It’s now October and an ‘Indian summer’ day. Yet, being aware of the effect that entering into the ‘darker months’ has on my mind, body and spirit, it was in August that I began writing this post about autumn and winter. A tendency to feel more tired, physically and mentally.
I want this autumn to be different though, and to share why and how…
Seizing the Day!
This year, I asked myself why I struggled with autumn in the past and realised that part of the answer related to the light. I realised how affected I am by lack of light and my need to be in it as much as possible, to absorb every little bit I can. So this year, I’ve been outside more, day and evening. Luckily, I no longer have a job where I’m cooped up in an office with artificial light. Now it’s an airy classroom most mornings and in the afternoons and evenings I’m going from place to place, often travelling on foot. Today though, it was a walk to the sea and a ‘gossip’ with a friend*, but anything to soak up that natural light. All this becomes more important in autumn and winter, as we compensate for the diminishing luminosity.
*Incidentally, that friend, Carolyn, pointed out to me how she prefers the sea in autumn and winter. It is rougher and so much more interesting.
Turn on the lights
I’ve always loved candles, yet this year I’m lighting more and have started doing so earlier. Their quivering flames contrast against the dark, seeming to meet a primitive desire to see and feel fire. They lift the mood and for me, connect with the spiritual. As Russell Brand wrote in his book Recovery, dancing light (along with sound) is a sign of ‘the presence of a higher thing’. I like incense sticks too, with their orange embers and soothing scent.
Then there is Christmas, a time which my cousin Isla wrote about on a Facebook post. She loves it because it is so dark, but so cosy and bright (especially, in the houses)… We are past the winter solstice then too.
So we can create our own light in the darkness…. Yin and yang.
Hand in hand with light is warmth. When I ask myself why I don’t go out more in the autumn and winter light, the answer is mainly because of the cold which I feel profoundly, often to the bone. So how can I change this? I’m not actually in the Arctic, so it shouldn’t be such a big deal. Should it?
It dawned on me that, at least in my adult life, I don’t think I’ve ever owned a really warm (both long and thick) winter coat, suitable for those true winter days that carry a biting north wind or the still ones, where the air feels crystalline. Yet now it is a priority to get that coat, even if it means sacrificing some things I want or lesser needs. Such coats can be so expensive new, so worth spending time in the charity shops if nothing else. Snow boots and fleece-lined trousers have made a huge difference to my comfort over the last two dark seasons – highly recommended.
My mum referred me to the book Making Winter: A Creative Guide for Surviving the Winter Months. Of course, these are the things that winter is about too. She gives guidance and instruction on collecting and preserving leaves, baking, preserving, making jewellery and writing and illustrating nature diaries. A bit of the latter goes into into my own journal, which helps get me through the whole year.
Taking photos that show change through the season, (life, decay and new life), are a favourite of mine too. Not yet done, but I keep meaning to photograph (now in words, maybe I will) the gorgeously autumnal orange physalis flowers on my walk into work, in a few weeks these paper balloons should brown and reveal their round fruit.
In our own home we cook differently in this season too, my now-husband Frédéric says that autumn and winter are about ‘stews’.
All these creative activities help to not only pass the time, but too enjoy them. To do more than survive.
When sentimentality holds you back
Thinking about when I started to find autumn and winter miserable, I suspect it partly goes back to my twenties, when I returned from the bright heat and positive vibes of Perth, Australia, after a year of backpacking, wonder and escape. I landed in a dark October in Essex. Home, but not home… The sun was going down on the A127, or perhaps it was rising? Magpies flew with heavy tails. Back to reality as it was then. A reality which I suffered but took on. A relationship that wasn’t right and boring work.
So looking deeper at my negative feelings associated with autumn and winter, specifically around their paler light, the science of serotonin plays its part, but sentimentality also seems key. Sentimentality for that land of escape, bright light, and the fulfilment of dreams? Sentimentality too for the times that my grandfather sent me postcards showing Kakadu and other places I would later visit and the frogmouth bird that I would see. Too much sentimentality though. Recognition of how it has held me back gives me freedom – a change in attitude and appreciation of more subtle shades (of pale grey, brown, russet-red and amber), right here and now.