Thursday, January 31, 2013

Winter Survival Tips

My latest quilt top--an Irish Chain.

Every winter is the same--two days in a row of gloomy weather, and I'm in a funk. This winter I'm trying to be proactive and practice the habits that keep me from getting too down. In the name of the sisterhood, I'm going to share some of them with you in hopes we'll all make it to spring with smiles on our faces.

1. A walk a day will cure what ails you. I start most of my mornings by taking Travis for a turn around the neighborhood. No matter how cold or overcast it is, there are always birds singing in the trees and plenty of beauty to go around. I've decided if I ever start a New Age Celtic band, I'm going to call it Wintervine. Branches make me happy, as does watching Travis in all his canine aliveness.

2. I'm not a Buddhist, but sometimes I play one on TV. When I'm in a funk, I try to do as my buddhist friends do:  Practice awareness. Find the source of distress. Chop wood, carry water. If my mind is going down a neurotic rabbit hole, which happens a lot this time of year, I make myself stop and sit down, preferably with a cup of tea. I say the Lovingkindness meditation ("May I be filled with lovingkindness/May I be safe from inner and outer dangers/May I be well in body and in mind/May I be happy and at ease), first for myself, and then for the Man and the boys and whoever else comes to mind. I breathe in deeply through my mouth and let the breath out through my nose.

After I'm done with that, I've usually calmed down enough to pinpoint what's really bothering me and come up with ways of dealing with the problem. After that, I go chop wood and carry water--which is to say I do the dishes and pay attention to how the warm water feels as it washes over my hands in their yellow gloves, or I practice being aware of the feeling of the stairs on the bottom of my feet as I carry up the laundry. There is something about paying attention to your own life as you're actually living it that's amazingly therapeutic.

3. If you can't make it happy, make it beautiful. I got this notion from Sam Wells, who was Dean of the Chapel at Duke before he left us to go to St. Martin's in the Fields in London last summer. "If you can't make it happy, make it beautiful" was the theme of the sermon he preached on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. He was talking about large tragedies, but I apply this to smaller sadnesses as well. Some days will simply be gloomy and sad, and there's not much you can do about them ... except do your best to make them beautiful. Clean the house, move the art around so you can appreciate it anew, make bread, work on a quilt ... And straighten out your altars. I wrote about this last year here, and it's still one of the best ways I know to settle my mind. There is something about uncluttered table tops that is a balm for the soul.

4. Remember: God is your co-pilot. Now, for those of you who aren't religious, or at the very least aren't Christians, you may think me quite mad when I tell you that one thing that lifts my spirit is pretending Jesus is in the car with me. There's a prayer I wrote down once (and now can't find anywhere) that begins, "Jesus, my good brother." So that's what I call Jesus in the car. "Jesus, my good brother," I say, and Jesus raises his eyebrows as if to say, "Hmm? How can I help you?" Then I ask him to keep us all safe and to keep me from despair and to make this a day where no children are harmed, and, while he's at it, if he could keep me from overdoing it with sugar, well, that would be nice, too.

It's very cheering to have Jesus in the car with you. If that's too much of a stretch for your spiritual (or nonspiritual) sensibilities, may I suggest imagining the Dalai Lama riding shotgun? I think he would be a boon companion as well.

5. Write notes to yourself and carry them in your pockets. Last week when I was feeling gloomy, I remembered Sam's story about making all your tables into altars, so I wrote the word "altar" on a tiny piece of paper and put it in my pocket. I don't know why it made me happy to carry around the word "altar" with me all day, but it did. I also write down bits of poems and Bible verses and songs and shove those in my pockets, too.

Those are the main steps I take to shake the winter blues. I also work on quilts and knit socks and dream big dreams of sunny days. And drink a lot of tea. It all helps, and when it doesn't, I go to bed early and remember that tomorrow is another day.

So what do you do to keep from feeling blue?


Angela said...

oooh! I heard Sam Wells on the radio recently,didn't know he had come from YOUR neck of the woods. Yes, I like to have a word or verse or poem to encourage me through the day.
currently not able to go for walks - but I CAN play a lively bit of music, usually something I can sing to, loudly in my tuneless little voice.

And tea, much tea - and toast and Marmite. Have you ever eaten Marmite? did you love it or hate it?

oh, and when I feel blue, I also dive into favourite blogs like yours!!

blessings xx

Jo said...

Dear Frances, I do hope you are travelling better along your winter road.
I too am a fan of just keeping on working through my housekeeping routine and my list of jobs when I feel down. That whole self-indulgent thing of sitting on the sofa all day and reading novels instead just makes things worse for me.
Also, being an introvert, forcing myself to go visit a friend also takes me out of my own head.
I am an ex-Christian, or maybe a non-practising Christian, or maybe just trying to escape from my upbringing, but I do very much admire the very Anglican Elizabeth Goudge's novels. Her novel The Scent of Water is about the inner spiritual battles of a group of women in a little English village. It is a source of great comfort to me in times of 'slump'.

All the very best xx

Fat Dormouse said...

Jesus, my good brother... Yes, I like that very much! I do often "chat" with God...inconsequential stuff, but just touching base.
I love your idea of notes too. Things that remind you of other times are good too...I once carried a conker, getting more and more shrivelled, in my pocket as a reminder of a wonderful day spent at Stowe Gardens. I didn't wear the coat that often so when I did, and I found the conker, I couldn't help but smile.

God bless.

debbie bailey said...

Okay, Scarlett! Ha! I discovered that taking Vitamin D starting in October and going through February helps me tremendously. And as much sunshine as I can find to stand or sit in. Friends also cheer me up since I tend to hibernate and get too introspective.

wayside wanderer said...

The past two winters have been much better for me. The difference is that we live in a house that collects more sunshine than before and I have spent more time consistently in God's Word the past two years. It has made a huge difference, especially replacing my "old" way of thinking with God's "new" way for me.

Getting out and about (defying my hermit ways) helps. In winter I can't help but think of Narnia: always winter but never Christmas. How God must have made winter much like our barren soul without Him full of longing for Something More.

Great list, Frances. Blessings!!!

Heather said...

I often imagine Jesus sitting with me at the dentist. I really do!

I also find the Buddhist practice of detachment to be helpful when I am sad or overwhelmed by a situation. I just accept all that is happening to me and around me, I step back and observe myself, and I detach myself from any feelings I may be having from outside circumstances.

I like the idea of "if you can't make it happy, make it beautiful." thanks for sharing that.

Gumbo Lily said...

Just getting back home from Arizona and I can say that flying south for a week is a terrific way to beat the winter blues. I even got a suntan out of the deal! Vitamin D Supreme-O. Now that I'm back home to winter, I've been cleaning out the drawers of my kitchen and doing a wee bit of reorganizing. I'm with you about the walk. Every day. Even a little walk helps.

I like your idea about talking with Jesus in the car. And I like your notes stuffed in pockets.

Good stuff, as always, Frances. I'm glad you share.

Pom Pom said...

Hi Frances!
I'm happy to be counting down to spring break.
I'm still hoping for a few snow days.

YOU say good, good, good things, friend.

The dB family said...

This is a great list! I'm keeping some of them in mind for my blue days. I love to divert myself with books and knitting, and occasionally imagining what my flower beds would look like if I wasn't to prone to neglecting them by mid-July.


GretchenJoanna said...

I came back to read about not snacking, and then I re-read this post and discovered more in it than the first time.
Things are not as dreary here as they were the first time, but I still get block-of-ice feet sitting at the computer, and it's not cold enough to have a wood fire. So I am drinking tea and lighting a candle against the dark, and being very glad that my husband hasn't made me take down the Christmas lights around my kitchen window.
And now that you've reminded me, I must Make Something Beautiful this afternoon.

Jaye said...

I am feeling particularly cranky and irritable today and found this post to be a comfort. Thanks for sharing your tips.