The aspen shivers. There are thousands of others just like her, but she overlooks the sanctuary that surrounds her. She only feels her frozen bones as her costume falls to decompose. She is naked and alone in the forest as the land cycles into winter.
In whatever ways grief has prepared you for this year’s wintertide, you’re not alone if you feel completely exposed to the elements.
As all of us learn at some point in our lives, wellness is continuous action—not a destination. Seasons of winter, loss, and uncertainty either awake or shake us.
Along this journey, we may arrive on a mountain peak of well-being for a moment and enjoy the beautiful view, remembering all that our bodies and minds are capable of feeling—one glimpse of the calm. And then we return, and not always to a safe place. We return to our conditioning, our obligations, our “shoulds,” and the misty valley below, obscuring our genuine vision. We stay on the run.
I take flight from the uncertainty in the valley. I fight the systems of oppression with these same oppressive rules driving my change. I freeze at death’s sting. It’s harder than ever to return to safety and calm with unlimited access to all that’s wrong in the world.
As Emily and Amelia Nagoski share in their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, “To be “well” is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.” There’s a time for everything under the sun.
The sympathetic (fight, flight, freeze) and parasympathetic (rest) systems are survival mechanisms. We need relaxation to restore and recover—but excitement and risk show us what we’re capable of; adventure and adversity strengthen us. The stress in our bodies is on purpose, but staying there can cause chronic dis-ease. Rumination keeps us stuck, and so does suppression. Ideally, we have a balance.
The individual members of a forest find this fluid balance by communicating below the surface, providing information through mycorrhizal networks: a symbiotic relationship when fungus attaches to hair-like tree roots to connect trees with others. Without the community I once required for my balance, I have so much that I haven’t said. I feel alone. My roots long for connection.
We are blessed in many ways that our roots aren’t physical. Whether it feels like a blessing or not, we’ve learned to connect without touch, and our roots are deeper for it. Like the forest that surrounds one lone aspen, we are profoundly united.
Like the earth, my body knows what she is doing. In every season, she knows. If I allow the stress and rest to move, my body will flow through another season—inside and outside. I give and receive under the surface of this frozen land.
When we speak our body’s language, she responds. Whether through worship’s windy chills, the fire of a run, the grounding of a walk, a wave of tears moving through me, I am clothed in peace.
One way the soft animal of our body may respond to hardship on the horizon, like plants in winter, is to dive into our roots—protecting, conserving, waiting for safety in the depths (Mary Oliver). We may fear that we are alone here and will be here forever, even though we know that this is the sabbath we need. A sanctuary now surrounds you.
Exercising the Balance:
When was the last time you felt a deeply rooted positive emotion such as connection, joy, laughter, wonder, enthusiasm, or curiosity? Write, draw, meditate on, or speak to a trusted person about—what you felt, how you know it was good, and where inside your body you felt it.
Consider what environments help you experience this sensation? (Perhaps it’s setting boundaries around news or social media, persistence in reaching out to a friend you long to connect with, or walking at the park even if you don’t feel like it.)
Make a plan to take one step to amplify the still, small voice of peace inside you.