Natural cycles inform so much of what we experience in our lives.
With the passing of the Winter Solstice on December 21st, the length of daylight slowly starts to increase with each day until we reach the height of the Summer Solstice on June 21st. This time of year, I’m reminded of the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter to help illustrate the importance of the winter season. Let me share it with you:
The myth of Persephone tells of a beautiful, young maiden who, while walking in blooming fields is captured by the God Hades. Enchanted by her beauty, Hades takes her down to live with him where he dwells in the underworld. Demeter, Persephone’s mother, distraught with grief, dries everything up with her rivers of salty tears. Nothing will grow as darkness and winter descend. This concerns the Gods and a deal is negotiated whereby Persephone can spend half the year with her mother in the sunshine of the summer season, and spend the other half in darkness in the underworld with Hades. This myth provided meaning to the ancient Greeks as to why there is winter and summer.
The deeper meaning of the Persephone myth speaks to the importance of going to the underworld in order to fully know and become yourself. Our culture tends to be challenged by a darker, more introverted time, known in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as “yin” energy, so it’s no wonder wintertime and the holidays can be so trying for people. If you are new to TCM, yin and yang are two complementary forces observed in nature. Yin represents qualities and energies such as dark, winter, still, contracting, water, inward, receptive and feminine. Yang, on the other hand is hot, bright, summer, energetic, outward and masculine energy. Just as in nature, women and men express both the yin and yang qualities, these forces are complementary and interconnected.
When given space and time to honor this dark time of year, it can be the fertile ground in which the seeds for new growth get planted. It may mean slowing down in a way that is hard to do, especially if we derive a sense of identify from this driving, ambitious and motivating kind of energy (and most of us do to some degree, as we are part of this culture that highly values these attributes). It’s often a time when we get sick, feel run down, and want to sleep more. It’s the bodies’ natural way of saying: “Hey, go easy on yourself!”
With awareness of these cycles that pass through us, we can allow the flow of energy to reveal its gifts and guide us, instead of resisting the flow or being confused by what is happening.
Honoring the darkness within us, feeling any grief, sadness or disappointment for what has transpired over the past year can better help position us for renewed growth, clarity and inspiration for what we want in the coming year. The menstrual cycle is another example of how the light and dark, yin and yang energies get expressed through our bodies. It’s an opportunity to pay attention to different feelings that may come up…perhaps the sadness or grief that can be associated with the late luteal phase and bleeding phase of the menstrual cycle, or perhaps the joy, energy and optimism that occurs during the follicular and ovulatory phases.
How do you know when you’re spending too much time in the darkness? When does healthy, “yin” underworld exploration become stagnation or depression opposed to healthy gestation of future growth?
This is an interesting question given that we live in a culture that generally isn’t comfortable with feeling difficult feelings like sadness, grief, loss and disappointment. We are conditioned to fill the void that these feelings naturally bring up. You may want to consider your relationship to your emotions. Do you allow yourself to tolerate challenging and heavier feelings? Can you easily access how joy and happiness feel in your body?
It’s a delicate balance between feeling the feelings, while also being aware of any tendency to create stories that may leave you stuck in the darkness. A helpful goal is to have awareness around your level of self-judgment and whether or not it’s working for you. We all get into patterns of judging ourselves so the goal isn’t to beat yourself up when you find yourself in that place but rather when you do feel critical of yourself, make it a point to stay above the rabbit hole of self-destructive thinking. It only perpetuates stagnation and negativity. If you can use your feelings as tools and insight about what your body, mind and heart need, you can propel yourself forward into a more positive space.
By not feeling our feelings, we can suppress their natural movement through us, which can actually result in depression over time. This emotional suppression is like a drain-stopper that clogs up your sink. When it’s activated, the sink swells with dirty, murky water. It’s the same thing with your emotions – when you suppress your feelings, the inner tension builds as we increasingly become disconnected to our true nature. If you allow yourself to feel all of your feelings, while being present and connected to the sensations that are happening in your body, your emotions have the opportunity to move through you. That’s what emotions are meant to do, move through you, just like dirty sink water needs to go down the drain to bare a clean sink.
It takes self-compassion and self-awareness to understand the deeper intentions behind the feelings, and what they may be trying to communicate to you, without just reacting to the discomfort of the feelings. Mindfulness and meditation processes can be invaluable tools in helping navigate this inner landscape of feelings and emotions, thoughts and the stories we create in our minds.
Watch for the tendency to isolate, overcommit, overindulge in food, sugar, alcohol, shopping, or binge-watching TV in order to try and nourish a deeper part of yourself. Try to notice without adding an extra layer of self-judgement. It can be hard, and it’s ok if you do. Simply, just take notice.
If you suspect you are spending too much time in the underworld, no matter what time of year it is, I encourage you to reach out for help. Depression is a complex web of biochemical, environmental, genetic, social and interpersonal factors and is often the result of imbalances between several of the aforementioned interfacing with one another. Chronic illnesses, nutritional deficiencies or gut microbiome imbalances can be the source of depression and can complicate the dark time. Seeking help is a sign you are accessing your courage and strength. It may be anything from joining a women’s group or 1:1 therapy, bodywork and movement therapies, but most importantly choose the thing that feels natural and right for you. What works for someone else may not do it for you so try not to get concerned about what you choose, just that you are taking action.
Instead of creating new resolutions, use this new year to reflect on what your past reveals about where you’re heading and if that path is what you really want. If not, this is your time to take your life back and head in the direction that resonates better with you. The best way to do this is by setting aside some time to reflect what you learned about yourself this year. Ask yourself what you learned about your relationship to yourself, to your body, to loved ones, to work and career. It’s a more constructive way of evaluating the year than judging yourself for all the things you did or didn’t accomplish.
What ways can you support yourself when going through the dark, “yin” time? First of all, be gentle with yourself, and know that it is a natural time when energy is lower. After all, even the wildest of plants in nature this time of year return their energy back to the roots. Take out a journal and explore how you can nourish your roots. Writing is an exceptional tool to foster self-awareness without judgment.
Perhaps gentle movement like dance or walking in nature, gentle yoga or meditation will bring you some peace. Sauna and steams are another way to encourage circulation and help to keep your body warm. If that’s not accessible to you, try using a hot water bottle over your kidneys for warmth. Take care of your physical body by eating regularly in a way that supports your body’s unique needs and staying well hydrated. Allow yourself to cry and let go if that is what you need, and remember to seek pleasure and joy during the dark times. Maybe that’s enjoying a favorite cup of tea, watching a funny movie, or sharing time with a trusted friend.
I love helping women navigate the dark seasons of their life in my practice. When properly supported, this inner time can be the dark, fertile soil in which new creativity is nourished and authentic commitments and inspirations for the New Year are born.
Stay connected with me and let me know how I can support your exploration in a way that’s healthy and constructive. You can learn more about my process here. And please feel free to use email me; I offer a complimentary 15 minute consultation to see if it would be a good fit for us to work together. I look forward to helping you utilize this darker time to make way for a lighter, more energized year ahead.
In growth and prosperity,