I am writing this guide for you while sitting in a popular Saint Paul cafe. Despite double-digit negative temperatures it is a packed house, every seat taken by rosy-cheeked Minnesotans (and a heavy coat or two or three or four). The nearly floor-to-ceiling windows are covered with a thick layer of ice in various crystalline patterns, shrouding the street outside in total mystery. Over the past few days we have received what feels like a billion buckets of snow. Last night and once again this morning I shoveled piles of fluffy white stuff from our sidewalks until my toes went numb. There are giant snake-like bags filled with red beans lining the poorly-insulated door frames of our 1911 home. I can’t remember the last time I wore a t-shirt or just one shirt for that matter. I have been eating exclusively soups, curries, and roasted sweet potatoes since October. To be completely honest though: I love winter. Sure, it may be a tad too long around here and a bit too cold, but winter provides stillness, which I so deeply need and often deprive myself of. I know this time of year can be a real drag for a lot of people and seasonal affective disorder is a serious thing. You are more than welcome to curse this dreaded season (and I will support you!). However, if you find yourself needing a little pick-me-up during this — or any other metaphorically chilly — time, here are some strategies I like to use to tend to my inner fire:
I savor a warm mug of something cozy. For me this simple, nearly effortless act packs a powerful punch. I like to begin every morning with a cup of hot herbal tea or the concoction of one of a variety of latte-like beverages (all whisked and heated on the stove in a cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk: 1 tsp cinnamon or .5 tsp matcha powder or 1 tsp turmeric with a pinch of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper or a chamomile tea bag steeped with a few drops of honey). Any mug will do, but if my favorite round, speckled pink handmade one is clean it brings my cozy beverage game to the next level. Now comes the best part: I hold the warm mug between my hands and just beneath my nose before taking a sip. I revel in it’s unique aroma and feel the warmth spread from the ceramic mug to my hands and then — as I drink — to my mouth, throat, and belly. Hold, savor, sip, repeat!
I never underestimate the importance of thick wool socks and soft blankets. If you are looking for me on any winter day, you need only to peek beneath the pile of velvety blankets with the wool socks sticking out of the bottom. Each on their own is quite enjoyable, but together feel like a warm hug. Heck, I have been known to reconnect with my inner child by getting a flashlight, pulling the blankets over my head, and bringing my favorite book and cat along for the adventure. Bonus points to anyone who takes this winter blanket fort on the road to work or a social gathering!
I enjoy the flickering light and gentle warmth of a candle (or two or three or four). Minnesota has turned me into a candle nut. I always have at least 2-3 burning at all times, especially in the early morning. I love seeing the warm light dance and cast its glow on surrounding objects. It reminds me of my own inner flame which burns even in the middle of winter (yours does too! yes, really!). Even if I only have a short while before work, I light a little tea light as I get ready for my day. I am always surprised what a gentle reminder of light and warmth can do for my state of mind. I just have to remember to blow it out before I leave!
I mindfully prepare and enjoy a hot meal to warm me from the inside-out. This is probably one of my favorites (but that shouldn’t surprise you). Never is it more fun to heat up the kitchen with a hot oven than February in Minnesota (or wherever you are). It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Sometimes it just means slow roasting a tray of veggies with some oil, salt, and pepper or heating up some hot cereal on the stove. Here are a few cozy recipes that have been in heavy rotation at our place over the past few months: these oat and ginger cookies, this turmeric spice blend for whatever-is-in-the-fridge curries, this lovely textured seeded bread, and these roasted sweet potatoes with tahini sauce and everything spice. The kitchen is a source of endless creativity that I love to take advantage of during the chilly months!
I take time to notice — and revel in — the light. Winter is a time of abundant darkness. This can be extremely challenging as the time for being outdoors feels few and far between. One way to look at it however, is that when light does make an appearance it is doubly (no triply!) appreciated. Whenever I see a rainbow of light reflected on the wall, the pink hue of the sunrise, or the glow of a full moon in winter, a little something in my brain starts throwing confetti. This year whenever I have noticed this — the warm light on a sunny morning streaming into the bedroom for example — I make a point to linger. I take a few breaths, smile, and fill up with the light. I think of it like a savings account that I can draw from later.
I appreciate the joys of introversion. I am well-suited for winter in that I am an introvert through and through (INFJ anyone?). If that does not describe you, no worries! Winter is the perfect time to dabble in introversion. Some of my favorite, low-stakes introvert activities: Find a book or a magazine to read (refer to the blanket fort option described above). Listen to a recently released album while sipping a cozy beverage. Take a quiet moment (perhaps by the light of a candle) to write down some thoughts (even if all I have to write about is how two pairs of socks still aren’t enough). Sit quietly next to a pet and take notes — cats especially have joyful winter wisdom galore!
I practice “just being” in the peaceful quiet. If I am being honest, this one is extremely difficult for me. Most of the time I forget that it is even an option. It is really hard to sit still. No one asks us to sit still anymore. The world asks us to do this and do that, go here and go there, accomplish, check off, plan, and do some more. There is no time to sit. There is no time to think. There is no time to be still. Right? I have chosen to disregard this narrative. So what better time for me to start than now? In winter? I have been practicing this through daily meditation (using the free Stop, Breathe, & Think app) and yin yoga However, it could be as simple as setting a timer for five minutes and just sitting. Noticing the sun or moonlight, noticing the flicker of a candle, the noise or the quiet… Winter is the perfect time to “just be.” It is dark and cold outside and I am warm and cozy inside with my wool socks and four shirts.
I bundle up and take a walk. I know a lot of people do not enjoy the sensation of being cold. I understand that being uncomfortable is not desirable. As someone groomed since childhood to regularly swim in the frigid waters of Lake Superior I have come to appreciate a good chill. Here are a few reasons: Feeling tired? It wakes you up! Immediately. Fresh air is good for you as is moving your body regularly. Cold has a way of wiping the slate clean. A crisp burst of air on your face is hard to ignore. Suddenly the to-do list that has been plaguing me all day has finally exited my brain. Good riddance! Of course I make sure to dress appropriately even if that means double socks, pants, shirts, jackets, and mittens — another thing Minnesota has taught me: there is no such thing as bad weather.
I plan some spring and summer adventures. It is always nice to have something to look forward to! If all else fails and I just have to escape (but have not scheduled any winter getaways to warmer climates like all of the smart Minnesotans do this time of year), I look forward to the coming warmth! It isn’t too difficult for me to imagine the grass, flowers, lakes, birds, butterflies, and sunshine that will grace my presence soon. I like to plan a trip — big or small — a picnic, hike, swim, or vacation. I imagine it already so. Soon it will be!
Winter is not for the faint of heart and it can do some serious damage to even the most hardy individual. The season is however a great teacher of the art of stillness — a wisdom which is easy to ignore as it isn’t flashy, loud, or demanding. If you are quiet for a moment you will find it. The joy there may surprise you. It will warm you from the inside-out, just enough until the spring returns, which it always does.