7 Ideas to Ease You into a Restorative Winter
December 21st is the first official day of winter and the winter solstice here in the northern hemisphere.
The solstice represents the two moments in the year when the Sun is the farthest north or south from Earth’s Equator. At the winter solstice the day is the year’s shortest, and at the summer solstice it is the year’s longest.
In English, the world solstice comes from the Latin word solstitium, meaning "sun standing still". It seems to suggest a brief pause as the sun reaches its most extreme point.
It's interesting that as a culture we've made the days that the "sun stands still" so busy, stressful, and chaotic.
Inevitably come January 1st there will come a rush of "New Year, New You!" marketing emails from gyms, nutrition plans, and retailers. I understand it, but I personally find that message rings hollow. Winter has only just begun, and the explosion of new growth in Spring is still far away.
Before Christianity, Christmas, and capitalism came to Western Europe, the winter solstice kicked off the 12 day long celebration of Yule.
Yule is designed to honor the sun in its stillness and the long nights' darkness, so we may later welcome the return to light.
This year, instead of succumbing to any guilt that you can't be everywhere all the time and all things to all people, I'd like to invite you into some Yule practices of restorative stillness.
And remember, there are 12 days of Yule, so there is no rush to enjoy. This is a time to relax, reset and begin to settle in for the hibernation energy of winter.
1) Light Candles
I have a Swedish friend who, when describing winter in her home town explained to me, "The candles are everything." It's hard to impart the beauty, emphasis, and passion of her tone and accent on the page, so you will have to imagine.
Here in San Francisco the Sun will set around 5 pm, but in Sweden it's more like 2:45 pm! I'm picturing an Ingmar Bergen scene, cold and snowy. I can imagine a scene from Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, with Nora looking inside the warm homes as she braves the cold night.
As you settle into winter, treat yourself to a candle lit dinner. Place votives in your windowsill and watch as the cold condenses on the glass. You can save on electricity and embrace the circadian rhythm of an early sunset and an early bedtime.
2) Burn A Yule Fire Log
The harmony and duality of night and day at the solstice are an ideal time to check in with ourselves and with nature. Building a fire outdoors it is a great place to be in nature and with friends, though a Yule log fire is a little different and special.
When Christianity came to the people of western Europe, the traditions of the Nordic cultures were incorporated into Christmas. A Yule log was part of the Pagan tradition that honored the change in the seasons by placing holly on an oak log to represent the Holly and the Oak Kings' transfer of power.
Oak wood and holly should be easy enough to come by, but if you can't find these or you can't build a proper fire, you can simply place candles on a log to create a centerpiece of warm light. You can even use a Duraflame and think Yule log thoughts, the Holly and Oak Kings won't mind ;-)
Whenever we find ourselves in feelings of stress and overwhelm, our body is signaling that we need to slow down and recharge. Meditation can help you cope with stress, stay centered, and keep an inner peace.
I know from experience that the thought of meditating can create stress, especially if we think of it as one more thing to do. It’s normal to want to follow the invitations of the busy mind, that’s our brains’ normal state!
If you are someone who thinks you’re no good at meditation, or you don’t have time, don’t worry. Sitting in stillness and remaining present with the breath isn’t a skill to be perfected. It is a practice, and you’ve already had a lifetime of practice breathing!
When we give ourselves as little as 10 minutes in the day to sit in grounded stillness, our bodies get a chance to recharge and our stressors recede.
Begin your meditation by sitting comfortably and upright on a cushion or chair. Choose a ‘home base’ to focus on, like the breath. Meditation isn’t sitting without thoughts, it is observing our thoughts and then returning to our home base.
Also, you don’t need to sit in absolute silence or play a recording of birdsong, a guided meditation is a meditation.
I personally enjoy the Calm app, and you can listen to a recent guided meditation I enjoyed here. The internet is your friend as there are thousands of free guided meditations that are designed to help your gain peace and serenity.
When the world around you feels chaotic, writing your thoughts can help you create a sense of calm and order.
When we slow our thoughts down enough that we put them to the page, it allows us to see things more objectively. Journaling is a free form of self-care. When we take this time for personal care, it helps our boundaries in other areas of life too.
Journaling is also a way to discover ourselves and our desires. Often, we're asked what our New Year's resolutions are at a party just before midnight. If we dare to come up with something, we may forget what it was before January 8th. But, when we journal, we can explore where in our lives we actually would like to bring our resolve.
You don't need a fancy notebook or pen, but if it makes you feel more creative, by all means!
If you surround yourself with candles in a warm room, perhaps by a Yule fire, and meditate for 10 minutes, you will be in an ideal frame of mind to do some powerful intention setting.
Journal prompts might include:
What were some of your intentions this year?
Did you say "yes" to anything this year that surprised and delighted you?
Did you learn any new boundaries from any powerful "nos"?
Where would you like to feel more nourished?
What are you ready to clear and release before stepping forward?
If we want to bring new experiences into our lives, it's important that we make space for growth.
When the Christmas decorations that are in storage all year suddenly fill your space, you might start to see the need to get rid of some things. Especially if you've suddenly invited a member of the forest into your living room!
If you feel like your to-do list is longer than Santa's, it can feel great to purge the paperwork from your desk and de-clutter your inbox.
If buying gifts for others resulted in a few new items in your own closet, say goodbye to the clothes you've upgraded. If you haven't worn something all year (or in years!) it's just taking up space and it would be better for your sanity if it was donated or sold.
It is a struggle for me to purge objects from my life because I see the anime in all the clothes, nik-naks, and objects around me. What helps is to know that by getting rid of things that I'm not actually using, despite nostalgia or their value, I am making space for the unexpected. And of course, donating what you aren't using can be a tremendous gift to someone in need.
6) Name It
Choose a word of the year.
The same Swedish friend of mine who imparted her candle wisdom to me also gave me this idea for this Solstice, and I think it's genius. And who better to take advice on Winter from than the Swedes?
It's funny that I went to a Catholic High School, but it wasn't until I was in a college semiotics class that I realized the power in the quote, "In the beginning, was the word, and the word was God." To bring language, to name a thing, is an act of creation.
Before there was the word 'blue' humans did not see the color! If you want to hear all about this and the best episode of RadioLab ever, go here.
In 2022 my word of the year was "wisdom." I wanted to name that I had wisdom to share and that I was as capable of this work. My word for 2023 is "foundation". I am realizing that if I want to build my business and my life as tall as it wants to grow, I need to create a wider and stronger foundation in my schedule and processes.
Consider what your 2023 word might be. Strength? Resilience? Health? Simplify? Expanse? Like your intentions, the word is not an iron-clad contract, but rather an act of deliberate and intentional creation of your future.
7) Create A Vision Board
The exercise of cutting and pasting together the images that you like is as fun as an adult as it was in grade school.
That will be our first New Moon of the new year, and so it is an auspicious time for goal setting. Start finding images you like this Yule to bring to the workshop, or if you can't make the event, make one on your own.
The above image is my 2022 Vision Board, and I love looking at all ways the images I selected at the beginning of this year have manifested in my life. The fact that I am hosting the EnVision Workshop at all, is a direct result of my Vision Board!
I put the word "class" on my 2022 board, thinking that I would take a class. In one of my individual sessions though, my client insisted that I should teach a class. Because I put the word on my board and looked at it daily, I was able to take my client's request seriously and I hosted my first workshop in June of 2022. With that first experience I gained the confidence to lead future workshops, like the one on January 21st.
There are really no rules when it comes to vision boards, the point is to inspire you to realize your dreams and goals on a daily basis.
To begin your vision board, first consider what matters most to you. If you want to make different boards for specific areas of your life (work, love, health, etc.) that is great. If you want to put it all on one board, that is fine too.
Next pull out magazines and catalogues and start cutting. Anything that strikes you or aligns with your goals, paste it to your board. You can even make a digital board on Pinterest.
Make sure the words you use are bold and clear. Your images should be colorful, memorable, and vivid. You’ll be looking at this a lot, so make sure you enjoy seeing it!
There is no wrong way to make a vision board, just find images and words in magazines, and collage them together. If you want to make different boards for specific areas of your life (work, love, health, etc.) that is great. If you want to put it all on one board, that is fine too.
The important thing is to put your board somewhere that you can look at it frequently. It doesn’t need to be in a secret place, but nobody is allowed to judge or criticize your vision.
And there you have it! I hope these ideas spark joy and begin the season of restoration. However you choose to celebrate the Winter Solstice and the 12 days of Yule, I’m sending joy and smiles to accompany you!
And there you have it! I hope these ideas spark joy and begin the season of restoration. However you choose to celebrate the Winter Solstice and the 12 days of Yule, I'm sending joy and smiles to accompany you!