I Used To Hate Winter Until I Started Doing These 5 Things
Julia Plevin is the founder of The Forest Bathing Club and author of The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing. She designs and guides transformational eco-spiritual experiences around the world. She has more than a decade of experience guiding individuals and groups of people into the forest, where the practice of shinrin-yoku helps calm the mind and create space for wellness and prosperity. Through studies with Shamanic Reiki masters, Shugendo Buddhist monks, Mayan elders, Bhakti yogis, and Renewal rabbis, she has developed a unique program that both respects and transcends tradition and brings us back into direct connection with Source. Julia is passionate about empowering people to tap into Nature as a way to heal themselves and the Earth. Her work has been covered widely in outlets such as CNN, Outside Magazine, Business Insider, The New Yorker, and Sierra Magazine, and the Forest Bathing Club has more than a thousand members from around the world.
After four years of college in New England and two years of graduate school in New York City, I swore to myself that I would never "do winter" again. I sold my sun lamp and moved across the country to California, where wintertime is cute—sometimes it rains, and if you want to ski, you can drive five hours to the mountains.
Like 10 million Americans, I have seasonal affective disorder, feel low energy, and have a tendency toward depression in winter. I used to think the cure was to avoid winter entirely, but little did I know that by resisting winter, I was fighting against my own natural rhythms and cycles.
How I decided to run toward winter instead of away from it.
This realization hit me hard last December when I found myself feeling out of balance and deeply emotionally exhausted sitting on a sunny beach in Bali—what should have been paradise. Outwardly, I was on a tropical island, but inside I was craving the coziness of being bundled up around a hearth in a cabin in the forest.
It was a wake-up call and a reminder that it's natural to be affected by each and every season—to feel quiet in the winter, creative and fresh in the spring, full of energy and excitement in the summer, and bountiful and reflective in the fall.
As psychologist and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin writes in Wild Mind, "The ways we think, feel, perceive, imagine, and act have risen in attunement to the rhythms of the day and the turning of the seasons and in intimate relationship with myriad other life-forms and forces." In other words, how we feel is intimately connected to the world around us because we humans have evolved in connection with nature. When we attune our lives and our projects to the cycles of nature, we open ourselves up to working alongside Earth's energy.
And so this year, I'm overwintering instead of being over winter. My boyfriend and I are now living in a cabin with a wood-fired stove in southern Oregon. We're literally on top of a mountain in the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument—an area that's known to get a ton of snow (like this bombogenesis). We're surrounded by books, trees, and not much else. I'm buying snow tires for my car, the tallest snow boots I can find, and investing in some snowshoes for wintertime adventuring (our home is right on the Pacific Crest Trail, and I call on the spirit of Cheryl Strayed every time I go for a walk).
Winter is more important now than ever.
In the medicine wheel compass used in many ancient and indigenous traditions, winter is in the North. North is the direction that connects us to the mystery, the great unknown, and our ancestors. This is a very important direction for these times we're in. Instead of pretending that we have answers, let's allow ourselves to be with the discomfort of the unknowing. We are at a time in humanity when we are between cycles. Winter is more important now than ever.
If you want to "overwinter" this year, here are some ideas for embracing the reflective, quiet energy of the season.
1. Remind yourself that winter is only temporary.
Winter marks the slow close to the calendar year, and it might make you feel some grief for the dreams that have not materialized yet. Knowing that this period comes (and goes) each year allows me to be with the darkness and not freak out too much. Ever since I've started seeing the years as cyclical and not linear, I've begun to see my life more like a tree. Each year I grow another ring. In the winter it might not seem like that much is going on, but this season is laying the groundwork for the cycle ahead.
2. Enjoy the gifts of the present.
Instead of wishing it was some other season or weather, enjoy what is now. What are the activities that you can only do during winter? Consider embracing the snowy outdoors with the right base layers (remember: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes"); cozying up inside with soups, stews, and herbal brews; or indulging in a hot bath, sauna, or steam room.
3. Stoke the fire within.
Winter is a great time to learn new skills and do the things that you've been putting off because your calendar has been so stacked. It's the time to sign up for that ceramics or weaving class you've been eyeing for years. Delete Instagram for a weekend and finally delve into that epic Russian novel that's been waiting patiently by your bedside since college. Choose a new topic to geek out about. Life will get busy again, so embrace this moment as the time to learn new skills and crafts.
4. Dream into the next cycle
Imagine that during the winter, you're a seed that's just been sown. Map out your dreams for 2020 and beyond. Set up an altar space to call in this next cycle. Take time to journal on questions such as, "What new skills do I want to try?" "How do I want to give back to my community?" "Where in my life am I ready to step into leadership?" Then, plant your notes in the "soil" of your soul and get them ready to come into bloom in 2020.
5. And finally...remember that it's OK to have an escape plan.
This is an intense season during an intense time on the planet. Do what you need to take care of yourself. And if that means bailing out of winter and booking a beachside getaway for February, please do it! After all, the mere act of planning a vacation can improve your mood. Who knows? I might just see you there.