Our ancestors lived with the rhythm of the seasons because they had no choice – that was simply the way life was. Without the technology we have today, crops were grown in the summer and not imported from tropical climates. Winters were harsh and a time for our own form of hibernation and quiet at least in northern climates. Today with the preponderance of big cities many of us have lost sight of that rhythm.
Just as electricity and lights allow us to stay up all night and have “daylight,” our modern conveniences mean we forget about living with the seasons. However, while it may no longer be a necessity, our bodies can still benefit to live according to that rhythm both daily and seasonally.
I grew up a city girl – in Dallas, Texas – and moved to a more rural Maine last year. I’ve noticed the difference in how I feel when I not only listen to the day’s circadian rhythms (aka going to bed at an early hour, ideally by 9 or 10) but also to the seasons. Recently I have been reflecting on this because we are in the season of winter – what will be my first full Maine winter. Unlike Dallas, where December days can be in the 60s and even 70s one day and as low as the 30s and 40s the next, a Maine winter boasts snow and frigid weather even in the *gasp* single digits sometimes. It also gets dark early. It feels like winter in all its glory – its own distinct season. Here are my reflections on each season and what can be learned from living in harmony with each.
Winter: Ah winter… snow-covered landscapes (well, at least if you live up north), fireplaces, hot cocoa, shorter days and longer nights. When I moved to Maine last year, as a Texas native, I’ll admit I was a bit intimidated by the long, cold winters. After all, in Dallas, if it’s a cold day, people basically wear the same clothes, complain how cold it is and wait for it to warm up again the next day. Slowly but surely though, I’ve started to fall in love with Maine winters (my first full one here). Proper gear in tow (L.L. Bean and alpaca sweaters anyone?), I’ve gone cross country skiing, sledding, ice skating and winter hiking. There is a certain ethereal beauty and serenity to plants lying dormant and a white covered landscape. It is a time for introversion and introspection, of slowing down and hibernating with the land. Perhaps not a literal hibernation, but at least one that honors earlier bedtimes to align with the earlier darkness and an honoring of tiredness in winter. Of allowing the body extra rest. Of nourishing it with warm grounding foods. Certainly, now is not the time for the salads and smoothies of summer days gone past.
In cities and ever warming climates, there may be the tendency to ignore the call of winter. To push through the slowness and ignore the call to stillness and introspection. Resist that urge. Listen to winter’s call. Winter brings with her emotions of stillness and serenity yet also sadness, grief and even reflections on death – it is after all the end of the cycle. Of old age and ultimately death. It’s easy to want to push those less appealing aspects aside but better would be to welcome and embrace them, knowing that winter is but one part of a cycle. Without winter there would be no spring, no summer. Without death, no life. Without grief no joy. Surrender and embrace all that winter brings with compassion and grace. And even as you walk through that dark night of the soul, know that light and spring will greet you at the other side. After all, even the winter solstice not only signals the shortest night of the year but also the beginning of the coming days growing longer once more.
Spring: Just as we think we can’t bear winter’s austerity any longer, the first glimmers of spring begin to appear. A tiny bud of green here, a delicate flower over there. Also, lots of mud as the snow begins to melt and raindrops replace snowflakes. If winter is a cold and serene constant, spring is a season of change and transition. Of birth, rebirth and transformation. Of infancy, childhood and youth. Of plants and trees and life awakening from sleep to stretch their limbs again. Spring is hope and warmth and optimism arising after a long winter. It’s a time when the self-growth you’ve been cultivating all winter gets ready to bear fruit. A time when the caterpillar readies to emerge a butterfly. It’s also resiliency as winter may not quite be over yet! At least in Maine, hah! Last year we had snow on Mother’s Day although I was told that was quite unheard of ….
Spring is time for resets – spring cleaning anyone? Take inventory of your possessions, dust off those lighter spring tops but maybe still keep your winter sweaters available just in case a colder day reminiscent of winter pokes her head. Spring is also a great time to clean up your diet especially if winter had you eating one too many pastries and hot chocolate by the fire (guilty as charged). Switch to lighter fare and eat seasonally. A stir-fry with the seasonal veggie of the week is a great choice.
Spring is a time to get outside and breathe. Open your windows and air out your home. Welcome the changing winds. Perhaps further leaning into the winds of change, you might want to pick up a new hobby. Leaning into the winds of renewed energy, refocus your intentions, passions and purpose as you prepare to make your impact on the world.
Summer: As warmth shifts to heat and the sun shines his glorious, brightest self, the energy of seasons reaches a peak. The days are long and the nights short. The fields and forests are green and filled with life. The earth is bearing delicious fruits and the sun and wind dance together in gentle play. Summer is children playing outside and frolicking in the soft grass and cooling waters. It is farmers and gardeners planting and harvesting their crops.
Summer is a time of joy, passion and extraversion aided by the energy of the season. It’s also about communication, courage and travel. Of adulthood. Of hard work and dedication. At times, it’s fast-paced and threatens to overwhelm. While leaning into summer’s energy, it’s still especially important to stay grounded and practice self-care so that your flame doesn’t burn so bright it explodes. Stay in the moment, enjoy all the summer has to offer and flow with its energy.
Enjoy cooling foods and drinks. Think salads for days, smoothies and fresh fruits. Drink lots of water. Bonus points for adding fruit essence to it like lemon, lime or maybe even orange or strawberry.
Get outside and soak in the sun. Swim and climb and bike. Meditate at sunrise and watch the sunset fading into the summer starscape.
Fall: Summer warmth is giving way to fall coolness. If summer is a season of constant energy, fall, like spring, is a season of change. A transition from summer to winter. Cooling winds encourage the leaves to change color, as they give a brilliant display of vermillion hues in one final hurrah, and ultimately to fall coating the earth as the trees shake their bare skeleton frames once more. Final harvests take place for fall is the time for hard squashes and pumpkins galore. And don’t forget about apples and pears.
Lean into this season of change, and go outside and play in the leaves, bask in their splendor. Have you noticed a theme about going outside in all seasons? Picking up a theme that getting outside and into nature is good for you? Make sure to take plenty of time for self-care as fall can also bring an energy of uncertainty and anxiety as well as cold and flu bugs. Enjoy those nourishing pumpkin and apple dishes. Take a warm bath after that rake outside in the leaves, maintain a good routine, including good sleep and most importantly listen to your body.
If summer is the season of adulthood and winter the time of old age and death, then fall represents middle age transitioning to the last quarter of life. It is a time for wisdom to shine, to surrender and let go, and mindfully watch the changing emotions like the changing seasons.
Each season has its own rhythm, its own voice and each follows the other season after season, cycle after cycle, mirroring the cycles of life and death and expansion and contraction of the universe. For even as a star is born, it will one day die, only for the cycle to begin again. All we can do is consciously surrender to and embrace these cycles, these rhythms. Welcome them all mindfully and grace, accepting the temporal and eternal cyclical dualities.
“Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress.” – Charles Dickens