I’ve written here before about how important it is to recognize that our lives have their seasons, and that it’s vital for us to honor those seasons.
Something I see when I work with my life coaching clients is that we often have the expectation that our lives should constantly be exploding with growth — and if they aren’t, something is wrong! It’s not surprising that so many of us have this idea, particularly in Western culture — we live in an extremely growth-oriented world, where we’re fed the ideal of “bigger, faster, more.”
Many heart-centered folks I know are becoming mindful of the ways this “constant growth” ideal has harmed our selves and our world, and they are dedicated to living differently, to treating the world differently.
But, still, some of them (and I include myself here!) have a really hard time stepping back and checking in to notice what season of their lives it is, and what is required of them in that season.
And being aware of what season you’re in is important, because heart-centered people want to give a lot of themselves to the world (and thank goodness they do!). But in some seasons of our lives, we simply have more resources with which to give than we do in others.
For example: sometimes I work with someone who has recently experienced a big loss. Maybe a spouse or a parent has died, maybe a job has been lost (or quit), maybe an important project has failed or a large amount of money has been spent on something that didn’t work out. Maybe an illness has changed the scope and shape of their lives.
During these times (which in my training as a Martha Beck life coach we call “Square One” periods, or “liminal” periods), we simply have fewer inner resources — and often fewer external ones, too.
I’ve often seen clients lamenting — or really angry! — that their attempts at growth, at flourishing creativity, at building something, usually just won’t take hold during these times.
What’s going on here?
They’re in “winter”. And if we look at winter and take a cue from our animal friends, winter is a time in which we’re not growing new stuff, we’re not building new stuff, we’re not exploring new horizons. We might be underground, relying on our body fat to keep us warm and nourished until spring. We’re counting on what we gathered during spring, summer, and fall to get us through our winter.
Maybe money is tight. Maybe those we’ve always counted on for support make themselves scarce. Because these “winters” are also times of deep transformation, we may emerge from them feeling quite different from who we were when we entered them. (If you’ve been a one-on-one coaching client of mine, you know I am talking about what we Martha Beck coaches refer to as The Change Cycle here!)
So: If you are deep into a personal winter — if you’ve experienced a big loss, a huge change (and this can sometimes include what we think of as “positive” change as well!), or some sort of internal or external shift that’s really rocking your world — know that your resources are important right now.
And: They are probably limited. They are probably feeling much more limited than they were when you were in your “personal spring” — that time of lovely growth where beautiful, sparkly things seem to be sprouting all over the place.
Don’t try to make your life feel like a “personal spring” when, in fact, you’re in an inner winter. Be where you are. If your resources — inner and outer — are feeling limited right now, how can you preserve them? How might you bring in more without further depleting yourself?
I’ve found that one of the best ways to help myself through a (perhaps under-resourced) personal winter is to be as kind to myself as possible. I have some very clear ideas about what that means for me, and I encourage you to check in with yourself on this: What does being kind to yourself really mean to you? What does it feel like, look like?
I have little reminders around my home that guide me back to my personal definition of treating myself kindly: A sign with cats on it that my dad got for me in a Quaker-run shop that says “Be ye kind to one another.” A mug with the word Kindness on it that I use all the time.
(If you’re hitting a wall when it comes to treating yourself with kindness, I encourage you to check out the work of Kristin Neff, who has researched the importance of self-compassion.)
When I can remember to treat myself warmly and gently and with a huge amount of faith and trust in who I am and in my process, my “personal winters” are so much less hard.
Because much of the problem for so many of us is that our “default” is to be really hard on ourselves. We don’t ever need to be that hard on ourselves, but it’s especially damaging and unhelpful to be hard when we’re already in the hard that an “inner winter” brings.
It’s also important, in a world that is in so much need, that we balance our giving to the world with giving to ourselves (and yes, this giving does overlap!).
We’ll likely have more to give when we’re in our “personal spring” or summer than we do when we’re in our personal winter. This is okay. You don’t have to do it all, all the time. Others who are experiencing more of that “spring” energy will step up while you’re in your winter.
What do you think? What have you noticed about the seasons of your life and your resources (inner and outer)? I’d love to hear from you!
If you are in a “personal winter” and need some support on your journey, you can find out more about my one-on-one coaching work, here. I’d love to help!
And: My newsletter offers updates on my coaching programs and other good stuff. You can also find out through my newsletter about how to get in on my monthly Artist’s Nest community calls — the first one is coming up soon, on Feb. 28! You can sign up for my newsletter, here.