By Ann Brand, Ph.D.
Every year, nature beautifully shows us the purpose of each season. Spring brings new growth after everything has been dormant. In summer, nature bursts into life with long, sunny days, warm rains, and abundant flowers. Fall arrives and the light shifts and the trees turn brilliant and let go of their leaves. Winter then moves into darkness and dormancy to allow nature to have the nourishment it needs to burst forth in spring once again. And fall moves into winter regardless of whether the color of the leaves is brilliant or dull. Nature creates space for what is and continues on regardless of expectations.
When nature is preparing to rest and hibernate, our culture demands the opposite. As the days are getting shorter, our to-do list is getting longer. By the time we get to December, the entry to the darkest months of the year, we are busier than ever with activities and tasks. Much of it is enjoyable—holiday concerts, times gathering with friends and family around a table filled with good food, traditions and rituals that connect us with people and places we love. And yet we feel exhausted, stretched, frantic, and like we are not doing enough. We struggle to enjoy the people and traditions of the season and then judge ourselves for not being joyful enough.
Here are a few things to consider as we approach this busy season.
Check in with what matters: Taking an inventory of what matters to you about the activities and tasks of the holiday season gives you an opportunity to embrace what you love and let go of things that no longer enhance the joy.
Allow the unexpected: Things don’t always go as planned. Let yourself feel the emotions that arise (disappointment, relief—they are all valid!), and then come back to what matters. Your intention will guide you in choosing how to navigate the unexpected.
Create space: Carve out space for yourself. Even if it is as simple as a cup of tea in solitude on a dark, winter morning. These intentional actions to create space can nourish and sustain us so we can participate in the rush of the holiday season without feeling depleted.
A regular mindfulness practice supports us in growing the skills we need to be intentional, be flexible, and create space when things get frantic. And even if you have never tried mindfulness before, dropping into the present moment through the breath, body, or any activity that connects you with your senses can bring some much-needed steadiness and calm.
Pausing to connect with what matters—to be aware of our expectations, check in with our emotions as they arise, and allow our experience to be just as it is—supports us in seeing things as they are, not as we think they “should” be. Then we can choose how we relate to what is happening in more skillful ways. We can see the small joys, allow space for imperfection, and heed nature’s call to create space for rest and stillness.
Ann Brand, Ph.D. is a college instructor and mindfulness teacher based in Eau Claire, WI. To find out more, visit www.annbrandmindfulness.com.