Taking Cues from Nature

It’s winter in the Pacific Northwest. Skies are gray, rain is abundant, deciduous trees have dropped their leaves, and the rest of the plants are weathering the annual cycle of cold and dark, just like the rest of us. I’ve often wondered why humans don’t hibernate like many other animals in the winter. I don’t mean curling up in a cave and stopping eating or doing anything at all, but more like prioritizing rest and recuperation, sleeping more, enjoying candlelight and firesides, reducing the hustle-and-bustle and extra commitments, and enjoying downtime. I suppose some of us do (Piccolo certainly enjoys naps in the winter sunshine!). For the rest of us, here’s my simple invitation to make the most of the rest of the winter by doing less. Or, if we are taking cues from nature, don’t necessarily do less, but do less visibly.

You might call this dormancy. In temperate areas, plants become dormant in the fall or winter. They stop putting energy into new growth or fruiting, favoring maintenance instead. Some drop their leaves and reduce water storage to protect themselves from freezing. The roots benefit from this reduction in growth and output and can thus survive the winter to be stronger in the coming year. They absorb the nutrient soup that comes from fallen leaf litter and rain. You can’t see them doing all this; you can just see them looking rather bedraggled or bare. Similarly, dormancy in humans makes us look bedraggled; it is the fatigue we feel each night, instructing us to rest and sleep. It is also the tiredness we feel at early morning alarms in the winter when the sun has yet to rise. Our bodies are saying, “Stay in bed! Rest! Recoup!”

It can be hard to take heed of our bodies’ messages to rest and recoup. We have jobs, other humans demanding our care and attention, and myriad other commitments. However, there is usually at least a handful of things we can do to slow down: say no to that extra activity, make a hearty pot of soup that lasts all week, stay in bed a bit longer on your days off, go to bed a half-hour earlier, dim your electric lights or sit by candlelight in the evening. Reducing the hustle and bustle—the outward activity—allows for an increase in inner activity—rest, repair, reflection, and envisioning.

Like in plants, dormancy in humans eventually yields to a new stage of growth when the time and conditions are right. Having the downtime to rest and recoup, to absorb and integrate the rich fodder of our more lively engagements, allows us to return restored, ready to grow into the next season. Just like the little crocuses starting to emerge, we can awaken again, renewed. And then, there’s another series of seasons to take cues from.

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