I seem to be emerging from a three-year winter.
I first read about the concept of human seasons in Thomas Moore’s book, Care of the Soul, and have thought about my life in natural stages ever since. It’s such a relief to say “I’m not in a particularly creative season right now” rather than “I have writer’s block, possibly forever.” And it’s comforting to remind myself “I’m in a season of nesting right now so I’m not getting out much” whenever I miss my old peripatetic ways and wonder if maybe I’m just done having adventures.
No, it’s only for a season. (Sometimes the season just happens to last years.)
This three-year winter business has been a real slog, with a whole assortment of wintry fun: a creative block, general numbness, some frenzied euphoria just to shake things up, and a harrowing journey to the depths of my shadow.
Now, after months and months of wondering when I’m going to feel like myself again, I’m finally there, only this time I’m encountering a new self. That’s a springtime.
Lo and behold, I’m realizing that I don’t necessarily want my only friends to be trees. And I’m recalling what it’s like to have ideas. It’s a lovely, wobbly new beginning.
There are bajillions of traditions that have named and described Life Seasons, but here is my own particular Mari definition for each:
Life Winter is DULL. Dull emotions, dull thoughts, dull pain. The pain of winter isn’t as juicy/melancholic/romantic as the pain of fall, which is much more poetic, and therefore more appealing! Being in a Life Winter is pretty bleak: not a lot of motivation or novelty coming to the surface, and not a lot of true joy or true sorrow either.
But this season, of course, is misunderstood when we’re in it: Winter’s frost forms a protective layer over soil that is busy preparing seeds to grow into thriving plants, and there is thick green life under bare branches. What feels like dullness may be a protective emotional layer to shield little seedlings in the heart and mind before they’re ready to be seen by appreciative eyes.
Winter is a time that teaches us not to resist the doldrums and ho-hums, but to embrace those periods as necessary for incubating those tiny baby seedlings who haven’t yet mastered their roots.
During periods of Winter, self-mothering is essential, as is taking it very slooowwww. This is a time to go inward; I find that a lot of socializing during a Life Winter can really trigger my comparison and jealousy tendencies, as well as tire me out a lot more quickly than in other seasons.
Winter exposes our shadows, and brings up all my greatest hits: jealousy, self-doubt, insecurity, and resentment. But when I nurture the shadows—listen to them, take care of them, be curious about them—the season passes with less dramatic fanfare.
According to Ayurvedic thought, at the end of the winter season there’s a big buildup of kapha energy, which combines earth and water elements = MUD! Lots of tired, sluggish, MUD feelings. Just as we get extra tired and antsy at the end of winter when the grey skies refuse to part, we may be especially squirmy and irritable right before the start of a Life Spring.
I am actually an expert in being extremely irritable toward the end of a season, only to realize that a swift change was awaiting me all along.
Are you in a Life Winter?
Symptoms: taking long walks while feeling sorry for yourself, wondering if your best years are behind you, feeling unmotivated to make changes, general bumbling and flailing, a strong desire to live in a candlelit bathtub
Danger: falling too deep into despair or self-judgment
Opportunity: hibernation and self-reflection
Element: Earth (nurture, focus, slowness)
Spring is wild! This is the season where I always want to try millions of new things: I sign up for a new dance class, buy a new journal, research new destinations, commit to a new lifestyle or two (ask me how many times I’ve become a vegan).
Then, when I inevitably let a few of them go after a couple weeks, I remind myself: Trying a lot of new things is part of my creative process.
Indeed, spring has a lot of luscious creative energy (I imagine the muses prancing around like fawns) and every area of life feels new again.
Life Spring is fun because it’s a blank page. It’s full of potential, simply awaiting action. Spring is also scary because it’s a blank page. It’s awaiting mistakes, projections, and regrets.
In this particular iteration of Life Spring, I’m feeling called to make some big commitments, with a lot of concern that they might not result in the exact image of success I have in my head. I have to remind myself: most commitments don’t result in the exact image of success one might have in their head!! People commit to relationships, higher education, jobs, and veganism, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
Spring is a good reminder: Live the process, live the questions. They’re not going to get answered by sitting in front of a TV (though I’ll take this moment to recommend Heartstopper on Netflix).
Are you in a Life Spring?
Symptoms: electric impulses, seeking novelty, a pleasant reassuring confidence, feeling alternately like you’re going to be crushed in your bed by the weight of your own insignificance and like you’re literally going to burst from excitement and maybe become a shooting star or a comet
Danger: holding back for fear of the unknown
Opportunity: the marvel of discovery
Element: Air (idealism, creativity, increase)
Summer is a PUBLIC season. It’s abundant, big, social, and magical. Summer is on overdrive, in heat. The last Life Summer I experienced is when my first book came out: I was traveling a ton, meeting lots of people, saying yes to new adventures and experiences, generally feeling like a Gumby figurine stretched in every direction but in a satisfying way. The schedule was completely unsustainable, but there was a sweetness to the exhaustion: it was a time of high self-expression and bold sharing. For the most part, I felt in my power. (Except in those lonely empty hotel rooms when I had far too much space to think, no thanks.)
A Summer sentiment might be activated by: seeing a bunch of friends for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, or getting back into dating after being single. It might happen after you discover a hobby or talent you really love, and the motivation is enough to keep you up late and wake you up early. Perhaps it’s just a week-long vacation that makes you feel like you can rule the world.
In my experience, Life Summers are brief and elusive, but they are important invitations for us to seize our temporary boost of bravery and let our souls be seen!
Are you in a Life Summer?
Symptoms: able to summon superhuman energy, experimenting with a new style, intense curiosity, actually resonating with Beyonce lyrics
Danger: swelling of the ego
Element: Fire (intensity, power, beauty)
A Life Fall is plagued with homesickness, but often without a clear idea of what or where home is.
In the earth’s fall, familiar scenes look different as a clarifying overcast saturates the air and afternoon light paints with shimmers and shadows. The scent of smoke and the sound of crunch bring us back to worn old memories. An autumnal ache is a romantic one, and invites deep reflection, as well as hours of staring out the window while pondering in some sort of drapey sweater.
Fall is a season of loss, but a more acute sense of loss than winter. Even though it can feel intensely achy, the ache is something universal. The dull, isolating frustration that accompanies Life Winter can deceive us into thinking that we’re the only one experiencing it, but fall’s ache reminds us of our shared humanity.
Maybe it’s an actual loss, or maybe it’s the natural shedding that comes with a change. Fall announces and acknowledges the loss, then beautifies it with color. The nice thing about being in a Life Fall is that there’s plenty of poetry, music, and art to accompany us in our melancholy. That’s not to dismiss the grief of the season, but to remind us that loss is natural—not something to avoid or even to fear (but good luck with that).
Life Fall beckons us into solitude, whether that’s sitting in the back corner of a cafe with our journal (scarf optional) or going on a pensive solo journey (train recommended). This is an appropriate season to spend with friends whom you can talk to about basically nothing and the meaning of it all in one sitting.
It’s not a fertile season for making friends or chattering with acquaintances, although it is definitely a season when a comment in passing made by a stranger in an elevator may move you to tears and inspire you to write your first song.
I deliberately use the word ‘fall’ instead of autumn (there’s some delightful history exploring the two terms) because fall is a natural complement to spring: fall down, spring up. Using the word to describe a Life Fall reminds me that a Life Spring will follow, at some point, upholding the greatest promise of the seasons: Everything is cyclical, everything is temporary.
Are you in a Life Fall?
Symptoms: dwelling in an in-between place, overwhelmed by nostalgia, expanded imagination, wondering for hours how other people manage to seem so well-adjusted and carefree, considering moving to a cabin in the mountains
Danger: lapsing into self-pity, self-centeredness
Opportunity: heightened sensitivity
Element: Water (fluidity, flexibility, release)
How do you think about Life Seasons, if you think about them? Which one is resonating with you now? No matter where you are in your seasonal cycle, I wish you some fall imagination, summertime energy, springtime hope, and winter growth.