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Having a Mind of Winter

Meditations at the Darkest Time of Year

     Winter light is precious and fades fast—we have to treat it like gold amidst the paydirt of the season’s darkness. It’s important to bundle up and get out there to take advantage of it. As Wallace Stevens said in his poem “The Snow Man”, we must learn to have a “mind of winter.”

     Winter light is special light—it elongates the world and its snow reflects in a way like no other time of year. It’s so important to appreciate the magic of this light while you walk or ski across the landscape.

     Remember, we’re all in this together! The lengthening shadows of winter make everyone want to hibernate. Rather than dividing or demoralizing us, this connects us to everything in nature, making us part of something so much bigger!

   The ‘dying of the light’ naturally makes us think about mortality, loss, and failure, and it’s so easy to be overwhelmed by its raw intensity. However, even the smallest amount of light can carry such power at this time. Like so many of the winter holidays of light, winter can be a beautiful reflection of the psyche’s capacity to hold on to hope even in the darkest of times. We must nurture those small lights, and notice how powerful they are, especially now!

     Snow reminds us of the value of a humble, Zen-like grace. Wendell Berry’s haiku says it best: “Suppose we did our work/like the snow, quietly, quietly./leaving nothing out.” There’s so much to learn from the peaceful and enveloping persistence of the snow. Learn to see it as a motivator, and not just a nuisance that needs to be cleared.

    Rather than fight winter, join it! Cuddle up with a good book and use this time to refill the well. Savor the time inside to catch up on projects you’ve long since put off.

    Most of all, embrace the coldness and openness of the winter as one does the silence of a meditation. As Stevens reminds us, “become the listener, who listens in the snow/And, nothing himself, beholds/ Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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