The Depths of Winter

February 8th, 2016






“Of all the seasons winter is the most conducive to the great art of dormancy. This art requires an appreciation of semi-consciousness: the beautiful and necessary prelude to sleep – a special pleasure in itself that is all too often neglected, under-valued or looked down upon.”

– Michael Leunig


Here in the Northern hemisphere the winter has been sleeping under its (now sporadic) cover of snow and ice. The body of mother earth has been angled away from the warming light of the sun plunging the Northern reaches of the planet in a particularly dark shadow.


Traditionally, winter has been a time of stillness and rest. Nothing new appears to grow. The industrious activity of planting, growth and harvest cycles has abated and only a minimum of effort is used to maintain existing resources. The feminine, Yin phase of energy is at its zenith and the moon dominates the sky more than the sun. It is a time for going inward, for rest, reflection and regeneration.


Well, it would be, that is, if the majority of us followed the energetic ebb and flow of nature…



Religion, science and nature


artist unknown

artist unknown


Over the last few hundred years in the West at least, as the rise of science and technology overtook the crumbling and corrupted authority of the Church, we created a new power. This, like all power has the potential to corrupt and the new boss can sometimes look suspiciously like the old one.


By discovering and learning how to manipulate aspects of nature we have been seduced to believe that we can replace it – in effect, ‘playing God’ ourselves. The industrial revolution, the rise of factories, the industrialisation of farming and food production, the creation of the corporate citizen and the transformation of local markets into a global economy has meant that our industrious energies are not subject to specific locations in time and space. They can be harvested anywhere, around the clock.



 Speaking of time


Having now divorced ourselves from time and space we felt we were no longer subject to the laws normally pertaining to it, like the seasons, time of day(light) and the effect these rhythms have upon us. The traditionally fallow periods in nature where outward activity slows as everything takes pause to rest, repair and regenerate once more have been obliterated. The market is 24/7 so never sleeps. We demand ‘everything, all the time’ so the connection of dietary sources supporting and reflecting the seasons have been removed too.



The creation of time and motion studies to identify and remove these down time cycles in the name of efficiency and profit has created a machine-like mentality to work. While this may look logical on a detached spreadsheet it doesn’t reflect natural, human rhythms. Something has to give.



The Water element and health


The Water element of traditional Chinese medicine has been discussed in the Monday Conscious Health blog (click here) and we need to revisit it briefly here. This element is associated with the season of winter and controls the Kidneys/adrenal glands and Urinary Bladder system. Structurally, it rules over the central nervous system, the bones and marrow and the uro-genital organs. As a result, it is connected to our basic, organic stability.


Without an abundant supply of deep, calming Water element we can become unstable, nervous and chronically tired. When the naturally recharging battery of this energy has been poorly maintained and allowed to run down to critical levels we can feel like the simplest things become a battle for survival. Any added external stresses in this situation are likely to tip the balance into physical and mental collapse or disease.


This is why rest is the single biggest ingredient in treating imbalances in this element. Rest is about what we don’t do. By cutting down our outgoing energy drains we give ourselves the chance to renew our own reserves. So, with this in mind one would think that society would naturally lessen its industrious activities during the winter and maybe compensate by making a little more hay while the sun shines in the summer? Weeeell…



Daylight saving and the myth of summer holidays


Getting up a 6 am on a January morning in say, Stockholm is a very different experience than doing the same thing in July. In January, the sun will not break the horizon till around 9 am. In July, it has already been up for almost four hours. Yet strangely, work and school schedules do not change year round.


One reason is that summer has become a hallowed holiday period where we seek to rest our weary bones basking in the sun. Traditionally however this was the not the case. In fact, the idea of ‘school holidays’ was done so the children could help out with the flurry of work activity on their family farms. Even after a long day of work there was plenty of daylight energy left for festivities. With the ever-present battery of the sun at our backs we do not need to rest so much – that was what winter was for. Merely switching our clocks back an hour can’t change that.



Something’s got to give


If we ignore natural cycles, sooner or later we will have to find a way to recalibrate ourselves back into them. One way is to get sick. A tired body means a weakened immunity. If we don’t make time to look after ourselves now, we will have to make time later to get sick.



Sick leave – and, in particular, sick leave during the winter months – along with the more serious issue of ‘burnout’ is a major problem in Scandinavian countries. It is perhaps a passive-aggressive way of rejecting a system that ignores more humane cycles of rest and activity. In any case, it represents a significant economic drain on government and business alike.


 Fear of the dark


Fear is the emotion linked with the Water element. The approaching dark and cold winter strikes a chill into the hearts of many before the arrival of the chill itself. The winter has traditionally represented a time of survival which naturally brings with it the fear of not surviving. It is a time in nature when those on the border of life and death often cross over.


The Finnish-Swedish production of the children’s cartoon Mumintrollet (also spelled ‘Moomin’ (the troll) in the West) captures this deep lying fear of winter. In the episode ‘Små Gäster’ (‘Small guests’). Two nervous guests to the Mumin household called Tofslan och Vifslan have stolen something precious to Mårran and are in constant fear of retribution.


Although temporarily protected by Mumin’s father the episode ends with the voice of Mårran threatening to return mixed in with the sounds of a harsh winter wind. (Unfortunately for my English speaking readers there are no subtitles but the visuals, drama and music will suffice to give you the idea of how powerful the threat of winter’s arrival is to the Scandinavian people).





Mårran is really a personification of winter itself. ‘She’ (the feminine, Yin aspect that winter represents) is a combination of a moving glacier – freezing everything it her wake and turning the skies to a windy, winter darkness – and scary ghost costume adopted by children everywhere: A sheet with holes for the eyes and mouth.


This episode and the appearance of Mårran is famous for contributing to the nightmares of children across Scandinavia over several generations. More than most cultures in the world Scandinavians appreciate the powerful effect winter can have on the body-mind. It requires a particular fortitude to survive the long, dark Northern winters.


Irrespective of global food supplies and modern technological comforts there is a primal survival fear of winter always returning to test our reserve and courage once more. It is reflected in children’s songs, winter rituals and an exaggerated dependence on a fair-weather summer to provide a recharging antidote.



 Working with nature in winter




Some strategies we can employ to enjoy a healthy winter can be:


  • Sleep more or break up sleep into an afternoon/early evening power nap and nightly sleep.
  • Where possible, use winter’s Yin power at night and spend some of it in activity to create time in the day to rest.
  • Drink more water than you think you need. Winter cold can mean the heating of indoor air creates an unnatural dryness in many areas of the world at least. A humidifier, particularly in the bedroom (we can’t drink while we sleep) is useful in combating this.
  • Take vitamin D and B complex supplements to compensate for the reduced sunlight hours and stress to the nervous system.
  • Take monochromatic light sessions every three weeks during the winter months
  • Spend time with the Water element to renew our energy: Baths, showers, wet and dry saunas, spa baths and so on.
  • Work with the inward wave of winter energy by going into meditation and resting/resetting our mind.



Winter does not have to be something that is merely survived. We can use its depth and wisdom to go inwards to rediscover and renew ourselves once more. Instead of feeling swamped, overwhelmed and exhausted when the upward wave of spring returns we will be recharged and ready to go surfing.



Till the wave of another Monday takes us all the way to the shore of a new week,




© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:







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