I always know when I'm about to get sick: I start envisioning a nap (a long winter's nap, as the famous holiday poem goes.) This time it came on like a wave: chills, aches and tummy unease, dizziness and exhaustion. Boom! Instant winter cold.
Because we go inward at this time of year (conserving our energy to survive the elements, to renew our strength for the year to come) questions of contentment and belonging surface. Where are we happiest? Who makes up our community? (Even Mary and Joseph were looking for that as they traveled to their home town for the census. Remember they were told there was no room at the inn, perhaps the first documented case of holiday angst.)
Early Winter is a time when we should be hibernating, but instead we find ourselves going into a kind of surreal hyper-drive with the demands of the season. We cope with the stress of family expectations and excessive socializing by over-indulging ourselves, to top it off with dancing on tables at the office Christmas party. Oh, right, we should save that for New Year's Eve. The whole thing, while certainly enjoyable, strikes me as a massive, culture-wide anniversary reaction: each year is a touchstone, recalling all the holiday seasons of the past.
A day at home, sick with a tummy bug, gives me me the unexpected peace of slowing down, of stopping. Surrendering to the land beneath the covers, slipping into the quiet depths of the sheets, finally stilling my busy mind as I try to give comfort to my body. Sipping peppermint tea with a mindfulness I rarely experience when I'm in full swing, reading until I surrender to the aches and slumber deeply, all day and into the night. Guilt-free enjoyment of total sloth.
Other things comfort me in these times too: my cat sprawled at the end of the bed, absorbing the heat from the wood-burning stove nearby, the neighbor's little dog looking up at me demurely from the sheepskin near the altar, my dog running up to the bedroom door, ears flapping and tail spinning, happy to come inside for a bit of bacon. Practicing the simplest of domestic arts: tending the home fires with the wood dutifully chopped (and hauled, and split, and stacked) by my husband.
After hours of delicious hibernation, medicated with pain pills and drinking lots of water, I emerge to another level of consciousness, which in my case, is always aided by a dose of Rumi's poetry. Something about being slightly broken lends itself to letting his words flow into my soul with a new, fuller understanding—
There's a path from me to you
I'm constantly looking for,
so I try to keep clear and still
as water does with the moon.
Longing is the core of mystery.
Longing itself brings the cure.
The only rule is: Suffer the pain.
Each moment you call me to you
and ask how I am, even though you know.
The love I answer you with
stirs like wind through cypress.
Your presence is a river
that refreshes everyone,
a rose-garden fragrance.
Don't worry about making doorways
between individual lovers when
this flow is so all around.
Some souls flow like clear water.
They pour into our veins and feel like wine.
I give in to that. I fall flat.
We can sail this boat lying down!
Humble living does not diminish. It fills.
Going back to a simple self gives wisdom.
When a man makes up a story for his child,
he becomes a father and a child
You don't win here with loud publicity.
Union comes of not being.
These birds do not learn to fly,
until they lose all their feathers.
Rumi's words are from Say I Am You, the John Moyne, Coleman Barks translation.
Photos by Linda Sonrisa