores of “staging” the holidays. (I guess I’m channeling the indwelling spirit of the Whos down in Whoville, beings who understood that embodying Love does not require red and green decorations, icicle lights, or a fir tree in the living room.) Instead, I have opted in to spending any unscheduled time journaling, reading, contemplating, and communing with cherished friends and family. I feel my emotions deeply, weeping easily and laughing heartily, both sorrowing and rejoicing for the world and myself.

I have let go of travel, appearances, and the push of “marketing”, trusting Growing into the Gray to find its way more organically to readers who need it. In the resultant calm, I heard the call to create an audio version of the book, in honor of the oral origin of all stories and in service to those who can’t or don’t like to read, and have begun collaborating with my sound-savvy son on the project. Our shared creative process feels like deep play. And—Hallelujah! —I rediscovered my writing muse. With a growing ache in my heart, I had started to wonder if she had gone completely missing. But it turns out, she was only waiting patiently for me to slow down, get quiet, and make room for her in my life again.

Not all these welcome results of my seasonal experiment were easily come by. Doubt doggedly peppered the months. Once or twice, usually after a moment’s tearfulness, I caught myself thinking Uh-oh, is this depression? Quiet reflection allowed me to answer a calm No to this question. In remembering the agony of that frozen state and comparing it to the fluidity of my experience now, I saw how old fear-based thought patterning was mistaking seasonal attunement for dysfunction. Occasionally, strident voices in my head pontificated at me about how I, as an author, “should” promote my work and what I “ought” to be out there doing—regardless of the season—in order not to “lose momentum”. Thankfully I had the support of the sisterhood in Karen Brody’s revolutionary Working Soft Program to help me quiet them so I could relax fully into flow.

Of course, it’s not my own experiences or beliefs alone that engendered the arising of any self-doubting messages of judgement or shame. The culture I was raised and live in plays an active role in the birth and endurance of that phenomenon. The long-held patriarchal capitalist work paradigm here in the US of non-stop striving, even until-you-drop, contrasts sharply with the gentler approach I’ve adopted presently. And the Muzak blaring at me to be relentlessly merry and bright, internet articles urging me to set the “perfect” table, and acquaintances’ calendars packed with festive late-night parties paint a dramatically different picture of this time of year than how I’m choosing to shape my daily life.

I’d have to be dead not to sense or sometimes struggle with this dissonance between my personal path and the publicly prescribed one. But I wouldn’t trade how well-rested I feel, my near-zero stress level, my robust health, or my baseline state of peace—the deepest results of my seasonal experiment—for any amount of fitting in. Plus, I’m not sure how much longer my outlier status will stand. Almost daily, in my own social rounds as well as in the media, I stumble upon others who are prioritizing human biology over mainstream mandates. The number of souls reclaiming good animality is growing, and I have hope for our culture yet.

Hope is about the future, though, and I wish to return to now, drawn there by a phrase from beloved 5Rhythms and Dharma teacher Lucia Horan echoing through my mind: “Right now, it’s like this.” I suspect that my heightened need for radical stillness and inward turning in this present moment—right now—was shaped by the year I just went through. One in which I shared my home with adult children, adjusted to my husband’s retirement, grieved the deaths of both my mother- and father-in-law, and published and launched my first book while navigating the still COVID-infused world. Profound rest was surely called for. But who knows what gifts and challenges lie ahead in the coming twelve months, or how they will act on my biology and incline me to be when fall rolls around again.

Which brings me back to that quiet download I received in the produce section and my prayer for us all on the cusp of 2023: wherever we live on this spinning globe, may we always give ourselves full permission to be, just be. Tis the season.