Honoring the Spirit of Winter
Winter is a tough season for me, and I know I’m far from alone. I find the short days and darkness difficult, and because I’m out and about a lot less I can easily feel isolated and lonely. I can also tend to be hard on myself for accomplishing less in the winter than I do at other seasons. I tend to fare better, though, if I remember to honor the energy of winter and tend to things that it calls me to pay attention to.
Winter is the season for reflection, introspection, for tending to our inner being and setting intention for the coming seasons. It’s a perfect time to focus our attention on spirituality and personal growth, and since there is no real separation of mind-body-emotion-spirit, embracing and tending to spiritual wellbeing is improves our overall wellness. Research shows that, regardless of specific beliefs, engaging in regular practice that helps us stay connected to, or reconnect to the transcendent has a positive improves mind-body-emotion health and wellness in several ways; it reduces stress response, improves immune function and reduces inflammation, improves memory and cognition, to name a few.
A definition of spirituality might be a little tricky to express, but I like the description offered by (Ihara & Vakalahi in their 2011 paper Spirituality: The Essence of Wellness Among Tongan and Samoan Elders in the Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work:
“… nondenominational, broadly inclusive, and an inherent characteristic of all human beings seeking the sacred meaning in life which involves something greater than themselves”
I like this description because it acknowledges our intrinsically spiritual nature and is inclusive; acknowledging the potential for the sacred and transcendent in a wide array of beliefs and practices.
We understand and experience spirituality in different ways, whether that be through relationship with a divine presence, contemplative practice, mind body practice, immersion in nature; or some other kind of transformative practice that nurtures our connection with something larger than ourselves, that is beyond our mundane concerns and that tends the transcendent within us.
We each must experiment and find the practices that work for us, and this won’t necessarily remain static. Our practice may change over time, and that’s OK. A few practices that come to mind include:
- Making music
And even as we set aside time and space to nurture these connections, we can also acknowledge the day to day opportunities to connect with spirit and to honor the sacred in our daily routines, like:
- Preparing food
- Being with the sunrise or sunset
So how do herbs fit in here? There are a lot of ways to work to with herbs to help us cultivate spirit in our daily lives. My favorites are things that help bring us out of our logical minds, open our hearts, and set our worries and concerns aside so we can be present and grounded in our practice and our experience. One way to incorporate a cup of tea into the ritual of whatever your practice is. I like to have a cup while I watch the sunset. A cup of tea could also serve the purpose of ritualizing the transition from muundane concerns to tending spirit. Here is one of my favorite blends for this.
Skullcap and wood betony help us bring us out of the logical mind and be more grounded in our experience and rose and hawthorn help us be more open hearted and open to our experience.
Grounding and heart opening Tea
- 2 part Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
- 2 part Wood betony (Stachys officinalis)
- 1 part Hawthorn (Craetageus spp.) leaves and flowers
- 1 part Hawthorn (Craetageus spp.) berries
- ½ part Rose (Rosa canina) petals
Infuse 2 tablespoons of this blend in 2-3 cups just boiled water for 20 minutes. Strain and enjoy! In keeping with the season, I’ll be kicking off Fundamentals of Vitality with Spirituality and Personal Growth on February 23rd. In this workshop we’ll take a deeper look at the role of herbs in spiritual practice including herbs and dreamwork, ritual baths, insence and smudge