January. It’s a cold, grey time of year in my part of the world and a month that I often find hard going.
However, walking my dog through the woods over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found a tangible sense of quiet amongst the trees. For a lot of the year when I’m out there, it’s a noisy place to be with a chorus of bird song resonating through the air and busy, purposeful rustles and bustles coming from the undergrowth.
At the moment though, it’s not like that. Aside from a bossy great tit who regularly escorts me along the way, hopping from tree to tree until he brings me back to the road again like a bouncer ensuring I leave the premises in an orderly fashion, it’s mostly incredibly peaceful. Underfoot, the ground is a rain-sodden brown carpet as the trees have finally surrendered the last of their Autumn leaves. The weather is dull and damp and the weak sunlight doesn’t make much of an impact through the bare, interlacing fingers of the canopy above. There’s a flatness to both light and sound which seems to match my mood.
As I walked through the wood in one of the first days of the new year, I paused for a few moments to observe and savour the stillness. It was almost silent – there was no wind and even my usual great tit had taken the morning off from making sure I didn’t linger too long in its territory. As I stood breathing in the damp air and smelling the leaves rotting back into the earth beneath my feet, I was struck by the thought that, in these first few weeks of the year, the world is resting. And not in a sort of passive, can’t-be-bothered-to-get-off-the-sofa Christmas hangover kind of way but in a much more considered, conscious way; it’s as though nature purposefully slows down in order to gather its energy in readiness for the vitality and renewal that will come with the onset of Spring. It feels as if nature is taking the time to gather its resources and prepare itself for the sudden rush of energy that will take place only a few weeks from now.
It made me think about the need to take the opportunity to listen to what these natural seasonal reminders are telling us. Why not use these weeks of midwinter to nurture and nourish my energy, instead of trying to push through my tiredness to attack the new year with a vigour I don’t feel? Why not take this opportunity before the days warm up and the evenings draw out to get early nights and take the time to sustain myself with walks in the fresh air, healthy food, interesting books and a generally slower pace?
As I looked down at my feet, I noticed tiny green shoots pushing their heads up through the leaf mulch. Already the change in season is on the horizon. In a month or so from now, this part of the wood will be a blanket of wild garlic and the trees will be bursting with the songs and mating calls of nesting birds. Bees and pollinating insects will be darting between the white flowers of the garlic and the trees will be sending out new buds and shoots. When those days arrive, I’ll be almost able hear the sap rising as the earth bursts back into life. Then will be the time to tackle new projects and bring to life new ideas. But not now. Now is the time for conserving and building energy and strength, for the comfort and shelter of home and for heeding the natural, seasonal phase of slowness and rest.
Nature connection exercises to ease you through January:
Below are two simple restorative activities which will help bring your sensory awareness closer to nature and help to forge a connection to the natural world at this time of year.
Exercise 1: Slow
Stand in silence in a green space for a couple of minutes and think about the following questions:
• What can you hear, see and smell?
• What does ‘slow’ sound like?
• When we stand still what happens to us?
Exercise 2: Active Resting
Spend some time in a green space – it can be a garden or a public park or anywhere that’s easy for you to get to. You can either walk through it or simply sit and observe. Consider the following questions – remember, there are no right answers and it’s something you can come back to and think about more over the next few weeks.
• How is nature preparing itself for Spring - how does the natural world rest and rejuvenate itself?
• What can we learn from the natural slowing down cycle at this time of year?
• How can you tell that nature is resting?
• How might you actively rest over the next few weeks?
• How might you mirror what you’ve seen today?