I was in the gym when my MP3 player ran out of juice. My ears picked up on a conversation across from me between a trainer and his client. As if turned up full volume for me to hear, the words resonated in my mind: “You know, not everything has to be goal-oriented.”
Later in the locker room, another conversation floated synchronistically to my awareness. A lady was complaining to a friend that her favorite exercise had been cancelled the other day. But to her delight, she ran into a friend she hadn’t seen in a long time and was able to spend time with her. “For everything, there is a season,” she said. Indeed, there’s a right time for everything.
The messages of the season
What appropriate messages for the season of winter. At a time when we’re compelled to make new year’s resolutions and get moving on those goals, the season beckons us to consider very different ways of being. This is the time of stillness, silence, and patience. It’s a time to let go and be in the inner spaces of our Self. How do we do that, when we have to work on losing those extra holiday pounds or we’re determined to find a new line of work?
To align ourselves with the winter energies and reap the benefits of this season, we can learn to allow for some of the natural process of this time. While it’s fine to set some goals and work towards them, if we do that to the exclusion of allowing ourselves proper rest, we lose the opportunity to renew our energy so that when spring arrives, we’ve recharged and are ready to leap into action.
The time of rest
Winter is the time of Divine Rest, when we allow the inner Spirit to take the reins and lead us to higher awareness. It’s the time to let go, and Let God, so to speak. In this “spiritual hibernation”, we allow space for insight and wisdom to emerge, powerfully leading us to even greater potential than we could consciously create.
We can use the word “rest” to remind us of some key aspects of the gifts of winter and how to practice them in our lives. Here are some reflections on each letter – R.E.S.T.
R – Release
The trainer I overheard was right, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. If we go about everything with a goal-oriented perspective, we are never satisfied. We’re constantly measuring our progress and expecting something other than what is. Winter is the time of opening to deep peace, and the path to doing that is releasing our attachments, expectations, and fixed ideas. Goals keep us on track, but they can also become torturous task-masters.
How can we practice release while still progressing towards our goals? First of all, take time to just relax and let go. Set aside a few minutes each day to just “be” by discovering a non-goal oriented practice like meditation or restorative yoga. Let yourself just sit. Reflect on how much of nature is doing exactly that, right now. There is wisdom in that. Maybe nature knows something we don’t, that by taking time to “be”, we’re more effective and vibrant when the sun warms up and it’s time to grow and expand.
Time to shut down
My last computer was a bit finicky, and I noticed that when I didn’t shut it down for a long time, it didn’t perform very well. After a complete shut-down, it seemed to function like new again. Do you take the time to really shut down, or does your mind keep running the same thoughts, worries, and pressures over and over again? Give yourself permission to let go. Release your attachment to having to think, worry, and plan for at least ten minutes a day. When we meditate, we are practicing the ability to let go of thinking. It doesn’t mean that we have no thoughts, but when the thoughts arise, we are better able to let go of them. This frees and revitalizes us, so we have a clear mind to approach each new moment.
Release also means to rest and relax a bit more than you usually give yourself permission to. Although you may need a little more sleep during this time of year, sleep may not be deeply renewing you. Give yourself intentional time to consciously rest, to consciously be present with your breath and body. You may discover that this kind of relaxation is more restful than prolonged sleep. And when we’ve truly rested, we find that we are Restored. That’s an important aspect of wintertime.
The trees empty themselves of their leaves through the fall. The landscape looks barren, but it also creates space for new possibility, which emerges in the verdant spring foliage. In order for our new intentions to manifest, we need to empty ourselves of the clutter in our heart, mind, and body. Meditation, as previously mentioned, is a great way to practice emptying out unnecessary thoughts to allow space for clarity and inspiration.
To become who you’d like to be in the New Year, reflect on what ideas or beliefs you have about yourself that don’t match with who you long to be. The more you cling to those, like the dead leaves on the tree, the less room there is for your new Self to emerge. Make a list of old, outdated perspectives – then burn or shred it joyfully and feel the inner freedom to recreate yourself.
How would Spirit envision you?
Afterwards, sit in the spaciousness of being free from those old ideas, and open to how the Divine would like to envision you. That’s right – how does Spirit wish to express through you (see Michael Bernard Beckwith’s “Life Visioning”)? You may receive more amazing ideas about your life than you could have thought up yourself! By emptying out what isn’t necessary or no longer works, we create the opening for higher possibilities to flow in from the greater Source, rather than our own limited imaginations. Write down the inspirations you receive and envision how these ideas may show up in your life.
On a physical level, it may be a good time to do an internal cleanse. Fasting for just a day is a great practice to re-boot the digestive system and is safe for almost anyone. It is revered in Ayurveda and many other systems of well-being. Emptying your body of food for a day gives your digestive system a rest and allows for it to more thoroughly clean-out toxins or undigested particles. You can fast one day a week on juices or even water with lemon. Consult a health practitioner for individualized needs, conditions, or for a longer period of fasting if a deeper internal cleanse is recommended. Fasting increases digestive fire, improving the function of the whole digestive tract. By emptying out within, we are able to receive new food, new information, and new insights more effectively and put them into action.
S – Surrender
Surrender may be an unpalatable word for some, but it’s an essential aspect of yoga philosophy. Surrender is the practice of ending the internal struggle, and opening up to something greater.
We often conceive of surrender as a sense of defeat, but instead, consider how many conflicting thoughts you have in your mind on a given day. Perhaps they are thoughts that criticize your actions or someone else’s; thoughts that create self-doubt and cause you to question yourself relentlessly; thoughts that justify your anger towards someone else; or even excessive rumination over how you’re going to achieve this year’s resolution. These thoughts create an internal war, a restless, agitated state of mind that is anything but peaceful.
Write it down to let it go
Rather than allowing the battle to continue, write the thoughts down. Get very clear about the essence of what you’re thinking. For example, it’s OK to feel anger towards someone – get clear about exactly what incites your anger and write it down. Describe how you feel. Don’t write down how you want them to change, though: rather, write down how YOU want to FEEL instead.
Then, set the paper down on your altar or create a sacred space for it to rest, and imagine offering the situation to your Higher Power. Surrender it to something greater. In the next three days, or weeks, consciously open to seeing what is revealed: new possibilities, new perspectives, an opportunity to talk with the person, a shift within yourself.
By working with this practice, you won’t be burdened or distracted by unnecessary “mentations”, as Michael Bernard Beckwith calls them. Surrendering them, you’re opening yourself to another “S” – Spirit within you – to do the work. Surrender brings us a more effortless way of living, and greater Serenity, too.
When we surrender, we are ultimately learning to Trust. We are declaring, “I am supported by something greater than my limited self, and I trust that it brings me what I need.” Rather than the belief that life is a struggle and I have to constantly effort to “make” things happen, we open to a different idea: the more we let go and Trust, the more we’re able to receive.
Of course, this doesn’t mean zero effort, but rather a different kind of action. It calls for an action that releases what is unnecessary. It calls for a steady practice of self-awareness that leads to emptying out so that we can have room to receive. It necessitates that we surrender our personal will and attachment to outcome. As we take appropriate action, we trust that the Universe responds and provides for us – often in more amazing ways than if we had tried to control it.
Trust also teaches us one of the great lessons of winter – patience. Resolutions take time to become reality. Continue to sow the seeds of what you envision in your life. This means to sustain your attention on the goal, take appropriate steps, and Trust that the results do indeed come, even if they don’t show up as quickly as you’d like. The seeds need the time to germinate in order to become healthy plants, and so do your goals. “For everything, there is a season,” indeed.
There is no better time of year to embody these practices. As we follow nature through this winter season and allow ourselves to REST – Release, Empty, Surrender, and Trust – we discover that in the silence and stillness there is something stirring. Given the time to develop deep within, like the seeds beneath the earth, our intentions arise into manifestation as the conditions within us are transformed. Let the Divine work beneath the snowy landscape and, come spring, open to the wonder of what emerges.
Copyright © 2011 by Constance L. Habash