“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.” Max Ehrmann, Desiderata
I have a confession to make: my backside and my sofa have been practically inseparable for the past month or so.
I should feel guilty about my sloth-like ways. Everywhere I look, I’m bombarded with well-meaning messages encouraging me to lace up my sneakers and go for a run. Or order a nice, healthy salad instead of that rich, nurturing stew I’m craving. Or do some other energetic thing I just don’t feel like doing right now.
It’s February. I know it’s heart month and all that, and I’m totally in favor of taking care of my ticker because I’m planning to need it for at least 30 more years. But after careful consideration, and even though I live in coastal Georgia, not Minnesota, I’m staying right here under my blanket this dreary afternoon.
Winter is for hibernation. Ask any bear you know.
Hibernation makes a lot of sense to me. In the winter, any warm-blooded creature with a dash of common sense knows it’s time to snuggle in a cozy, sheltered place, serene in the stillness. Animals accept that it’s time to embrace a season of dormancy, not to start training for a half marathon.
Unlike critters in the wild, we are obviously not having a problem with food scarcity, at least not at my house, and as a result, I may have put on a little padding. I like to believe it keeps me warm! And so it’s fortunate – and no accident – that my winter wardrobe consists mainly of long sweaters and knit pants. That’s natural at this time of the year, isn’t it? It’s also natural during this long, dark season to draw our energies inward. My inclination right now is to stay home as much as possible, resting and reflecting, and for the first time in my life, I’m following it.
I used to be one of those people who ignored nature. Don’t laugh! You might be one, too. We defy the laws of nature just about every waking minute. Our bodies were not designed for the 21st century lifestyle we’re imposing on them. Think about it:
Mother Nature wants us to wake up when the sun rises and go to sleep when it gets dark. Electricity changed all that. No longer dependent on the sun or fire to light our way or keep us warm, we stay up till all hours of the night, staring at flickering images on a big, lighted box.
Our bodies are made to move – to walk to our destinations, to carry things, to squat down and then rise again, many times a day. Our eyes should be gazing into the far distance, not squinting down at a smart phone. Parked at my keyboard in my cubicle, I’m barely mobile for hours at a time in an airtight room under fluorescent lights. It’s how I earn my living, but other than interacting with my coworkers, there’s not much life in it.
Our ancestors understood where their food came from, because they grew it, gathered it or hunted it themselves, endeavors that required strength, energy and patience. I find my weekly trip to the supermarket also requires strength, energy and patience, but it’s probably not the same thing.
Reflecting on all this, I’m trying to become more attuned to the gentle rhythms of nature and the cues my body gives me. One of the best gifts from years of practicing yoga is a heightened awareness of the state of my body and my mind, but I still have to remind myself to stand up every so often and stretch, or walk outside into the glorious sunshine and enjoy a few deep breaths of air that isn’t passing through a pleated polyester filter. I’m buying more whole foods instead of questionable substances in boxes and cans. Real food contains the collective life force of the sun, the soil and the rain that produced it, and it imparts this energy to us. I don’t think that pseudo-food has any life force in it. Scary to think of how much of the stuff I’ve consumed over the years.
And I’m being gentler with myself in lots of little ways, like trying to observe the first signs of sleepiness at night by actually going to bed, instead of forcing myself to stay up longer so I can accomplish one more thing. I tend to feel chilly all the time, even in summer – why on earth do people insist on cooling their buildings to arctic levels? It used to embarrass me to be the only person shivering in August, but I refused to wear a sweater – that’s for little old ladies! Well, no more. I bring a sweater everywhere I go. My body deserves to be comfortable. And so do my feet. They get a sesame oil massage every night, comfortable shoes, and fuzzy slippers when I’m home. (I do strive to buy the coolest comfy shoes I can find, though. Old habits die hard.)
Now that spring is on the horizon, I’m thinking about what to plant in this year’s herb garden. The days are getting longer, the birds are flocking to my backyard, and soon the outside world will beckon me to join it again. And when it does, I’ll be ready for it.