As winter approaches, nature begins her annual process of closing down for the year. Trees shed leaves, plants die and animals retreat for long periods of rest. During the winter solstice (December 22 through March 21), we humans also have an innate urge to hibernate. As the planet tilts away from the sun, the days grow shorter and darkness blankets our part of the earth. We hole up in our cozy lairs, wrap ourselves in blankets and cuddle up for the long cold season; but staying warm on a winter's night is just a part of our annual desire to retreat. Winter is a perfect time to let our bodies rest while we focus on our spiritual health.
Our 21st century lifestyles, especially here in the western world, seem far removed from the intimate connection that our ancestors once shared with the earth and its forces of nature; and we have stopped nurturing what once was considered a blessed union. However, the passing of the seasons and their elements still affect us as powerfully as they did ages ago. We are part of nature, and so it follows that the power of our sun – the light and life-giving force that creates the seasonal changes around us – must also be present within us. According to metaphysics, at the equinox and solstices a “solar seed” travels to specific energy centers within our beings, activating the very qualities we see manifested in nature. At the winter solstice this solar seed travels to our second chakra, just below the navel, the seat of our emotions and sexuality. For 90 days it is housed in this “winter womb” where our spirit is nurtured in preparation for spring's rebirth.
For the other nine months of the year, we actively create, grow and harvest our yearly ambitions. But during the months of winter, our bodies instinctively seek time to rejuvenate. This period of rest offers us the opportunity to look within and take spiritual stock of our lives. Some questions we might ask ourselves during this time of introspection may include: What progress have I made this year? What important personal issues are still unresolved, and why? Have I honored my beliefs and followed my dreams? Do I exhibit the traits of the person I believe myself to be? What type of person do I wish to become? Such a thorough and honest assessment can be daunting but is ultimately empowering. Sometimes the internal forces of nature will activate life experiences to reveal our hidden patterns and subconscious limitations, but these hidden patterns and subconscious limitations must rise to the surface before they can be recognized and moved out of the way.
There are a number of ways to journey within and reflect upon the above questions, as well as your own, during winter's many dark nights. Just 15 minutes of daily silence and contemplation is a great start. In prayer we talk to our higher power, whereas in meditation we listen. Devoted meditators know that this life-changing practice leads to profound spiritual awareness. You can choose to meditate in the warmth and comfort of a special spot in your home or head outdoors to commune with nature. A walk in the snow can put you in touch with the earth's energy and offer a deep sense of peace.
Stream of consciousness writing is both cleansing and enlightening. Choose an issue in your life (or perhaps one of the above questions) and start writing – without editing or judgment – until you have exhausted all your thoughts on the topic. Not only does this process release pent-up energy by getting it out of your mind and onto the page, reading it back can offer important new insights.
Another powerful aide to self-awareness is a practice called “self-observation.” Imagine that you are outside of yourself, watching your actions as an objective observer. Just as we pay attention to others' actions and reactions, it is essential that we look at our own. If you have never tried this before, you will be amazed at what you can learn about yourself. It is equally important to make note of both your thoughts and your emotional responses to them. Because the mind tends to run rampant, it is easy to lose touch with the control you have over what goes on in your head. Your thoughts create your reality, so you should practice getting to know what thoughts pass through your mind. It is not easy to pay attention to this mental process, but doing so can reveal, for example, negative remarks you make to yourself throughout the day, feelings of anger or mistrust you may be harboring for yourself and others, as well as old patterns that still may be running the show, your life and you. Such mindful awareness can bring you closer to who you are (your essence) and what you would like to change about the way you think and act.
The limiting beliefs and patterns that control many of our thoughts, behaviors and emotions may have been tucked away in our subconscious since we were small children. If emotions come up, resist the urge to stuff them back down. Find a safe space where you can allow yourself to let them flow out of you. Discussing your findings with a trusted friend or counselor can lead to deeper understandings. Often, simply recognizing a pattern is enough to get you started on the path to change, but remember that this is the season to sift through the shadows. The process of self-discovery does not happen overnight, so be patient and diligent on your journey within. As winter turns to spring, light will be cast onto the darkness, and you can start to break through your blockages. When the solar seed moves to the mind at the spring equinox, you will not only have a better understanding of why you have been stuck in fear or doubt, you also will be ready to take action toward positive change.
So, when the north winds forecast the last season of the year and you burrow into your bed for the duration of the long, cold winter, embrace the enlightening exploration that lay ahead. To grow spiritually you must turn within, so use this time and its energy to do just that. Discover what is no longer necessary so you can create inner space for healthier beliefs and patterns to be born into your life. When the light of spring dawns bright in the east, your spirit can emerge from winter's womb renewed and ready to start a new cycle of life.
Annette Keys is Cleveland's resident "Minister of Metaphysics" and has been a dedicated spiritual teacher and seeker for more than 20 years. She is an ordained minister, Mystery School graduate, and an initiate of the Kabbala who has facilitated numerous lectures and workshops, and recently founded Pathways Esoteric Education, a comprehensive course in metaphysical spirituality for personal and spiritual advancement. For more information on Rev. Keys and Pathways, call (216) 381-5606.