The Long Long Winter (or, Get off the Hamster Wheel!)

Q: Why does it seem that the older we get, the longer winter lasts?

A: Hah – what a funny question! My first response is that it depends on what part of the world you are living in, as the length and severity of winter differs greatly in the different regions. Seeing as we’re living HERE, I’ll answer it for this type of climate, but hopefully be able to expand my answer to apply to a more global audience.

Remember when you were young and life was a series of loooong stretches of time? You had hardly any responsibilities and could spend whole afternoons just lying in the backyard looking at the clouds. That felt like forever. So did waiting for Christmas or your birthday— forever.

But then came summer. Time sped up and whizzed by until before you knew it, you were buying No. 2 pencils and shopping for backpacks. Same way with dentist appointments—no matter how far out your mom booked them, they still came up way too fast. So we were used to time being relative when we were younger.

Then life hits us.

We start school, get indoctrinated with the idea that time is linear, and we are forced to walk along that line. The paper’s due on Friday, piano is on Tuesday afternoons, band practice is Monday and Wednesday. We learn how to segment our lives into blocks of time that seem to get shorter and shorter as we get older. We have to fit MORE into our days, so instead of looking at our lives as whole pies, we begin to feel that they are cut into smaller and smaller pieces until we don’t even feel like eating pie anymore. We just want a rest from all the cutting!

We’re naturally cyclical creatures. It probably dates back to our hunting and gathering days. We HAD to hunt at certain times because that’s when the animals were found, and we had to gather at certain times because there WERE only certain times to gather. But at least back then we were in rhythm with the earth, in harmony, in the flow. Nowadays we don’t have to gather the nuts – we can drive to the grocery store and buy them. We don’t have to hunt the cows – we can find them in the meat section, neatly cut and packaged for us. So what do we do with all of the extra time? Make extra work for ourselves. We’re busy people, just ask us!

We get used to running faster and faster, like hamsters on a wheel. We might not notice that the wheel is turning faster because we are concentrating on staying on the wheel and keeping up. Our attention has to be on the very act of being on the wheel, instead of being conscious of why we’re even on the wheel in the first place. But at that point it’s hard to get off because we’re afraid we’ll go flying through space and crash somewhere. It’s safer just to try to keep running on the wheel.

But at a certain point in our lives, say around 40 or so, we begin to get really tired of the whole hamster wheel thing, and may start to look around, wondering if there are any other options. We may see others hamsters lounging in chairs with drinks in their hands, smiles on their faces. We may see other hamsters out to dinner with friends, laughing and having a great time. We may see others knitting or collecting stamps. But a lot of them seem to have one thing in common: they look relaxed and happy.

At that point we may want what they have, but still not know how to go about getting it.  So we start slowly—we begin to take some deep, conscious hamster breaths throughout the day. We begin to start saying no to extra activities. We begin to think about what makes us happy, then we begin to do some of those things. We begin to see our lives as more than just a series of appointments and errands and jobs to get done. Life begins to stretch out a little more, like a cat lying in the sun.

One of the ways you can work WITH your newfound rhythm is to follow the natural cycles of the seasons. In the spring you will probably feel more energized (hence the name “spring fever”)—it’s a time of newness and renewal, of huge growth and expansion. Everything is growing. Summer may see us slowing down a touch—the kids are out of school, we get vacation, the lakes are beckoning, and it’s hot. Then comes fall—a lot of growth things are slowing down—it’s now harvest time, time to reap the rewards of all of our hard work. But the reaping is hard work, as well, so we slow down even further until… winter hits. The bear retreats into her den, the trees and plants go to sleep, everything quiets down. The neighbors we used to see every day are now only bundled up coats, hats and scarves driving down the street.

If you’re not used to flowing with the cycles, you may start to feel restless in the winter. Especially when there’s a blizzard, or it’s so cold you can’t even breathe. You stay in. But if you’re the restless type, you can only watch so much TV, clean so many drawers and floors, distract yourself with so many things until you’re faced with… yourself. What now? Winter’s looooooong because it forces you back into that childhood mentality of time as relative, and more specifically, time as stretched out into unlimited possibility. It’s not that you’re bored so much as your hamster wheel has slowed down, or may have even stopped, and you just haven’t acclimated yourself to the new rhythm. Instead of going around and around and around and around in the same place, never getting anywhere, you can now go anywhere in the world. You’re not stuck thinking the same thoughts, doing the same things, reacting in the same old ways. You can be fresh, new, original!

That takes work, for sure. It’s always an active process. I have to almost fight to keep incorporating daily meditation into my life – I tend to be a pie-with-a-lot-of-little-pieces kind of person, for sure. A recent medical procedure surprisingly kicked my butt, so I hadn’t lightened my schedule at all. My best friend Melissa finally admonished me saying, “SLOW DOWN!” I told her I HAD slowed down – to like 110%, down from my usual 150%.

I have a hard time understanding the concept, but I’m working on it, for sure. It’s not easy – we’re raised to be hard workers, productive beings, to accomplish great things, to account for our existence with visible products. There are great rewards, however, for taking another road, and that is greater peace and calm in your life, better health (stress is the #1 health killer), greater quality of life, and just more fun.

Start slowly. Use this winter (hey, we’ve still got a solid 3 months to go) as your experimental ground to try new ways of moving through your days. Turn off the TV completely, move into books, learn how to make biscotti, plan a trip to swim with the dolphins in Florida, commit to one hour a day of just hanging out.

You say winter is longer the older you get – I think you’re feeling the urge to do something new, and it doesn’t really have anything to do with winter (okay, some winters ARE really long and difficult, but again, that’s not totally the point). Get in touch with your inner cycles and seasons, and learn to live in harmony again with your surroundings. In the end, it won’t matter what you DID – it will matter who you WERE.

And above all, have fun! I hope I see you outside making snow angels and having a snowball fight. That’s sure to make winter go faster.

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Posted 4 years, 6 months ago by Susie Ekberg | Email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | View Susie Ekberg's profile.

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