Why You May Be Experiencing a Mental Midwinter - The School Of Life

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Self-Knowledge • Mood

Why You May Be Experiencing a Mental Midwinter

Every year, nature quietly takes us through a moral lesson that has much to teach us about how we might relate to certain of the more dispiriting and despair-inducing moments in our own development. Beginning in mid-October in the northern hemisphere, the temperature drops, the nights draw in, the earth turns cold and hard, fog lies low over the land and rain drives hard across the austere, comatose grey-brown landscape. There is nothing immediate we can hope for; now we have nothing to do but wait, with resigned patience, until something better shows up.

Far more than we can generally accept, our minds too have cycles. We cannot be permanently fruitful or creative, excited or open. There are necessary times of retrenchment when, whatever we might desire, there seems no alternative but to stop. We can no longer be productive; we lose direction and inspiration. We are immovably numb and sterile. 

It can be easy to panic: why should such a paralysed and detached mood have descended on our formerly lively minds? Where have all our ideas and hopes gone? What has happened to our previous animation and gladness?

We should at such times take reassurance from the late November landscape. Certainly things are lifeless, cold and in suspension. But this is not the end of the story; the earth is like this not as a destination but as a phase. The deadness is a prelude to new life; the fallow period is a guarantor of fecund days to come. All living organisms need to recharge themselves, old leaves have to give way, tired limbs must rest. The dance and ferment could not go on. It may look as if nothing at all is happening, as though this is a trance without purpose. Yet, deep underground, at this very moment, nutrients are being gathered, the groundwork for future ebullience and dynamism is being laid down, another summer is very slowly collecting its strength.

As nature seeks to tell us, we cannot permanently be in flower. We need moments of repose and confusion. There is nothing to fear. Things will re-emerge. We should make our peace with our own midwinters — and lean on nature’s wise accommodation to strengthen us in our pursuit of serenity and patience.

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