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Winter can be hard.
Even if it’s not hard for you this year—your mood and energy are up and you have all the essentials you need to stay safe and warm—you likely know someone who is struggling.
Dark days. Bitter cold. S.A.D., the aptly named Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s a hard time for a lot of people, and it’s easy to see why. It seems like as soon as the holiday cheer is behind us, we wake up to a new year and wonder how we’re going to get through the next three months.
A few years back, a simple realization transformed my experience of this dreary time of year in Toronto, where I live.
It dawned on me that if winter solstice is the darkest day of the year, each day after solstice brings with it more sunlight. Once I began tracking the sun’s yearly cycles, I noticed that the change in daylight hours becomes perceptible very early on in the new year. The sun comes back fast, building on the additional seconds of previous days.
On New Year’s Day there are four minutes and 26 seconds more sunlight than on the December 21st solstice. By the end of January, the additional daylight hours has grown to 56 minutes and eight seconds, with each day getting longer by two minutes and 25 seconds.
I’ve taken to sharing sunlight updates on social media and the response is overwhelming. My community seems starved for something hopeful to attune to while the days are getting colder and spring feels like it’s a lifetime away.
I’m told to keep the updates coming, that focusing on the sun makes a real difference in this challenging season. None of us are subsequently immune to Canadian winters, but for myself, this part of the calendar no longer feels like something to endure. My body still has to survive the realities of increasing cold and decreased energy, but it is as though my spirit doesn’t have to hibernate all winter anymore.
Recently, it struck me that this yearly occurrence has another gift to offer: a lesson in hope.
It’s common to look to nature’s rhythms for insight into human experiences. For instance, we talk about our lives and relationships as seasons. There is the springtime of youth. To everything there is a season. And of course there is “Rent’s” always stirring “Seasons of Love.”
In my own life, I have framed my four most difficult years as a long, hard season of survival. During these years, most of my energy has gone toward the project of keeping afloat emotionally. That focus has been necessary, but I’ve begun feeling trapped in this season. I am impatient to move into a phase of my life where I’m not just surviving, but thriving.
What does this have to do with solstice and three seconds of sunlight, or minus 20 degrees celsius?
My new way of watching the winter months progress has led me to consider that the seasons aren’t so distinct after all, in nature or in life. Perhaps a brightness can begin growing in one area of my life, while it remains dark and blustery in other areas. Maybe I can find ways to build and even thrive in some small ways, though I’m in a winter-like period of survival.
With this in mind, using scraps of spare energy, I have begun taking steps that I didn’t think were possible during this time.
When a friend offered me coaching, I agreed to give it a try. This article was born of our coaching work, and now its online presence has reached you. Like extra seconds of sunlight adding up each day, I can see the mounting effect of my small efforts. And while there is too much out of my hands to propel myself into the next season of my life, my efforts are bringing my joy, and filling me with hope for my future.
It seems unlikely and even contradictory that beautiful, life-affirming things can happen in a cold, dark season, but every additional second of daylight confirms this for us.
We may have to survive the cold hard realities of rough patches in life, but the parts of us that yearn to build the lives we want, and yearn to thrive, need not hibernate all season long.