Since returning to New York City after several months away, where I was intimately connected to nature, I’ve been feeling disconnected from my rhythms and out of flow.
I’ve often found myself needing more sleep than usual. Trying to be a good model of embracing self-care, I’ll allow myself the indulgence of the sleep my body needs, only to later turn on myself in guilt about allowing myself to sleep late and rest. Getting to the gym for my morning workout sometimes hours after I’d typically be finished, I find myself anxious about getting “behind” my day, and angry at myself for my inconsistency.
Then I would feel upset for being angry at myself, knowing that I should show more self-compassion. And so on, down the path of second-arrows.
Why stop at the second arrow if I can shoot a whole bag of arrows?
But today something shifted and perhaps I turned a corner in this. I slept late this morning and, for the first time that I can remember, I didn’t go down the path of being angry or anxious. Instead, I surrendered. I accepted. It wasn’t a big deal. In fact, I realized, it was to be expected.
And what I realized this morning is that maybe that story I was telling about being out of rhythm wasn’t true.
I realized that I have actually been in flow with the rhythm of nature, just not with the rhythm of culture.
Rhythms of Nature vs Rhythms of Culture
The rhythms of nature are often opposed to the rhythms of culture. At no time is this more obvious than this time of year.
The rush before the holidays, and the end of the year. Everyone is racing to “get it all done” as if there’s some hard deadline looming. Counting the shopping days before Christmas and the days before the year ends, as if December 31 is some threshold that we must reach “on time.”
We forget that time flows. The months and days of the Gregorian calendar are arbitrary. To take the most glaring example, why does February have only 28 days?
Nature’s way is to weave, rather than to enforce hard stops and starts. Life is a constant state of transition. Seasons don’t just start and stop, they weave into each other.
Although I haven’t seen a sunrise or a sunset in weeks — a big change from 9 months living on the Pacific coast — my body seems to have remembered its connection to the natural cycles of Earth. It knew that this is the time for stillness.
The Darkest Days
This week we are experiencing the shortest days and the longest nights, until we peak with the longest night of the year on the Winter Solstice later this week.
Solstice comes from the word sol — “sun” — and sistere, “to stand still”. Solstice represents the appearance of the sun as standing still in its path, before reversing its direction.
The long nights are nature’s way to telling us its time to sleep. In these days before and after solstice, it is time to go within, behind the veils, to the dark places within us. This is the time to sit with ourselves hold space for our emotions, to be with what is there, without escaping or flinching or masking.
This is not a time for doing, or even for planning. Those days will come in their time, but first we must find stillness so that we can listen for and receive the wisdom from within that will guide us to what needs to be done.
Winter, and especially these darkest days of winter just before and after the Winter Solstice, are the peak Yin time: a time for deep stillness and listening, a time for surrender, release, and receiving.
The Courage to Follow Nature
It’s been almost five years since my grandpa advised me to live according to the laws of nature. I didn’t realize at the time how much effort and courage this would take.
The effort is not in “doing” anything but in the “undoing.” Living this way has been a constant exercise in unlearning the ways of constant doing that I learned for the first four decades of my life.
The courage is in the willingness to follow the rhythms of nature instead of the rhythms of culture. To be still when everyone around you is rushing and moving and doing. It often feels so “unproductive” — at least by my old standards of “productivity.”
Ironically, the days when I surrender to the rhythms of nature are far more productive, not only in the productivity afforded by rest, but even in the sense of what I “get done.” I accomplished more in 2 hours today than I did in several hours time the other day.
When I have those experiences, I remember that following the rhythms of nature, working with the energies of the seasons instead of against them, is a time-tested and proven method. After all, Mother Nature has been setting the standards on sustainable productivity for a lot longer than anyone trying to set standards for our culture.