The Fallow Time: Giving Ourselves Permission to Go Within

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Many of us who spend much of our time outside suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Being nature’s children, we function in its rhythms and fluctuations. When days become short and temperatures drop, so does motivation. There is a strong drive to eat and sleep, and we become less productive. It’s not uncommon to be reflective, pensive and lethargic. If you can relate with me on this, you’re not alone.

What’s going on inside of us is a reflection of what is going on outside. Where there was recently green and life all around, it is now gray, brown, decaying or frozen. Death is everywhere. Nothing is growing. Plants and bugs have died or gone into hibernation or stasis, and animals forage and hunt for whatever sustenance they might find. What is still alive is struggling to survive. The weak sun offers little warmth or consolation.

For me, my normally fertile, happy, verdant mind is sluggish and numb. If I can’t go outside, I don’t want to do anything. When I do go outside to get fresh air and exercise, I return feeling somehow empty and dissatisfied. There are some days that I have to force myself forward, going through the motions of life. On the worst days, being alive is painful. This isn’t necessarily something that I want people in my life to know about, so I tend to withdraw and isolate.

For years I felt certain that there was something wrong with me, and I put on a happy face around others and cried and slept when I was alone. It’s something that people just don’t understand if they haven’t been there themselves. The well-intentioned advice, “Just snap out of it” or “Why don’t you just find something to do?” isn’t helpful at all. It just makes me feel more broken somehow.

After spending most of my life agonizing through the winters, with age has come the realization that fighting or ignoring it just makes it worse. Our modern lives aren’t built around nature. Because of artificial lighting and electricity, the change of seasons has no effect on the expectations of productivity, efficiency and our daily lives. There’s an expectation to function at full throttle regardless of the time of year. But I’ve detached myself from the expectations of others. I sleep more but don’t beat myself up for being ‘lazy.’ I spend time staring out the window at the falling snow, listening to the wind howling. Just sitting.

I’ve come to a slow realization that fallow is not just about death. Fallow is a time of incubation and rejuvenation. It’s a time to go within, to be with oneself. I can’t expect to be 100-percent productive all of the time if I don’t take the time to recharge and incubate my creative energy. If I allow myself to function with nature rather that against it, I find balance in the ebb and flow. That means sitting with the death and the sadness, accepting it and meditating on what is going on outside, with the certainty that spring will eventually come again.

We are like seeds lying dormant in the frozen ground. We can’t bloom all year round, but we are full of potential.

Just being philosophical isn’t enough. We have all found ways to get through the winter. I use a full spectrum light for light therapy, and take extra vitamins, sam-e or tryptophan (chemicals that naturally occur in the body but seem to help to boost my well-being). I try to exercise and get out in the weak sun as much as I can manage. There have been a few times I’ve taken anti-depressants. There is no shame in that.

I also make a point of getting together with friends and family, even when I would rather be alone. Drinking warm beverages, playing board games, crafting and cooking together is good for the soul. I’ve given myself permission not to get caught up in others’ expectations around the holidays. I do what I am comfortable with, and refuse to allow myself to become overwhelmed.

So take heart, my fellow earth babies. What we experience each winter is normal. If we lived in a world that was more connected with the rhythms of nature, it would be easier to stay connected to our internal rhythms. Accept the emotions, reach out for help when you can, and allow yourself to acknowledge your deep connection to the natural world. It’s OK. The hibernation season is upon us. This winter, allow yourself to become fallow. I’d love to hear from you. Share the ways that you deal with the short days and long cold nights of the season.