Because the winter’s temperatures rose above 2° around here – nay, they rose to the 50s! – I resumed the morning walk habit for two days in a row. Yesterday the spring-like conditions drew my attention to the melting snow and wet grounds. Thankfully the earth is equipped with the capillaries to direct the water where it needs to go, even as a few deeper ditches kept hold of their dirty piles of ice and snow.
I find it fascinating that the earth – at least here in Ohio – comes equipped with this season where it hardens up and lets everything remain on top. It doesn’t let stuff sink in during the winter. It just sits under blankets of snow, doing nothing, creating nothing, though a wealth of energy still circulates through its inner body. This freezing, though appears as idleness, serves an essential role to the entire seasonal process.
When I was younger, my grandpa Bud – one of those farm men who knew how to do about anything (except drive a zero-turn lawnmower, but that’s another story) decided to grow an apricot tree from the pit of another apricot. He showed me the process: he took the seed, wrapped it in a wet paper towel, and stuck it in the freezer. He explained that the pit needed the coldness to learn how to break open and begin to grow.
We haven’t done a good job of taking cues from the earth and the apricot tree. We don’t make a season of being covered in blankets, allowing ourselves the sense of rest and dormancy that the natural world undertakes. Our culture of Go! Do! Accomplish! Win! beckons us to hurry out the door for another long day of achievement. Our internal systems have no opportunity to find dormiens, dormancy.
The body heals itself during sleep. When we’re not spending extra time on the couch or in bed, we’re generally out and about with other people, spreading germs, and wearing down our physical selves. Thus, H1N1 outbreaks. Even our holidays, days added to the calendar so that people could be free to cease from the strain of work, add so much activity to our lives that we require a recuperation from our celebrations.
We’re taught that idleness is of the devil, that doing nothing is a recipe for a failed life. While I agree that a life of meaning includes work, I think we missed the design for effective work. Processes exist to allow a cycle of production, not a never-ending output. My friend (the notorious KLR) owns chickens which lay eggs based on the cycles of light. Because my fridge took a winter’s hit, I told her I would buy them a nice warm light, but the chicken doesn’t benefit from endless egg-laying.
Our bodies, our minds, our very selves, are designed for a period of dormancy. Quietness. Days of being covered in blankets without the need to absorb and create and produce. It’s in this long winter’s nap that our internal energy recharges so we can greet spring with a new life and begin the creation process anew.
So here’s what I’m advocating for, in our house, during this next round of winter weather: Blankets. Books. Naps. Movies. Popcorn. Minimal-effort baking. Gentle movement. Warm beverages. More books and blankets. Fuzzy slippers. Mindless tasks, like crochet or knitting or coloring. Board and card games. We’ll emphasize less what we can accomplish – unless it’s finishing the current novel – and more how we can simply be.
And if you need a permission slip to do nothing today and tomorrow (pending your speaking engagements and classes are also cancelled), here you go. It’s your Hall Pass to stop being productive. Now, go cozy up with a steaming mug of coffee.