As I look outside, I witness the seasonal shift from autumn to winter. A light frost, a harbinger of snow squalls that punctuate winter here, welcomed the morning light. There are still leaves persevering on their branches waiting for their release on an autumn gust. The threshold between the warmth and light of summer and the dark greyness of winter is a powerful reminder of the transience of life. The experience of being in transition from one state to another is the ideal location for a conversation about wellbeing. It is during these dramatic periods of change that creativity becomes an act of wellbeing.

The Winter Surround

Where I live, winter is associated with cold and dark. Wind chill temperatures can reach -30C on a blustery day. Venturing outside on days like these is a remarkable experience that requires protection from the elements. Winters here are also relatively dark with ten hours of daylight in January. Additionally, winter is a cloudy season, so the amount of direct sunlight is variable. On those cloudless days, however, the sky welcomes us with the dazzling azure of friendship.

Warmth and light tend to have positive connotations. Cold and dark less so. I enjoy watching the birds gather for their migration south. It is an instinctive and coordinated act of survival. Snowbirds, or south bound creatures of a human persuasion, evacuate south. They prefer to avoid the realities of a northern climate and return once winter begins giving way to spring. This is a planned seasonal avoidance. People flee the presumed austerity of winter for the apparent relief provided by warmer and brighter places.

We tend to burden the winter with unfortunate associations. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is a risk for some people during the winter season. I have not experienced it, but I have experienced the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges that winter can conjure. At the root of these challenges, I always find my own unexamined choices, misguided beliefs, and unconscious reactions. Winter is not in itself depressing. It is a season being itself. It is not interesting in my opinion or how it makes me feel. Winter only cares about being winter. It recommends authenticity.

Cold and Dark Periods in Life

Every human being inhabits an experiential milieu that is private, unique, emergent, fluctuating, and humbling. The only source of complete control we have in life lies within. The vagaries of the outer world will always impose uncertainty and ambiguity. In this sense, wellbeing is a lifelong and life wide practice focused on finding ways to adapt and accommodate the vagaries thought, emotion, mood, stress, illness, liminality, and impermanence.

Wellbeing is the underlying ground for a practical philosophy of being. It is not about evacuating cold and dark places to cling to warmth and light. Wellbeing does not always feel good, nor does it need to. Transient emotional states, such as happiness, are not sources of wellbeing, they are symptomatic of something deeper. There is no possibility of always feeling happy or content. Cold and dark places offer creative potential for cultivating wellbeing, at least as much as positive emotional states do.

Wellbeing is energy fueled by the decision to approach the full force of life with the intention to create something meaningful and positive. It inspires creative possibility in any circumstance. Rather than grasping at pleasant emotions, however, wellbeing urges an empathetic movement toward meaning, understanding, and insight into the human experience. It is the epicenter of an exalted belief that presumes the fundamental purpose of being and living is to cultivate individual and collective good. In this sense, wellbeing is the art of acceptance, adaptation, and improvisation.

A Winter of Wellbeing

I feel winter more now than in my youth. I hear people my age acknowledging this too. It is normal and expected. The body’s ability to thermoregulate decreases with age; that is, the body has more difficulty maintaining and returning to normal core temperature during hot or frigid conditions. In my youth, the heat of summer and cold of winter were innocuous. Today, in my early sixties, feeling too cold or too hot is commonplace. Since I live in a climate that has four very distinct and sometimes extreme seasons, I am at an age when I am more physiologically sensitive to seasonal change. And this is a remarkable thing.

Aging has encouraged me to feel more embodied and, remarkably, connected. One of the benefits of normal age-related change is an increased sensitivity to and appreciation of seasonal change. My body is more tuned to the seasons now, leaving my mind no choice but to follow. Winter demands my attention now because it is now as much inside me as it is all around me. The approaching dark and cold already assert their presence within. Some of this is anxiety, which is always threshold toward understanding.

I am a child of autumn born a few weeks prior to the winter solstice. Is this why I enjoy the fall season so much? Not only do they offer far more attention to the qualities of each season, but I also find the threshold between seasons to be wonderfully creative and varied. Winter solstice begins on December 21st this year, and with it the emergence of my 60th full winter. It is also a winter that, hopefully, offers a release from the isolation and austerity of Covid-19. Last winter, during the dark and cold of pandemic stress, winter felt heavy, ominous, and frightening. This year I turned into the dark and cold of my experience to create something new.

Life Lessons

As I look out my window while writing this I am greeted by a beautiful, bright sunny autumn day. We have already had some brief periods of snow which disappear soon after touching the ground. Autumn, a remarkable seasonal threshold, inspires a deep conversation about spiritual ground; that is, how I can dedicate myself to the practice of wellbeing during the dark and cold months ahead.

This is the winter of wellbeing. I will stay here and engage in a deeper conversation with the darkness and coldness of its presence. More crucially, I will listen to the messages of embodiment. We tend to ignore the wisdom within the body and spend far too much time in our heads. Thinking often provides answers to little that matters. My body speaks a new language now, one imbued with the innate wisdom of aging. It was impossible to experience being in this way until now.

Wellbeing can thrive in dark and cold places. Winter may not provide the comfort of warmer and lighter seasons, but the hardships imposed by the dark and cold offer potential. Wellbeing is not the absence of hardship; it is a way to create meaning from difficulty. It is a source of wisdom to confront loss, grief, and angst. We should be careful not to want unpleasant emotions to leave us too soon. There is meaning to discover that, once found, helps us to become creative enough to hold the darkness and coldness of life.