Happy Wednesday, everyone! It’s the first week after the holidays and I have to admit I’ve been feeling low-energy. It got me thinking about how winter can sometimes be hard on people. I had someone in my life tell me over the holidays that they were having stress dreams, that they weren’t even fully enjoying their time off because they were already counting days until they had to go back to work. And these last few weeks I’ve seen people transitioning back into their old routines — packing to travel back home, facing the unknowns of the new year.
I see winter as a time when living things are mostly in survival mode. I see the squirrels digging through the snow for the acorns they put aside in the fall. I see the bunny in our yard that once feasted on the lush green grass nibbling on the buds of barren bushes. I hear the lonely chirping of the birds that didn’t fly South for the winter.
One morning I was having a conversation with my dad about the bunny that lives in our yard — the bunny I call Fluff and that I imagine as male. I was expressing how sad I felt for the bunny . . . how I’d watched him thrive all spring and summer, watched him bathe in the sun, watched him hop around with his bunny friends, and now he was all alone in the winter cold.
“He’s not alone, Melissa. We know he has friends — we saw them,” my dad said.
“But do you think he’s miserable? Do you think he’s suffering?” I pressed.
“No, he’s not suffering. He’s just surviving . . . existing. He doesn’t know any different.”
Wow. That’s it, isn’t it? The bunny probably isn’t judging his experience.
It’s amazing how watching nature can teach us so much about living in times of scarcity. There will be times in the span of our lives when we’ll be disconnected from our emotional support systems, when we’re burnt out, broke, hungry, recovering from illness . . . vulnerable. We’ll all experience winters at some point, no matter what we do to try to avoid it. And the lesson I learned from our bunny friend is presence. No matter what it is we’re experiencing at the moment, we can observe it non-judgmentally. We are alive, we are having a human experience, and suffering doesn’t mean we’ve somehow failed.
A close friend of mine recently recommended the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödron. There are so many jewels in this book (and I still have a few chapters to go) but I’m going to focus in on one chapter in particular called “The Love That Will Not Die”. I want to start by reflecting on Chödron’s powerful words:
“When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of pain itself.”
Chödron explores the idea that we are connected to other living things not only through our joy, but through pain. We are not alone in our suffering because we are all mortal beings. And in trying to escape suffering, in judging our suffering, we inadvertently isolate ourselves. So when we notice we’re tired, burnt out, anxious, we can close our eyes and observe it. We can connect to everyone else experiencing this specific kind of pain in this specific moment. When we feel insecure, like we’re not enough, we can find comfort in knowing we’re not alone in that either. This, according to Chödron, is called the Tonglen practice. We breathe in our pain and the pain of others “with the wish that everyone could be free of [it]”— we respond to pain with compassion.
So what if we leaned into our suffering? What if we were curious about it, created space around it and tried to learn from it? Maybe then we’d be able to recognize it in others, be better able to provide them with relief. Maybe then we’d learn from our experiences, approach similar situations with a different mindset in the future. Maybe it’s like the little bunny in my yard, who approaches his time of scarcity without judgement or resentment.
Do you have any practices that help you cope in difficult moments? If so, share in the comments below!