Photo- Gabrielle Cordella-Chew . Nova Scotia scene.
“Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation”, Sinclair Lewis
It appears that there is more depression and anxiety in the winter. Seasonal affective disorders are frequent. Despondency, particularly in the dark, seems to last forever on those nights when one cannot sleep and daylight is still hours away. There is more reflection about our lives that can lead to sorrow and suffering. It seems too that the brain is even more eager to focus on the past memories that bring about reliving fearful events. Anxieties abound, especially when one is awakened at 3 a.m. and the night terrors are at their worst.
It is at this point that we can do the mindfulness awareness practice of “learning to stay”, as Pema Chodron has written. In fact, there is little other choice for us. She writes: “The pith instruction is, Stay…stay…just stay”. When we restlessly toss and turn at night we have to calm the mind and settle. When it is dark at 4 p.m. and we begin the mantra of asking ourselves if the pain, fatigue and endless itching will continue until daylight and even beyond, we have to stay with it. When our bodies once again betray us we have to learn to speak to it in a non- judgmental way, for example: “So here it is again, that pain in my left foot. Okay now, why are you here? Well, you’ll probably leave in a few hours, so let me just stay with you while you do your thing”. Living moment by moment in this way will cut short the time brooding and ruminating about past experiences that have brought about night terrors, sleeplessness, aches and pains that seem non-ending. Will these aggravations be there in the morning when daylight once again appears? Probably-maybe- as many of us experience that dreadful feeling of fatigue upon awakening. But, there is a strategy we can employ. It is the BODY SCAN TECHNIQUE…the focussing of our attention on various parts of the body and staying with each body part, no matter how painful and accepting every area for what it is at that moment. Rather than being critical of ourselves we can stay in the moment and just let it be. Our struggles with the symptoms of fibromyalgia always exacerbate the fearfulness of the dis-ease.
It isn’t easy. We want to change our fate; the suffering is uncomfortable; we want to force our bodies into a better state. But, it is only when we have self compassion for ourselves and develop a curiosity about how we can re-train our mind to explore the bodily sensations in a less rigid way can we find some degree of hope and well being. What do we have to lose, especially at this time of year when so much seems stressful and dark? There is no other option but working with our thought patterns in a non- critical way. I recently read this message on a woman’s handbag:” Do one thing a day that scares you”. Well, just being with my physical sensations instead of struggling against them might be fearful, but staying in the moment means being kind to myself and in the end that’s all there is- after all, I am my own best friend.