Winter Darkness: Time of Renewal, Passion, and Purpose
Immersion into the darkness of winter may be our best opportunity to discover and
nurture the vital seeds of our becoming.
There is something profoundly existential about the cyclic reminders that the four seasons
represent. They are great teachers, keeping us honest and in-tune with the impermanence
of life as we know it, while simultaneously offering the intoxicating opportunity to live fully,
one moment at a time. Perhaps that was the inspiration that gave birth to Vivaldi’s
masterpiece concertos, The Four Seasons.
Having grown up in sunny Southern California, and then moving to colder climates in my
adulthood, has given me the opportunity to appreciate the seasons in a way that I might
never have known had I always lived in Canada. The world that I grew up in, first in the
Los Angeles area and later in Rancho Cucamonga, had pretty much three seasons:
spring, summer, and fall. Winter was more of an idea than a reality.
When I was preparing to move to Ohio to attend my doctoral program in psychology,
winter was such a foreign concept that my family and friends were genuinely anxious
about my move. This response was magnified a thousand-fold when they learned that
I was moving to Canada and later became a citizen here.
A Funny Observation
In hindsight it makes me chuckle, but the concerns of my loved ones about me living
somewhere where there were real winters with cold, dark, and snowy days were very
real. There is something about the chill and the darkness that naturally arouses
feelings of fear and vulnerability. Interestingly, this response is not that dissimilar to
the response I frequently witness when I mention to clients the prospect of meditation—
of creating an inner place of quiet and discovery, devoid of the common distractions of
daily living, as a place for transformation, discovery, and healing.
Shamanic Perspective of Winter
Ever since reading Jerome Frank’s seminal book Persuasion and Healing: A
Comparative Study of Psychotherapy while a graduate student at Ohio State
University, I have been curious and entranced by the possibilities of healing that
are not typically explored here in North America. So, back in 2001, while amidst
my most difficult life challenges, I decided to take a big leap into learning more
about the healing practices used in other cultures. Most notably, I enrolled in a
cutting-edge three-year program that was being launched as a collaborative
health initiative by Vancouver Coastal Health and Langara College, called the
Integrative Energy Healing Practitioner Certificate Program. The core vision of
this unique program—that has been evolving in a variety of ways since—explores
ways to bridge the gap between modern health practices and the wisdom from
ancient Aboriginal and Eastern healing practices.
The program was a gift in more ways that I can express with a faculty of brilliant
professors. One of my favourite parts of the program was learning about the Incan
Shamanic healing traditions, practices, and philosophy from Lois Ross, who had
spent decades in this unique world, helping countless people along their life
journeys with her wisdom, skill, and experience.
One of the most pronounced gifts of this philosophy relates to “Calling in the Directions,”
which is a central practice of many Aboriginal communities. Each season represents
lessons and guidance for us. The autumn represents the time of shedding our
outmoded ways of being, so that we can be reclaimed by life. The winter follows, where
in our nakedness after shedding our familiar old skins, we enter the quiet darkness. In
that darkness, we face our greatest fears, so that we can go deeper within ourselves to
discover the power, courage, and clarity of purpose that resides deep within us. Because
we are stripped of our regular distractions and former beliefs, this time can bring forth
fears, especially because of the implicit necessity of venturing out of our comfort zone.
Again, the parallel with meditative practice is uncanny, as it is often when we move inward
to our most basic humanity and humility that our ego can feel most threatened. Following
this time where clarity and courage are harvested, we enter the time of spring when our
resurgence of life is at its peak. This is good news, since the passion that is made possible
by our renewed sense of our “why” becomes the wind beneath our wings that we need to
transform and continue on our purpose-driven path. The summer is when we can reap the
benefits of the wisdom gleaned from this process, where, like the eagle, we are able to see
the big picture as well as the details.
Invitations for Reflection
- How might thinking about
winter as an opportunity for renewal change your
relationship with the cold
- Is it possible to imagine the possibility that there may be
even just one aspect of your
life that may be “outmoded”?
If so, what do you notice
inside yourself when you
imagine shedding it as you move forward and courageously face your life without
its familiar comfort?
- In this time of introspection, is there an aspect of who you are that is feeling like
it is wanting to sprout into being as you move towards spring? If so, can you
imagine giving yourself permission to nurture this seed of your becoming in an
even more impassioned way than you have in the past?
As you ponder these invitations, allow yourself to notice the sensations and thoughts that
arise within you. Remember that there are no “need to,” “have to,” or “should” implied in
these invitations. We are all on a journey. We all have the opportunity for purposeful living.
During this time of deliciously indulgent and pensive respite, know that you are worthy of
this haven of nurturance that lovingly prepares the essence of your being to one day
sprout and come to fruition.
Theresa Nicassio, PhD, Psychologist
Theresa is a kindness advocate, chef, wellness educator,
and the award-winning author of YUM: Plant-Based
Recipes for a Gluten-Free Diet.