You are not a to-do list: embracing winter
Winter is an invitation to slow down, to pause, to rest.
Do you feel like you can? Like it’s possible? Desirable even?
Maybe you’re drawn to the ‘new year, new me’ messaging or are motivated towards gaining pace and energy, getting going. In which case, there may be another article you want to read right now! This one is about embracing the winter in all its dismal darkness for exactly what it is – a time for conserving energy, listening to yourself and taking time to restore.
In the past, I believed I could maintain the same pattern of work and energy during the shorter days as I could in the spring and height of summer. Perhaps I could then. It’s definitely not true now. In our ‘always on’ culture, the idea of taking a break and slowing down can feel scary, a waste of time or an opportunity missed. As we slip into patterns of describing what we do as ‘productive’ and try to achieve the most we can in the shortest amount of time, our to-do list feels never ending.
Of course, there is some satisfaction in ticking things off the list. I know people who’s first to-do item is something they’ve already completed, just so they can cross it off and feel virtuous (is that you?) It’s a slippery slope and if we’re not careful, we begin to associate action and ticking things off the list as good, and ‘not doing’ or inaction as lazy, inefficient, or a waste of time. Does any of this sound familiar? Robert Poynton suggests this often unconscious approach is really a way of escaping ourselves. After all, he says, ‘if we are not ticking things off our to do list, then who are we?’
Technology has a lot to answer for here. Machines keep going at the same pace seemingly forever, unaffected by environment, shorter days, the need to rest and recuperate. Then there’s the notion of time as a scarce commodity – if only we had more of it; ‘I just need a bit more time’. Yet, in our hearts (and even in our heads), we know that time isn’t like that. It stretches and shrinks according to what’s going on. You only have to think about your experience of time when you’re chatting with old friends over good coffee versus how it feels when you’re completing your tax return, to recognise this. If we think of time as how we experience it rather than as something regular, measured in units in a linear way, what would we change? How would we be? What would we choose not to do?
Poynton suggests that ‘pause undoes the technology driven flattening of time and gives it back some depth. It is re-creational’. I have to agree.
So this winter I am taking the opportunity to pause, to breathe and reflect, my new words for ‘not doing’ and ‘laziness’. I am intentional about it and it is necessary. It’s part of the natural order. As Katherine May writes so beautifully, ‘In our relentlessly busy contemporary world, we are forever trying to defer the onset of winter. We don’t ever dare to feel its full bite, and we don’t dare to show the way that it ravages us. An occasional sharp wintering would do us good. We must stop believing that these times in our lives are somehow silly, a failure of nerve, a lack of willpower. We must stop trying to ignore them or dispose of them. They are real, and they are asking something of us. We must learn to invite the winter in. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how.’
― Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
I wrote this article after hunkering down with Wintering by Katherine May and Do Pause: you are not a to do list by Robert Poynton. Thank you to them for showing up at the right time in my life and helping me find the courage to do what I need. In exploring the pause, and being moved by Poynton’s description of it as ‘a portal to other options and choices, giving more dimension to your experience’, I am minded of how coaching itself provides the opportunity for pausing and slowing down, reflecting and potentially changing course. The silence in coaching is simultaneously nothing and everything, empty and regenerative. If you would like to have a chat about how coaching might invite pause into your life, you can contact me here.