My soul is longing for springtime and sunshine. Winter has left my body feeling sluggish and my thoughts stuck on a never-ending loop of anxiety, angst, and gloom. Little things (assignments, meetings, social or community events) have begun to feel like insurmountable tasks. I’ve been struggling to get my feet under me this semester and to find the motivation and fire that is generally so characteristic of my overachiever self.
So, as the snow begins to pile once again, I’ve decided to take stock of the little practices that have become my saving graces this winter. They have pointed me toward life and joy and creativity during the long winter nights and gray gloomy days. They have helped me foster inner strength and find connection with others. They continue to help me care for my particular needs while guiding me away from self-centeredness.
As we continue to journey toward spring’s elusive warmth, I invite you to take stock of your own life-giving practices – and maybe even try something new! Some of my favorites are listed below. They may or may not resonate, and some of them might not even be accessible options for you. But I’d love to hear about what keeps you going this time of year!
Sure, yoga’s the latest trendy thing and is quickly becoming one of the most “basic” white girl past-times, often totally separated from it’s deep, spiritual, Eastern origins. But, at the same time, my home practice has been one of the most life-giving disciplines I’ve taken up in the past couple of years. Yoga helps me ground myself in the moment, reconnect with my body and my breath, and tap into my own inner strength and balance. It’s helped me discover the power of creating space, trusting myself, breathing into potential challenges, and claiming my own power. It invites me to find connections between my body, spirit, and all of creation and to trust that all will indeed be well. (For a truly amazing home practice series, check out Yoga with Adriene! I’d love to geek out with you about her practices and insight.)
2. Reading for enjoyment: fiction, poetry…anything really.
As a student, I read all of the time, and what was once a joyous hobby can easily become a never-ending to-do list. But I’m carving out time this semester to read for fun: poetry, blog posts, spiritual memoirs, even a little bit of fiction. When I slow down enough to appreciate really good writing, it seems to seep directly into my spirit and infuse it with life and roomy creativity. Words have carried me off to warmer, more colorful landscapes and have helped me discover meaning and purpose in the midst of the gloomiest of winter days.
3. Spending time with actual people.
It seems obvious, but for an introvert like me this isn’t always as intuitive as it probably should be. My instinct when I’m feeling down is usually to isolate, to go into my own little cave of self-protection and self-comfort, and to shut out the outside world. I think there is a place for this type of self-care, but, in my experience, there is a fine line between isolated self-care and self-destruction. This winter has left me feeling overwhelmingly grateful for the people who continuously call me into community: to shared meals, to coffee dates, to happy hours, to outside adventures, to explore the city, even simply to phone calls and group texts that remind me that I need others to ever truly be myself. Also Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, while great, does not count as real people time. Also, too much social media = jealousy, anxiety, and political fury. Just saying.
I know. It’s the worst. And trust me, when I run it’s not pretty. I turn a sweaty, gasping-for-air mess. (And to be honest I use the term “running” pretty loosely in the first place. “Jogging,” “walking with brief stints of faster walking,” or “flailing wildly on the treadmill” are probably more accurate terms.) Anyway, as much as it absolutely sucks, it also gets me out of my head, helps me start to see myself as “powerful,” fills my body with fresh air, and overall just leaves me feeling the tiniest better about life.
5. Cooking. (Real food. Like, vegetables.)
Sure, it involves some pre-planning and forethought and a little extra time, but I have learned to appreciate how cooking forces me to slow down. It’s a practice that invites me to pay attention to nuances of flavor and color and aroma and texture. And when I cook a real meal, I’m much more likely to either a) share that meal with real people or b) at least slow down long enough to eat it, to really taste it, and to actually enjoy it. Plus, when I eat real food with real nutrients, turns out both my body and my mind feel a whole lot better.
Writing helps me pay attention. It invites me into a space of connection making and creativity and reverence. It forces me to notice details and to tap into all five senses. It simultaneously calls me to turn inward, to wrestle with what I’m really feeling and to claim and explore my own experiences while also turning outward to wonder about what others might be experiencing, to be curious about other people’s stories, and to notice the beauty and mystery and longing of all of creation.
Like good writing, music has the power to dance right into my soul. Taking time to actually listen to music (from classical NPR to my favorite jazz, bluegrass, and folk Spotify stations to my Top 40 workout playlist) nudges me to life and creativity in an entirely different way. Sitting down at the piano or picking up my guitar provides an outlet for the emotion that I haven’t been able to articulate verbally. And, it teaches me grace and humility as I let go of perfection as I claim my mediocre-musician status.
It’s probably super cliché, but keeping a gratitude journal has done wonders for me. Sitting down at the end of each day and lifting up a couple of things or moments or people that have given me life and joy has the power to literally rewire and re-direct our thinking to one of joy, thankfulness, and mindfulness.
9. Switching up my routine.
It’s amazing how a simple switch in routine can re-orient me to life outside of myself. For me right now, that sometimes looks like working at a coffee shop instead of in my apartment, for creating space in my schedule to study with friends instead of by myself, or for going for a walk in the middle of the day. It means exploring my own city, maybe taking a different route home, or trying a new restaurant. It means being open to adjusting my schedule and to making space for the unexpected last-minute adventure.
Even as a seminarian, I find myself dragging my feet on Sunday mornings (or during chapel time at seminary.) And yet, regular worship has been of the greatest gifts I’ve received this winter. Worship puts my life and my often self-centered struggles in the context of a much bigger narrative, points to the promise of new life and unconquerable Love even in the midst of our world’s mess, and connects me to the Body of Christ across time and space. Worship tunes my heart to the mysteries of the Divine and re-sharpens my ears to hear the cries of my neighbors. It reminds me that I’m deeply loved in my imperfection but also reminds me that it’s actually not about me anyway.