The Winter Blues: Seeking One’s “Wild Space” Through Creativity and from Within

Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation
 -Sinclair Lewis

A few months back, I wrote a reflection entitled “The Only Deadline is Dusk: Taking the Time Finding One’s ‘Wild Space’” about hiking in nature as a means to combat the stress of overthinking productivity. This time of year, with the grey clouds and heavy precipitation of various kinds out here in the Pacific Northwest, finding my “Wild Space” isn’t as easy and the “deadline” is much shorter. I find my focus scattered and try to overcompensate in productivity through busy work to try to overcompensate the apathy that comes from Cabin Fever. Further, the shift of priorities seems a more burdensome and the time indoors leads my mind to address hard issues that I put off, whether that’s in professional truths or in relationships.

While my means to embrace summertime and reconsider productivity was through hiking, I respond to the winter in a few different ways. I initially seek quick solutions, making an effort to get outside through snowshoeing and doing some shorter hikes, as well as go to the gym. This helps maintain my spirits and mimic the emotional homeostasis and physical exertion as being on a hike. But it’s not quite the same. As reality sets in, the limits that come with this season are embraced. Indeed, to better educate myself and to better articulate my writing this piece, I read a number of articles on the best way to maintain productivity to combat the winter doldrums, whether that applies to the workforce or to the home. Interestingly, I already utilized some of the suggestions, learning them out of personal experience.

I don’t try to take these suggestions all too seriously or be too self-critical, so that it exacerbates rather than relieves the doldrums. I start with some basic tasks as a means of making the best effort within my limits. Every winter I choose a “Blizzard Book” I consider a “hike for the mind.” It is a longer or more complex read, a means to push and maintain my focus. Examples in the past have been David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. My finishing these books evokes a greater sense of accomplishment. While reading is my means, there are a number of great “Blizzard Activities” to tackle for personal development and savor upon its completion.

I recognize there is always room personal improvement, and I feel winter is conducive for such improvement. For example, I perform some constructive busy work to enact a better personal space by which to more fully reflect but also relieve stress. A few years back I made a New Year’s resolution. Recognizing how cluttered my life had become after the holiday season with gifts, I decided to give away at least thing a month for the entire year. As inventory was taken of my things at least one item a month, it became a wonderful habit. I ended the year satisfied, and the fewer things around my apartment allowed me to better focus on more important things and less on cleaning and laundry. One article suggested moving Spring Cleaning in the office ahead of schedule. I would apply these suggestions to the personal space as well, as there are fewer distractions and individuals are generally inside their living space more often than in the warmer months and there are more outside opportunities.

Besides the external changes in habits and in seeking solutions, I also seek greater depth from within during this time. I am an incredibly reflective person, but I find my winter reflection time to be deeper. I take solace in the sentiments of educator Parker Palmer, whose favorite article of mine you can find here. Every winter he goes to a cabin and seeks wisdom to articulate how to better handle the frustrations that come from cabin fever. One source is poet David Whyte: “Inside everyone/is a great shout of joy/waiting to be born.” I can empathize with these sentiments, for I find joy incredibly cathartic, making winter a season of renewal. The professional and personal goals I mentioned earlier are addressed and more fully considered. While they may lead to difficult truths, I have found this examination leading to positive steps in my life in the long run.

To conclude, I believe these practices are great for more fully actualizing one’s “Wild Space.” When the winter season arises, the baggage of work and other stresses are more fully resolved when the “Wild Spaces” are sought in better weather. Instead of just escaping the stresses at work and home, there will be fewer stresses to return to and the time out in nature can be more fully enjoyed. Further, one’s physical space at home and work is more organized so that the serenity derived from the “Wild Space” is continued more fully upon return. Cyclically, the feeling and remembrance of seeking one’s “Wild Space” can serve as great motivation to take the initiative in the wintertime to sustain that seeking for years to come. So while in winter it is not as easy to seek the “Wild Space” as much in a physical sense, in an internal sense, it is still a wonderful practice to strengthen and hone the human spirit.

Returning to Whyte: “So let this winter/of listening/be enough/for the new life/I must call my own.”