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for everything, there is a Season
We all recognize that wonderful rise in energy as spring rolls in after a cloudy, cosy winter on the couch. Where there was little desire to get out and about, we suddenly have a new ‘spring’ in our step, and the urge to be more active.
Interestingly, our ‘winter retreat’ is due to more than just cold weather. There’s also the influence of earth’s seasonal energies, and our own light-responsive hormones, whose levels alter with seasonal changes in day-length and light intensity. This group includes: Melatonin, which makes you sleepy, Cortisol, which stimulates action, Dopamine, which regulates desire & motivation, and Serotonin, which increases positive perceptions.
The influence of these gentle fluctuations over the year is subtle, primarily affecting mood, perception & motivations, but for some it also affects physical energy levels, sleep patterns and reproductive cycles.
During winter, when nights are long and days are short & cloudy, the low-light conditions result in higher melatonin levels, with reduced serotonin & dopamine production, and a lower cortisol peak in the morning. The combined impact of these hormonal shifts is an urge to slow-down and withdraw from the ‘activity of life’, which is felt more strongly in some people than others. In colder regions, animals take to their caves & burrows for a period of melatonin-induced hibernation, while people stoke up the fire and ‘bed in’. In general we feel less inspired, less motivated, and less interested in social activities. Some people may feel a bit less ‘bright & sparkly’, while others may experience a more extreme drop in mood.
If we recognize that a seasonal change is a cyclic shift from one energy dynamic to another, we can adapt our behavior and the framework of our days accordingly, to make the most of what the current dynamic offers us. In early cultures, rites and rituals associated with a seasonal solstice or equinox were an acknowledgement of these shifting dynamics.
The winter dynamic calls us to withdraw from ‘doing’ in the outer life and spend some time with the inner-self, in a quiet space of contemplation … to reflect on our journey in life and what it means to us; how we see ourselves and whether we’re happy with who we’ve become; what parts of ourselves we admire and what attitudes or beliefs are holding us back; what we need or desire and how we might meet those needs, and so on. It is a time for asking the hard questions, being honest with ourselves, and facing those inner shadows & challenges we normally leave in the ‘too hard basket’.
This is a powerful opportunity for growth, if we’re able to enter this space of withdrawal and lowered mood with acceptance and willingness, rather than rejecting it as ‘mood disorder’ that needs medicating.
Our society teaches us to fear the ‘inner dark’, and to medicate at the first sign of low mood, loss of enthusiasm or purpose, or any other shadow-space we find confronting. We see these transitional spaces of ‘disconnection from life’ as a pathology rather than an opportunity for growth & change. You can’t just stay in bed for a week, or say things like: “I’m in a dark space right now, and I’m just gonna hang out here and explore for a while”, because someone will want to shove a packet of antidepressants in your hand.
We’ve lost the understanding that inner power & wisdom come through balancing outer activity and achievement with fearless inner reflection and acceptance.
Now, I’ll just get off my soap box long enough to acknowledge that there is a small portion of the population for whom a dark mood truly becomes a disorder, in that it disables the normal functionality of their lives. In these cases, I fully encourage medicinal and/or nutritional support to help bring more light into the mental space, and prevent the inner shadows from becoming overwhelming. But even then, loving acceptance of ourselves and our situation, and the willingness to explore these inner shadows which have ‘pushed their way to the surface’, is an important part of the healing journey.
When the mood lowers, regardless of how mild or extreme that is, it is always a call to go within, and a beautiful opportunity for self-discovery and healing.
Of course, we can only take so much navel-gazing before we start yearning for some action once again and, thankfully, in rolls spring with a burst of sunshine & colour, and a whole new energy dynamic.
The longer days and increasingly blue skies mean lots more sunshine. As the nightly melatonin-period gradually shortens, and morning cortisol peaks begin to increase, we have more energy for doing things. Less melatonin and more sunlight exposure means more dopamine, with lots of new urges & appetites, and more serotonin, with an almost instant mood lift.
The world looks bright and sunny again (both literally and metaphorically). We feel more inspired, motivated, optimistic, energetic and capable. We want to start projects, see friends and join the gym. Life is full of possibilities.
For most people, this shift is experienced as a gradual increase in activity & interest, but for some the mood lift can be so sudden and extreme that it becomes almost manic. You can see this in some animals just out of hibernation. It’s like they don’t know what to do first – they want to run & jump about, and eat and have sex all at the same time! However, the initial mania generally settles down once a solid run of sunny days is experienced.
The spring dynamic draws us from the inner space and out into the world, like a butterfly out of its cocoon. As we emerge from our winter reflection, we bring with us new insights, deeper self-awareness, and a fresh sense of purpose, and initiate a new phase of creativity, action, and interaction with life.
Spring is the most powerful time of year for growth and development, so start making the changes you desire and put your plans into action. Be courageous and outrageous. As your ‘seedling of change’ gently grow and take shape, be attentive and nurturing, as well. Nourish your outer activities and projects with patience and commitment, and do the same for ‘inner seedlings’ of your newly emerging self.
The open vista of endless possibility, the dynamic of forward movement, and the strong urge for action & achievement, all gradually diminish as spring rolls into summer.
With the shortest nights of the year, and long sunshiny days, melatonin is at its lowest annual level, while dopamine and morning cortisol remain high. Serotonin reaches its annual peak with all the sunshine and skin exposure of the summer months. While dopamine stimulated the spring urge for new experiences, serotonin now brings increased feelings of satisfaction with what has been experienced and created, and the urge to keep making progress is lessened somewhat.
The summer dynamic is a plateau in the seasonal cycle. We are riding high and can see how beautiful life is. We have begun to harvest the first fruits of our ‘spring planting’ and now it’s time relax, enjoy and appreciate all that’s been achieved. This is not a time for withdrawal, however. There is still high energy for activity, but it’s of the more cruisy kind. This is a time for celebration & pleasure, sharing our gifts with others, and giving thanks for what we have and who we’ve become.
Genuine appreciation (of yourself, your life, your world) and deep gratitude for the blessings you have today (regardless of what you want for tomorrow) are powerful forces for shifting ‘resistance’ in your unconscious which prevents you from being able to create experiences you desire. So, while summer may look like one big party, you actually have a wonderful opportunity here to generate a positive ‘energetic’ path to more beautiful future experiences.
As we move into autumn, the dynamic shifts once again. The high energy of summer slowly wanes, as the nights get longer, light intensity decreases, and daytime hormones begin to drop once again as melatonin gradually rises. We feel nourished and satiated by the summer harvest, and ‘simply can’t eat another bite’. Now the party winds down and we begin sorting out, cleaning up, and preparing for winter. This is a time of review, completion & closure, and integration.
Over spring & summer, we experienced lots of action & interaction, new information, people, places & things, and we now need to take time out to digest all that. The autumn dynamic encourages us to assess the journey so far, and where we now find ourselves … where we succeeded or failed, and why; what has changed, or remained the same; what was surprising and unexpected; what we need to let go of and forgive; what we would I like to experience more of (or less of) in the coming cycle, and so on.
This is not the deep confronting inner reflection of winter, but more a process of clarification and organization, and making space for the next phase of growth. In the vegetable garden, we collect the final harvest and store food away for winter, and then clear the garden, leaving some plants to go to seed and pulling others out completely. In the house, we clear the clutter, getting rid of anything we no longer need, and bringing some things out of storage again, for renewed use. In the same way, we now sort out our ‘life garden’ as well … releasing what no longer serves who we are becoming and the life we are creating (whether that be attitudes, hobbies or people), and integrating what we want to take with us into the future.
Then, as we go deeper into the autumn months, the turning of the seasons draws us inevitably towards the darkness of winter and our own inner light, and the cycle continues …
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