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Winter’s wisdom: In the heart of darkness, there is a light

Let us beat a hasty retreat. Jump into a hole, down to a cozy warren, deep below the surface.

That’s where the wisdom of winter resides: below the surface. It is there in the warm lair where we hibernate and lay low until it’s safe to come out. But in that dark space where our body, minds and soul retreat this time of year, a light still burns bright. Winter is as much about going deep, as it is about finding our way back out the other side.

The astronomical metaphor to keep in mind during these dark and chilling times, is that starting the day after the winter solstice, which this year is December 21, each day gets a bit longer. It’s only by two or three minutes — too incremental to notice —and yet brightness is accumulating every day as the season progresses. ‘Tis also a season of merriment and gift giving. And the season itself contains two gifts: First is a retreat, in order to fundamentally restore oneself. Second is a renewal — a new year that draws a line in the sands of time that we step over to put the past behind and the future optimistically ahead.

There’s no sugar frosting it: Winter is the season of death. The seasonal memento mori (Latin for “Remember you must die”). Not only are trees and perennials shedding signs of life, but statistically speaking more people die in the winter. The weather, spread of flu and Covid-19, dips in mental health, heart attacks while shoveling snow — these are all factors and grim reminders to take added care of ourselves and loved ones right now.

Yet nature also reminds us that death is cyclical. Winter only appears to have wiped the slate clean. Life is just less visible. More of a dormant incubation period than the end times, winter being a necessary retreat so life can renew itself. It’s the retreat that is so delicious — in the embrace of warmth that dispels cold. Winter is full of such seasonal treats: hot chocolate, oatmeal, waffles, hot toddies, rummy egg nog, as well as heavy blankets, fuzzy socks and ugly sweaters. It’s by the fire, with a book or friends and family, that our life feels richer.

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