My sweet girl Hope turns 12 this month. For she and I, this is without question, one of our favorite months of the year. My darling Hope was born on 12/23 and since her birth she has taught me much about slowing down and nesting. She is a busy girl, and just like any 12 year old (or 49 year old) she is pulled in many directions, especially this time of year. Hope seems to have always known that she requires nesting. She loves time spent sunk deep in her comfy bed surrounded by stuffed animals and cozied by her big fluffy comforter. Often we find her tucked into this warmth, with her window wide open. She likes the movement and the freshness of the air, the sounds of the outside and even the brightness of the street light outside her window. Though having her window open on these cold wintry nights challenges her dad’s sensibilities, both he and I appreciate her need to be a little bird snuggling into the warm nest, going deep within while staying connected to the external world, in this case Mother Nature.
This little girl has always required rest and recharge after any extended time in the busy external world. After preschool, we stacked books knee high next to my bed and hunkered down to read and nap. The demands of Kindergarten required warm salt baths by Wednesday afternoon. And to this day, she is the master of creating the best mobile nests from in front of the fire to the most amazing cozy spaces in the car. She intuitively knows how and when to do this.
I appreciate these reminders from my girl. She has taught me that nesting and going inside is a warm, happy place of light that we all require whether we are aware of it or not. She unknowingly reminds me that the short days and long nights are opportunities to get in touch with our light and warmth.
I have learned to love the darkness especially that magical time before the sun comes up. While I am not currently one of those people who are challenged bylong nights and short days of December , this has not always been the case for me. There is something very relieving and reassuring for me about the darkness. I love getting up early, well before the sun. (In contrast to this time of year in the Pacific Northwest, to get up before the sun on long summer days is quite a challenge. With the help of Hope, I have come to know myself and recognize a strong desire for going within. The darkness of night and early morning, for me, reinforces and encourages not only the desire, but also this physical need.
These short days and long nights synchronize with the deep wiring in our human neurology that remind us to get more sleep, recharge and settle into a cozy space in the winter. With the invention of artificial light, we have become more and more dissociated with this hard wiring.
I am 89% introverted. Staying connected to my internal environment on these long winter days allows me to honor that more easily. That is great information for me, about me. Many of my clients, especially those who have a history of depression, worry that when they have the urge to stay in and sleep more during these months that they are heading into a depressive episode. While this could be true, I always recommend they seek the support that works best for them during episodes of depression. In addition, I ask them to consider how fatigued they might be from pushing into hard edges of trying to achieve rather than BE. I ask them to consider chronic doing mode versus being mode, phrases coined by Mark Warren in his book Minfulness, Finding Peace in a Frantic World. The Doing Mode of our neurology wants us to go, go, and go. It tells us to keep putting more and more on our plate, to say yes when it is unreasonable, and tells us it is ok to get less sleep due to our obligations. Our BE-ing mode asks us to draw inside and really experience what is going on there. The neurology of BE-ing Mode is much different than Doing-Mode.
BE-ing Mode promotes observation, inquiry, curiosity, and wonderment rather than a reflexive response to demands and expectations. BE-ing mode is a place of self-honoring where we feel and experience. In contrast, Doing Mode’s has a penchant for pureeing thoughts, analysis paralysis, and over rationalization. BE-ing Mode honors the present moment and helps us to observe how our world is impacting us, be it our internal or our external world.
We are very much cultured to achieve and schedule. We are programmed to say “yes” when we really want/need to say “no” as our external world continues to create demands on our time and energy. Through this we have trained our neurology to accept this as the norm in order to cope. The symptoms of Doing Mode are sleepless nights and its counter part chronic fatigue during the day. When we maintain this chronic stress/ Doing Mode our brain and body create a feedback loop through synapses, neurotransmitters, and hormones. This loop creates an ongoing bath of stress hormones and neurotransmitters. The result of this chronic stress, brain/body feedback loop is none other than chronic anxiety and/or depression, to name a few. The research is conclusive on this. There really is no question as to the negative impact of stress and the perpetuation of Doing Mode.
Happily I can also report that the research is also conclusive that there are things we can do to get out of Doing Mode, learn BE-ing mode, and create an existence where our stress responses are accurate and appropriate for episodes of stress instead of the more typical scenario where our stress response is unhealthful, inaccurate, and chronic.
When we allow ourselves the opportunity to draw inward and get acquainted with our internal barometers and physical messages, we are able to BE. The research supporting this Mindful Awareness is absolutely conclusive. We can alter these stressful states. It does take re-structuring of life and an ongoing practice to shift from Doing mode to BE-ing mode. The result is worth every effort toward a healthy state of Be-ing.
And so it is with the dark wintery, short days of December, which create opportunities to go inward and get comfortable BE-ing. May we take refuge in the cozy internal respitethat is waiting for us to re-charge and restore our physical fuel, shift our brain/body state and reignite our spirit. By being present in our internal world it is as if we lit our own internal candle. A natural warmth and light is created. Here is where we spend time in our internal light. Just as a candle appears brighterin the dark, our internal light can reveal so much during these long dark days of December. Within our own light is where hope lies and a reminder that BE-ing the change you want to see in the world starts from within.