Yesterday I was out in the woods in the snow. I was hiking with a small group of people and we paused on the side of a hill to catch our breath. As we stood there, we heard the knock-knocking of a woodpecker on a tree. It was as if there was a hush over the forest and we could hear everything. We stayed and listened for while. It was quiet and still.
The coming of winter in New England seems to invite stillness. The days become darker and colder. The snow comes, perhaps forcing us to slow down even if we are in a hurry to get somewhere. December can be a time of pausing, reflecting and waiting. Waiting for the winter solstice when the days begin to lengthen once again. Waiting for the holidays, the new year.
December can also be a time of busy schedules, family obligations and holiday get-togethers. Depending on your traditions, it can feel like too much, too much stuff and too many things happening. How do we find stillness in the busyness? How do we nourish our souls in the midst of the dark and cold?
Embracing the Quiet Within
For me, finding stillness comes from pausing, noticing what I am feeling, and practicing bringing kindness to each experience. In those moments, my body relaxes, something shifts and I slow down. Stillness also comes from setting aside time to simply be. How often do you allow yourself to be still with no agenda? How often can you give yourself permission to not have to do anything? All of this feels nourishing to my soul and connects me to a place of deeper quiet within.
Here is the thing about stillness and quiet: it is not always easy. Sometimes it feels unattainable. Even in those moments, we can practice meeting ourselves with kindness. We can say to ourselves something like, "Here I am. I feel rushed and busy. My head is spinning and I feel restless. I can be gentle with myself here, too." As counter-intuitive as it may seem, it is this kind of gentle attention that brings about subtle, beautiful shifts and opens us to the possibility of stillness and quiet.
In the words of Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman in their book, Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit & the Heart, "Our growth as conscious human beings is marked not so much by grand gestures as by extending loving attention to the minutest particulars of our lives. Every relationship, every thought, every gesture is blessed with meaning through the wholehearted attention we bring to it."
We cannot force ourselves into stillness. We can gently invite stillness to come and wait for it to arrive. When stillness comes, we can gently welcome it to stay awhile.
In these dark, cold days, we can pause. We can pour ourselves a cup of tea, light a candle and sit quietly in the dark. We can embrace the stillness of winter, with its invitation to slow down. We can notice when we are rushing around and set aside time to breathe and be, even if it is only for moments at a time. We can practice returning to ourselves, listening and waiting.