I’m thinking of training a hamster to predict the weather in California, where I live. It won’t be difficult; I’ll purchase two buttons – a red one that says “sunny” and a blue one that says “not sunny.” Then I’ll teach the hamster that the blue button doesn’t exist. We’ll make millions!
For those of you who don’t live in California, please accept my deepest sympathy. The first time I ever sought professional counseling was during my freshman year in college. I told the psychiatrist at the student health services that I was weepy, despairing, and unwilling to get out of bed. He glanced at his watch and said, in a casual tone, “it’s February.” Apparently, every February, Massachusetts sees a mass rush to psychotherapy. It’s not the cold as much as it’s the darkness, or maybe it’s the wetness. Or maybe it’s the wind – I remember being unable to carry my sketchbook to art class without being blown off course as if I were a ship in full sail. February in the northern hemisphere is hard on the body and the soul.
Albert Camus wrote, “in the midst of winter I finally learned that there is in me an invincible summer.” I believe this is true of every human being. In ancient cultures, there are distinct rituals for dealing with winter – both the winter of the earth and the winter of the soul. In our culture, we put on our microfleece, plug in fluorescent tubing, and pretend February isn’t happening or that it isn’t hard. I suggest we go back to the ways in which thousands of generations of humans learned to get through hard times. If you are having a February – and I mean a February – try these nearly universal ways of coping:
- Be still. When times are difficult, many of us think we should get up and get moving. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth century mystic wrote, “I need to be silent for a while, worlds are forming in my heart.” During the times we think we’re being “unproductive,” the seeds of new worlds are germinating within us, and they need peace to grow.
- Breathe. If only I had known during the worst times of my life how much conscious breathing can change our brains, I would have missed a lot less sleep, suffered a lot less physical pain, and avoided a lot of depression. Deep steady attentive breathing, as simple as it sounds, is a cornerstone of almost all mystical traditions. If you’re having a February, try ten minutes of lovingly observing the way your body breathes for you. Be grateful for the miracle. Gratitude for the breath takes the brain into gratitude for everything in life. After watching someone struggle with terminal lung cancer, I am literally conscious of almost every breath I take and that consciousness has warmed my heart a great deal this February.
- Sleep as much as you can. Our bodies were designed to fall asleep when it gets dark. When we force them to stay awake during darkened hours it messes with our brain chemistry. In a place like Massachusetts during February, this means sleeping approx 23 hours and 45 minutes a day. Do you have a problem with that? Get over it.
- Come to California. Visiting a sunny place even briefly can rejuvenate your entire system during February. Besides visiting a warmer climate, you can head toward the equator emotionally by watching a warmer climate on video, getting together with a silly friend, or reading a book by a warm and compassionate author. You must make time for such mini vacations!
If the weather in your home gets brutal, these suggestions might help until the sun makes its way back north. If the weather in your heart is the problem you may not have to wait as long. The moment we acknowledge the invincible summer within us, the light edges closer, and the temperature goes up ever so slightly. Keep tending that inner flame, and soon there will be enough light and heat to cheer not only you, but everyone around you. At least that’s what this hamster tells me.