Embracing the Cold and Pain with Compassion - November 2019

Winter in Chicago lurks.  I feel it; it’s around the corner.  This is a time when many of us begin to feel more depressed, worry about the holidays and reflect back on the year’s triumphs and pains.  For some, it’s a lot.  Without being cliché and saccharine sweet, I’d like to give some advice.

I have a hard time in the cold too, and while October has been incredibly mild, and dare I say, pleasant even with it’s crisp sunshine highlighting the blue of the sky and the reds of the trees, I know that this will fade.  Quickly perhaps.  So the first piece of advice is to use this time to live in the moment.  I know, I know, that is cliché.  And we at CMP try our best to do this all the time, but I think the dread of what’s coming – stuck inside, shoveling with the wind cutting through you, parking in foot-deep brown slush, waiting for the bus with your eyes tearing….  Well, that dread can sneak up and infest the moment!  (Like I probably just induced by describing the pains of winter – sorry!)

So, don’t look at the forecast until the morning before you go outside.  Each day is fresh and new, and you never know what it might be like.  Enjoy the pumpkins!  Enjoy the crunchy leaves!  Enjoy the cozy sweaters!  Now, while they are here.

I actually have created season-themed meals.  In the fall, I like to cook Indian, and Asian dishes with rich curry, coriander and cumin flavors.  I like to eat apples and pumpkin, drink cider and tea.  This is one way I actually train my brain to LOOK FORWARD to the change in seasons.  For winter, I enjoy rich pastas and stews, and probably more chocolate desserts than I should.  I try not to eat these things willy-nilly throughout the year, so that I create a positive association in my brain between these yummy foods and the weather outside. 

You can decorate your home seasonally as well.  This does NOT have to be elaborate or expensive.  Maybe an orange blanket in the fall and a red one in the winter, for example.  Or some fluffy white things, pillows or a scarf, for the winter.  Enjoy the color and texture changes.  Let yourself sink into the sensual aspects of the seasons.

Because this is a time that revolves around family and holiday celebrations, it can be both pleasant and potentially painful.  Memories of those who have passed can sometimes be intrusive, unexpected and acutely highlight the voids they have left.  Traditions may have changed.  Loneliness is common.  If this is your experience, be gentle with yourself.  Grief is normal and will change over the years.  You are not alone.  I suggest joining a group of others who can personally relate, now more than ever, so that you can palpably feel that you’re not alone.  Let others hold you up, and feel the warmth and pleasure of being able to offer compassion to others.

You may also be deliberate in creating new rituals, and in honoring your loved ones’ memories.  Do whatever feels right to you.  But being intentional and facing grief and loneliness directly is actually quite comforting.  You are “hearing and responding” to the pain, acknowledging it and soothing it.  That’s good. 

We can all embrace both the change in seasons and changes in our own lives. Gentleness, mindfulness and support from others as our guides.