Sweet Dark Mystery of Winter by Mary Sharratt

For many years, I suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder. As soon as the clocks went back in autumn and the nights grew dark, I’d fall into a contracted space. The days seemed too impossibly short to get things done. Even though I still had the same 24 hours as I had in summer, the encroaching darkness seemed to make everything shrink and dwindle into a tiny dark point.

In autumn and winter, my energy levels are lower. I seem to need more sleep and I can’t pack as many things into a day as I can in summer. I came to dread winter as some kind of energy-sucking blackhole I fell into every year.

Katherine May’s luminous memoir Wintering addresses this whole conundrum with deep wisdom. She points out that the fallow seasons of winter and autumn are when nature rests and repairs itself. If we force ourselves to go against nature, we cause endless suffering to ourselves and others. So when the nights darken early, why not just go with the seasonal flow and accept the divine invitation to rest, reflect, and slow down?

In a similar vein, Christine Valters Painter’s book, Sacred Time: Embracing an Intentional Way of Life describes how we can live richer and more spiritually connected lives by living in harmony with the seasons of the year, the cycles of the moon, and the seasons of our lives.

Humans, like other living beings, evolved as cyclical creatures. The monthly cycles of menstruation synch female bodies with the cycles of the moon and the tides. Similarly, the arc of a woman’s life from menarche to possible pregnancy and birth-giving to menopause and the post menopausal years contains its own seasons of growth, ripening, and resting in our hard-won wisdom. Deep in our psyches, we long to surrender to the ancient rhythms of planting, growth, ripening, and lying fallow.

But our dominant culture teaches us to suppress our cyclical rhythms. We’re programmed to live our lives as though it were spring and summer all the time. We are expected to always be in the productive mode of being, bringing forth the blossoms and the fruit. Always doing and accomplishing. But being in summer mode all the time is exhausting. To be healthy and functioning, we need the energies of autumn and winter. The energies of releasing, quieting, and letting go.

As well as the outer seasons, we have inner seasons that play out in our psyches, regardless of what stage of life we’re in. For example, after the death of a loved one, you might be experiencing an inner winter. This long pandemic has plunged us into a deep collective winter.

When we go through an inner autumn or winter, sometimes we feel that there’s something wrong with us. Why can’t we just snap out of it, get over it, and move on? We might feel mired in grief or simply “stuck” and burdened with the sense that nothing is happening. Our culture trains us to believe that something should be happening all the time.

But our times of descent and inner darkness are filled with profound potential. They take us into the fertile darkness of replenishment and restoration. If we surrender to the velvet darkness, it heals us inside out. What if we allowed ourselves to just rest in the sweet dark mystery?

Western culture views time as a very linear construct, but the seasons are cyclical. We might think that the season we’re in is going to last forever. But the wheel keeps turning, no matter what. We can learn to trust that everything comes full circle in the fullness of time.

What happens if we learn to pay reverent attention to the rhythms of our day, our week, and the moon and sun cycles? Trusting the great cycles of the seasons opens us to recognize every moment as a divine invitation, a doorway into the timeless and eternal.

Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her acclaimed novel Illuminations, drawn from the dramatic life of Hildegard von Bingen, is published by Mariner. Her new novel Revelationsabout the mystical pilgrim Margery Kempe and her friendship with Julian of Norwich, is now available wherever books and ebooks are sold. Visit her website.

Categories: General, Seasons

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11 replies

  1. Thank you for this post, Mary. I recently read WINTERING and was grateful for Katherine May’s wisdom. The difficult part of resting and renewing (fall and winter) is bucking the tide (so to speak) of the larger culture that expects perpetual spring and summer. I’ve recently experienced that “internal winter.” When I attempted to ignore it, my body made that impossible. How much better it would be if we learned to be aware of and then honor the rhythms of our body within the context of our lives/experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love those leaves! Beautiful and timely…. I also love autumn best of all… I love the encroaching darkness, the natural slowing down, the need for more sleep, less energy… the long shadows, the slow dawning, the early startlit nights, all of it. I have always experienced a sense of relief when the frantic summer ends with its too long days and too short nights where DOING often becomes a substitute for being.. I apparently love everything in reverse. Oh I appreciate deeply the spring with its flowers and budding but endless summer heat and noise bogs me down. As a psychologist I never believed fora moment that seasonal affective disorder was real – only that it expressed a fear of slowing down – western culture lives in the fast lane – always on scream. Now that I am older winter brings ‘dis-ease’ because it has becomes harder and harder to deal with months of snow or ice but even so I enjoy this seasonal round….Long before I discovered the goddess she was working in my life attaching me to the seasons; perhaps that’s why I find value in all of them… and why celebrating goddess turnings felt like I had finally come home when I first discovered them.

    We experience winters through our depressions, losses, illness etc as you say.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading, Sara, and for sharing your wise words.

      “As a psychologist I never believed for a moment that seasonal affective disorder was real – only that it expressed a fear of slowing down – western culture lives in the fast lane – always on scream.”

      This is SO true and so well-put. Always on scream, indeed.


  3. A lovely and wise post! I honestly think that if more people were able to both follow the natural cycles of the seasons and still be able to survive economically without working at full-time plus jobs that never slow down, many of the chronic health issues our society faces would immensely improve. I’ve definitely found this to be true for me personally. I also find the same in my creative life. My most creative times are when I’m not creating at all – I will have a time when I fear I will never have another interesting idea and then, after being in a “block” for a couple of months, the ideas that have been growing in my unconscious come forth and I realize I haven’t been blocked at all, but just fallow.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for reading, Carolyn. Yes, the burden to work more than full time, to be always on, to work weekends, to be always on call. No time to be.

      And I find too that the best creative ideas well up from the stillness and silence of not-doing, of being receptive, of pausing in the mystery.


  4. Brava! Yes, we and our Blessed Mother Planet are indeed cyclic. We have seasons of activity and seasons of rest. We’re moving into a hopefully restful time right now–well, hah! Sure we are, when all the news is busier and busier and the social networks never let us slow down for a minute. I think Carolyn is right when she says that society’s chronic health issues would diminish if we could just slow down. Let’s allow our seasons to, so to speak, season us.

    Bright Winter Blessings! I hope all’s good by you in Portugal. How are the horses? I hope you and they are happy and resting for the dark season of winter.

    Liked by 1 person

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