On Hibernating

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I might be part bear.  

During winter, the bear emoji, which I completely overlook on my phone for the other seasons, shows up in my oft-used section.  That furry little ursine face is how I identify myself via text, giving a visual to the low-hanging trundling-towards-the-cave state of my energy.

I cannot say enough about the comfort of my bed, the draw of the flannel sheets, the cozy containment of a pillow over my upward-facing ear, blotting out all noise and stimulation, swaddling me into another hour—or two—of sleep.  I used to think this was depression.  (The truth is, it could be. After all, it’s seasonal, and taking to the bed is a symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder, acronym: SAD.) One January, seeing me dig my warm bathrobe out of my winter storage box and change into it before dinner, my son said, “Oh no, Mom: you’re doing your housecoat phase again?”  That was when it dawned on me I actually had a housecoat phase. (And that my eleven-year-old son somehow knew the term for that 1950’s garment.) Not great for my self-image, not at all a depiction of the fun-loving Mom I wanted to be year-round, but true.

I’ve been working on accepting this downshifting of gears my body naturally goes into the first months of every new year. I still show up where I need to show up, but beyond that, I don’t.  Beyond that, you can find me under the covers, a pillow over my ear, in my “housecoat.” I lose touch with people, see my neighborhood friends less, take a little longer to respond to the outside world. Honestly, I don’t love this. I wish it were different.  But fighting against my inner current, which I did for years, caused tension and stress, an inner civil war.

I am noticing as I move along through this journey of life how many aspects of character, personality traits and tendencies, are healed by self-acceptance. That does not mean fixed. Or cured. It means softened, chastened, made easier to handle. I see this over and over again with clients and friends, and experience this myself: the balm of accepting what we wish were different in ourselves.  I wish I loved to get up in the dark cold morning hours to brave the elements in my running sneakers—or even brave the stairs to the coffee maker! But I don’t. I like to snuggy down and lure myself back into the dreamscape I was just enjoying. I choose not to do some of the things I would normally do in lieu of more sleep. This has an obvious cost to how effective I can be, but I am coming to accept being less productive, and more self-attuned.

There is a fine line here. One I walk with mindfulness, even concern. On one side of the line is pushing oneself, which I have done, in fact done too much of, at times burning out. On the other side lies self-indulgence, torpor, lassitude—which can look an awful lot like a housecoat and a pillow over the head! So I am cautious. Is this healthy?  Does this serve my wellbeing? What are the alternatives and what happens when I try them? Does my wellbeing meter go up? Or down? These are some of the inquiries that keep me honest with myself as I walk that line. And I notice those inquiries helping others as well, on a wide range of topics where someone is walking this same kind of line. Sometimes the questions yield an honest step towards more action and more initiative, other times, they bring about the healing balm of self-gentleness, self-forgiveness, and self-acceptance.  

For me, what I’ve come to is valuing wellbeing over productivity. Yes, I have to produce. Yes, I have to show up.  And yes I want to both produce and show up.  But whenever possible, I want to do so in wellbeing. I want to have my inner reservoir full, and I want to transmit wellbeing to those in my midst. To be in wellbeing—and perhaps this is simply a synonym or definition—I need to be in synch with myself. And to be in synch with myself, I often have to adjust to and accept the reality of who and how I am, versus the myth of who and how I think I should be.  

When I work with other people and ask, “Can you forgive yourself for that?”, for me it is always obvious—and I do mean always, with no exceptions—the answer is and must be YES.  Not only are the actions or choices or personality traits in question one hundred per cent forgivable, but the cost of not forgiving self is staying stuck, living in inner conflict. Very often, the YES is not readily available. The person isn’t there yet. We might have to peel back layers, coming at the topic from a few different angles before they get to their birthright of: yes, yes I can forgive myself.  The result? Visible, palpable, contagious wellbeing.

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33 thoughts on “On Hibernating”

      1. I am definitely part bear, especially living in the Northwest where gray skies and rainy days prevail, for most of winter. I am loving your writing. Amazing. Love you, Ing

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  1. Thank you. So perfect for today. I’m taking a 2 day “ hibernation” with a college roommate to recharge so that I can effectively care for my “ litter😊) “.Sitting on her sofa surrounded by my beloved books and coffee- after the 4th call from home- I happened to open this and thank you dear Hilary. I feel newly refocused. Letting go of the guilt for needing this time to myself and am now going to blissfully settle back into my books 😊

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  2. I love reading your thoughts on this. I happen to enjoy, indeed dare I say, look forward to, the shorter days, the early darkness, the cold. I welcome the “excuse” to cozy up near the fireplace or in bed with my heating pad and a good book or my journal. I do what I need to during the day, then I absolutely love coming home, putting on my “comfies” (my version of the housecoat) and happily being in for the night. Maybe it’s my age or perhaps a lifetime of struggling against societal shoulds, oughts and you-musts, settling at last into some form of self-acceptance and, as you so beautifully put it, “Yes! For this I can forgive myself.” There are certainly areas where I am less self-accepting, but in this one, honestly, I think the bears have the right idea!

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    1. Isn’t it fascinating what a certain angle or perspective can do? You love getting in your “comfies” so there is no self-judgment, hence no inner tension. Maybe I should call my housecoat my comfies! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  3. Thank you Hilary! And as always so much resonance to what you write and grapple with. I have missed your smiling face in yoga and have been thinking of you. Good to know you are simply getting in touch with your inner bear.
    To be in wellbeing grounded in forgiveness and self acceptance .
    That is the peace which passeth all understanding. Is passeth a word??
    🐻🐻

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    1. I think passeth might be a Biblical term? But if I can use “housecoat” you can certainly use “passeth.” And yes yes yes the soil of wellbeing seems to be self-forgiveness, self-compassion, self-acceptance. Found in yoga or while napping!

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  4. February and March are my bear months. January I’m still winding down from the holidays and celebrating getting back to my schedule. But then February hits, the cold of winter is still here, and going outside is a chore. I’d like to say March is better, but it can be a cruel month. It teases us with a hint of spring and then dumps on us with another round of cold and snow. But come April, the light is at the end of the tunnel!

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  5. I am so much like this. And this is funny to read today because I was visiting LL Bean today (online, of course!) looking for a big warm bathrobe – I’m sick of walking around my COLD NEW HAMPSHIRE house trying to keep a big blanket wrapped around me! Spring will come 🙂

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    1. LL Bean should come out with a housecoat line! Or maybe not? Maybe that wouldn’t be a big seller? Thank you for reading and commenting. These blog posts becoming an online conversation is so gratifying to me.

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    1. What a good question, and a bit of a stumper for me. I am not truly comfortable with it. I would prefer to change it. But NOT enough to actually change it! I have a few areas like this, that I wish were different, but actually am more comfortable accepting the way they are/I am than actually making the change. Paradoxically, what I’ve noticed is that this kind of acceptance CAN ultimately lead to change more than forcing myself to be different does. Then again, maybe it won’t yield change, but at least it yields inner harmony. Time will tell. (I realize the version of “harmony” I am presenting here isn’t de facto harmonious: it takes some reckoning …) Is this an answer or a circular testimony to the complicated nature of being human? Or both?

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  6. Hi Hilary. Your images are the best!! I have been hibernating here in Florida with Th coldest windiest January ever! Hope all is well. L C

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    1. I find it’s such a work in progress, remembering that wellbeing is the priority. The ego tells us to perform, perform, perform, DO DO DO. But is that really who we are? Really what we’re here to do? I answered a comment above in a very circular convoluted manner—because I (and we) do have an ego, and the ego does confuse the message of the soul. But the message of the soul seems to me to be: here we are, in this one time-limited lifetime in this particular identity, and we get to decide what our priority is. For me, it’s becoming more and more clear, the priority is wellbeing.

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  7. Just reading this as I gratefully sit by a cozy fire. I am a total BEAR and crave these months. During the summer, I feel an obligation to get outside every day, and on many of those days, I crave a rainy day, so I don’t have to feel guilty about not getting outside on a beautiful day. Isn’t that why we choose to live in a seasonal part of the country? Seasons bring new beginnings and renewal. I love how by the end of a season, I am very ready for the next one. The cycle of nature and life. I don’t think I could ever live in a permanently warm climate because I would feel guilty every time I wanted to have a cozy day inside.
    P.S. I don’t have a housecoat because I like to have my legs covered, so I tend toward pajamas or yoga pants for my hibernation, but maybe we should start a line of clothes for hibernating human bears!

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    1. I remember my first year in California, having grown up in the northeast, and feeling this PRESSURE just like you describe, to be outside SEIZING every day and kind of hoping for a bout of inclement weather so I could “veg out” as the saying went… So I so get what you are saying. AND RIGHT: who needs a “housecoat”? Let’s get the bear-wear we need and want!

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  8. This is so helpful and inspirational . It’s just what I needed to help me to make through this winter and be ok with hibernation and not feeling guilty about it .

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  9. “The balm of accepting what we wish were different in ourselves.” That line alone is a balm for every day living. [hashtag]Housecoat Nation!
    Thank you, Hilary.

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