“One must have a mind of winter” –Wallace Stevens
I learned what it means to be human at the hands of winter.
It came to me in a bleak time, when I’d retreated to a cabin in the Rocky Mountains to live alone with my dog, after a series of gut-punching losses that triggered dread for each dawning day. It was February—for me, the darkest month of the year, a month so brittle and cold, it can snap both your bones and your will.
In those gloomy days, what I learned to do was nothing. I stopped trying to fix my life, stopped fighting, stopped resisting. Instead, I let winter come over me like a wave and swallow me whole; I let its silence carve a home inside my chest. Outside the birds hovered at the feeder and inside me dog followed me from desk to couch to bed. Snow fell a foot at a time, burying us, followed by wind straight off the Divide, sculpting the landscape. Silence was meditation. All that was required of me was observation. Those are fox tracks in the snow. Over there a tree snapped in the last storm. Here is where a mouse peeped out of the wood pile.
And something miraculous happened. The snow that buried my cabin felt like comfort. Winter-white aspens against the blue Colorado sky became a poem. I listened to the singing of trees when the wind scraped outside my door. Two owls called across the frosty night. A fox slept outside on a rock in the yard. One still-dark morning, I opened the door to fresh snow and a jeweled landscape shimmering beneath a full moon. Overhead, a satellite hurtled toward the horizon, bursting into millions of shards of light. Here I was, a part of it all.
The days, shortened on this side of the year, quite astonishingly, expanded. I felt something I could neither articulate nor describe. But it felt like home.
That’s what I mean by being human.
This year, I’ve had nearly ten months of being the observer. Though I’ve certainly had my moments, staying put has not been as onerous for me as it has been for some–partly because stillness is part of my practice and partly because my life has been a series of long hauls.
So what I want to say is this: as we’re all “Hurrah-ing” the return of light and getting ready to slam the door on 2020, let’s remember that all of these things are distractions. We are in this for the long haul and this is the piece where everything burns. I know from experience that destruction is a part of growth and it rarely feels good, but I also know the fallow times that follow, if honored, prepare the way for what is to come.
What if all us committed to letting go of whatever pandemic weight we’ve been carrying? All our hand-wringing and existential angst? Our anger? Our bitterness? Our disappointments? I know there are real pressures being felt by far too many: no job or perhaps no home, too little money coming in, an uncertain future, the loss of loved ones. These griefs are real and should be tended. What I am saying is can we do what is needed and jettison the rest? What would happen if we all took a deep breath and let go of the things we can’t control? What if we simply sat still as the fields lie fallow? What if we channeled the energy of “waiting” into “being”? What dreams would we dream on these long winter nights and what world would we emerge into then?