When it comes to the energies of the seasons, the season that gives high achievers the most trouble is winter.
Winter is the season of stillness, rest, and dormancy.
These are the energies that feel unproductive, because they are about being rather than doing.
Harvesting the Energy to Create Resilience
This period of rest and renewal is crucial to gather our energy and fill our reserves so that we can harness that energy and focus it on our ideas and plans.
Neil Gumenick, Founder and Director of The Institute of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture Inc. in Santa Monica, CA, and a pioneer in the field of acupuncture, explains that
Like the seed that cannot sprout until it has gathered sufficient strength, our ideas and plans cannot manifest with strength if our energy is dispersed or drained.
Have you ever lost interest in a project because you told everyone about it too soon? Ever refused to discuss a project prematurely because you might “jinx” it? This may really have been an intuitive awareness that to “sprout the seed” prematurely would rob it of its momentum—its opportunity to gather the strength to develop and grow.
Dormancy is Essential to Creating Life
In his book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Daily Lives, Wayne Muller shares that periods of dormancy allow plants and seeds to develop stress-resistant resting periods.
Dormancy maximizes the seed’s strength and hardiness, making it less susceptible to climactic extremes.
Two Stages of Dormancy
Muller explains that dormancy has two stages.
Stage 1: Quiescence — Externally Directed
The first stage is quiescence. In this stage, the plant slows its growth in response to external environmental cues. If it is too cold or too dark, the seedling will cease to grow. But if the external conditions change — for example, an unseasonably warm spell in winter, or sudden exposure to more light — new buds will grow.
Stage 2: Rest — Internally Directed
The second stage of dormancy is rest. Rest is controlled from within and does not respond to external cues:
A seedling in the resting stage will not grow, no matter how favorable the environment… it heeds an inner clock, and emerges from dormancy only in the fullness of time, under the most deeply favorable conditions. This aids in the safe and healthy propagation of life.
Embracing Dormancy in Our Lives
We can look to this model in nature as the example for both our ideas and ourselves — our bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits.
Embracing a period of dormancy helps strengthen the seeds of our vision, ideas and plans — indeed, our very being — making us, and the fruits of our mind, less susceptible to the forces that might blow us off our path.
As Muller explains,
Seeds may maintain dormancy even during favorable conditions, in order to give them time to fully mature.
Understanding these rhythms of nature has changed my perspective on dormancy. Far from being a cause of wasted potential, I’ve come to see dormancy as the necessary to nurturing potential.
The Challenge of Implementation
This is easy to understand in theory, but hard to implement in practice because it feels unproductive.
Our cultural conditioning to do things is so strong that the idea of sitting and doing nothing is one we struggle to grasp. It brings up fears of missing out or being left behind, of missing out on opportunity and wasting potential.
Do You Procrastinate Rest?
Dormancy and rest are things that we high achievers easily push off to the future — we deem it acceptable to procrastinate in these areas, reasoning that there is important work to do now.
I’ll rest when the project is finished.
I’ve often criticized myself for resting, viewing it as a form of procrastination from “real work.” In the face of work to be done, resting feels entirely unproductive.
Understanding this rhythm of nature makes me rethink that perspective.
Resting is real work. Without it, there’s no energy for other work.
Embracing a period of dormancy might be unproductive in the short term, but Muller redirects our focus to the bigger picture:
In a given season this may diminish the yield, but it is a rhythm designed less for quick profit, and more for an abundance over eternity.
In any endeavor, we want to be focused on the long term outlook.
We need to protect our future selves, and ensure we nourish and strengthen our best ideas.
Perhaps dormancy isn’t as unproductive as we make it out to be.
What’s your perspective on dormancy and rest? Have you traditionally viewed it as a “positive” or a “negative”? How does this information change your perspective?