(This article was originally published on http://www.newchurchperspecctive.com)
Last winter I almost cracked. In addition to recovering from a surgery, the kids having more than 10 days off school, and the power outages, it felt like too much. So many people around me were trying to be positive and yet also really struggling with the length and intensity of the winter. Although seasons are to be expected in the Northeast, they can also be difficult. Of course it isn’t just a physical winter I’m talking about, but also dark times in our lives when we feel there is no life, nothing thriving or growing, no hope. I find myself eager to make a plan for the winter (on whatever level it arrives) so that I could do more than just survive. Maybe with a good plan, I can actually thrive. So after talking to a few friends who’d had a similar brush with despair over the winter, I created the following list of To-Do Winter Ideas.
1. Be Purposeful
- when facing hardship, purposefully seek out nurturing, caring, life-giving practices
- set goals and tell them to a friend
- find a partner to achieve goals with you
- make a star chart if you need it, or find a phone app to track your progress
- plan one thing you are excited for and can’t wait for each week
Be strong and patient. Be gentle and wise. Do every positive thing you can possibly do. And…believe in happy endings…because you are the author of the story of your life. —D. Pagels
Moving your body can change your outlook. No matter your physical limitations, find a way to use the parts of your body that are working.
- take a yoga class
- walk (even in the elements)
- step outside
- plan movement into your morning and evening
Our spirit is in our body, in its whole and in every part of it. —Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven 4659
3. Explore New Ideas
- spend time studying sacred scripture, maybe from a text or religion you are unfamiliar with
- listen to Jonathan Rose’s bible study online for a new view of the Bible
- watch a TED talk
- read a new book
Behold I am making all things new. —Revelation 21:5
4. Reclaim Your Spiritual Practice
- spend time in prayer
- start a prayer journal
- spend time in meditation. Put on gentle music, set a timer, make a commitment to create that sacred space
- show kindness to another by sending a letter of gratitude, helping someone with chores, or getting involved in a local church or charity
All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle. —Francis of Assisi
5. Embrace Opportunities for Creativity
- Make time for pointless, blissful expression, like dancing while cleaning.
- Beautify a space, clean out and reorganize a closet
- Write music, or sing
- Paint, knit, draw, or build something
- Check out new musical artists
- Read or write poetry
6. Challenge Yourself
When life reaches a plateau we can become stuck and it may be time to challenge yourself. Other times, life is challenging enough, thank you very much! (In which case, skip to #7.)
- Sign up for a class such as photography, cooking or art
- Set fitness goals (e.g. walk 30 min each day)
- Try a free online language learning app like duolingo
- Learn an instrument
- Set and strive for a fitness goal you’ve never achieved before
The human mind is a vessel for receiving divine inflow. Yet what is divine does not flow beyond our smoothing of the way or our opening of the door. —Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity 34
7. Seek Community
- Join a small group (see online options at sunroomgroups.org)
- Call a friend
- Listen to an inspiring podcast (newchurchaudio.org)
- Help someone else
- Go out into spaces filled with people (shopping malls, coffee shops, train stations etc.) and smile at those who walk by
God loves every one of us but cannot directly benefit us; he can benefit us only indirectly through each other. For this reason he inspires us with his love. —Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity 457.3
8. Care For Your Physical Surroundings
Even cleaning out a drawer can have significant impact on our state of mind. When you find yourself stuck in the winter, whether stuck inside because of a blizzard outside, or trapped in negative patterns of thought, disrupting, changing and bringing order to your physical surroundings can result in an internal shift.
- Reorganize a drawer or clean out a closet
- Wrap up in a soft blanket, or sit near a space heater if you feel cold
- Collect and display a bowl of beautiful winter nature things like pine cones.
- Set up twinkle lights
- Light a candle
- Build a fire
Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? —Luke 15:8
This winter, we need not just expect ourselves to “get over it” or “deal with it.” Instead, we can use the winter time to practice good self-care habits. By doing this, we become better equipped to handle not only the physical winter, but also the hard, winter-like emotional states where joy seems hard to come by.
With these 8 ideas, we can build up our happiness reserves, so that we won’t crack when the cold hits. And sometimes, going through the hard winter gives us that extra sense of exhilaration and accomplishment when spring returns once again. As Emanuel Swedenborg wrote, “Heavenly peace may be compared to reaching longed for land after storms and dangers at sea” (paraphrased from True Christianity 304).
I’ll close with a prayer for each one of us:
Dear Lord, Creator, Source of all wisdom, all love, all hope, all joy, thank you. Thank you for the beauty of your creation. Thank you for this opportunity to live life. Lord, I know you are already caring for each one of us. I know you are leading us through this dark time. I know you are present even here and even now. Lord, may we open to your loving presence. May we feel that comfort deep in our heart even when storms rage around us. May we remember we are not alone and that we can be part of the work of your loving presence on earth. Amen.