Last weekend, I was catching up with a girlfriend when she said something kind of shocking. “I know this is controversial,” she confided in a hushed tone, “but I love January.”
She doesn’t ski or snowshoe or get anything special out of the season.
She loves January for the same reason most people – including me—tend to hate it: it’s super yin.
It’s dark. It’s cold.
Nature is quiet and seemingly dormant. And because we are a part of nature (though it’s easy to forget when we live inside and online) it can be harder to get motivated to do things.
In January, she argued, “it feels OK to do things like sleep late, stay inside all day, not talk to anyone, and take a nap. If this was my day in July, I’d judge myself.”
Uh, yeah. In our yang-addicted society that glorifies productivity, speed, efficiency, doing, and hustling, it can be easy to judge ourselves for “giving in” to the desire to rest, to nap, to just chill. It can even feel morally wrong.
But in January, doing less than you’re humanly capable of is seasonally appropriate. Once upon a time, your life may have even depended on it: if we didn’t conserve scarce resources like fuel and food, (literally the opposite of burning the candle at both ends) we would likely die in winter, as nature is not exactly supplying these in abundance.
Slowing down, doing less, and giving ourselves permission to rest – especially when we’re managing a lot – is essential. This is the heart of true self-care.
We need good deep rich, juicy yin (sleep, rest, inward, quiet, cool) to have good strong, vibrant yang (creative, warm, expansive, transformative) energy. But apart being a necessary counterpoint to the always-moving, relentless drumbeat of productivity that culture prizes and making a living often demands, we need some Big Yin January Energy for its own sake.
When we give ourselves permission to slow down, it’s easier to be better stewards of our bodies – and each other. We’re able to do things like:
- Relax, get into parasympathetic mode, and heal. These things don’t happen very well when we’re stressed.
- Be able to sense the sublte: like feel tension in our lower backs and be able to stretch it in just the right way to allow it to open up again: true self-healing qi gong, or
- Stop eating when we’re 80% full, for optimal digestion and thus gut health, immune health, and overall energy
- Sense reactivity in ourselves, thus being able to manage that reactivity, not blow up at people we love, gain deeper understanding of what’s triggering us so we can tone that down and keep our equanimity
- Sense changes in other people’s voices or body language, allowing us to inquire about and better understand and empathize with their experience, thus enhancing our connections
- Increase our ability to be present with and appreciate the present moment, thus waking up to our lives.
Since hearing of the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist spiritual teacher, international ambassador of mindfulness and peace, I’ve been re-reading and listening to his teachings, among them that “true presence is the first act of love.”
We access true presence when we meet the present moment with as much mindful awareness as possible.
Whether we are sitting in meditation, moving in meditation like qi gong or yoga, washing the dishes, or eating a meal, we have the opportunity to practice giving that moment our full attention. And presence is the greatest gift we can give each other — and ourselves — especially when we are struggling.
So welcoming in the Big Yin January Energy is important.
But what if you still want to get things done?
As I’ve been suggesting, low motivation this time of year might not be a problem in that we’re part of nature and subject to its cycles.
It might also be a sign that that
- you’re fighting something off (your immune system is busy),
- that you haven’t been digesting well (converting food into energy isn’t going well – simplify! Make soup!),
- that that we’re almost three years into an exhausting, isolating global pandemic (long-term stress depletes your reserves)
- the existential resignation over the state of the world and the collapse of American democracy, (the consciousness leads the energy),
- or that you’re dealing with depression (mind-body-spirit connection is real) –all real, serious worthy of our utmost compassion towards ourselves, and attention.
Acupuncture, herbal medicine, qi gong, nourishing food, good sleep hygiene may all be important; I’m here to help if you need me – just hit reply and let me know what’s up.
I am all about giving you – and myself– permission to do less. But I also feel most alive and vital when I’m learning and growing in some way. I’ve had a bunch of continuing education classes I’ve enrolled in but haven’t completed for almost a year that I’ve been putting off. It’s felt kind of daunting to spend a weekend in class, even when it’s cold and rainy outside.
So I pretended I was one of my coaching clients and did 3 things:
1) I broke down the big, daunting thing into small digestible pieces. Rather than summoning the will to dedicate a whole weekend day to knocking it out, I decided I was going to take these classes in twenty- to sixty-minute chunks.
2) I put these class time chunks on my calendar.
3) I reduced friction: instead of having to log into the website, find a document to take notes in, O I have both the class tab and a word document open on my computer, so it’s just as easy to jump into class as it is to surf over to Facebook or play Wordle.
Not only am I over my resistance to doing these classes, I look forward to spending that time. Plus, I’m back in touch with the excitement and desire to help people that I felt when I first signed up.
Maybe there’s something you’ve been meaning to get off your plate but have been putting off. How could you make the big thing smaller? How could you reduce friction? Then commit: get it on your calendar and honor your commitment to yourself just as you would a meeting with a work colleague or your doctor.
May you receive and appreciate all the yin yumminess the season has to offer, while moving effortlessly in the direction of your goals.