How to Survive the Winter Doldrums Here in Sonoma County, California on the eve of January 1st, I heard my neighbor shuffling about at 3am and wondered what the ruckus was. The rain was beating down pretty hard, but I was completely bushed and fell back asleep. When I walked by at 9, he had just finished clearing a blocked drainage ditch, diverting water from his house. His New Year�s welcome was a lake rising right up to his bedroom window and about to crash in. But he saved his house by vigorous action, clearing and sandbagging. He is happy, not sad, and is confident the twelve months to come will reveal other jewels to save.
When we sing Auld Lang Syne and tip our champagne glasses to welcome it in, January seems the exciting month when we get back to the office or classroom, share stories about the holidays, and excitedly put in place our New Year�s resolutions. But even if January doesn�t hit you as hard as it hit my neighbor (and many still left homeless in northern California by the damaging floods), most feel a certain letdown. For during the holidays, our lives are filled with doing things for others and family. While hectic, it is a wonderful time filled with purpose and meaning. We move into January and February and all that meaning comes to a screeching halt. We feel a loneliness as everyone gets back into their own lives; nothing will be special again for a long, long time. But, like my neighbor, we can find in our own spirit a way to keep the magic going even amidst obstacles. Here are three ways to do it:
1. Do fun and rewarding things with family and friends: The holidays were a time to celebrate in very close quarters with those with whom we feel a kinship of spirit. When we feel the letdown of a grand spectacle being over, why not create new communion and connection to spirit? Take time in January and February to do special things with those you love. Find that extra half hour at the coffee shop to meet a friend and just hang out. Or try an experiment like my wife and have been doing: we took five cold winter evenings to read the whole of �Pride and Prejudice� out loud by the fire, right after we saw the movie. Choose the thing to do that will most rekindle that warm fire that vivified Christmas. The more you can slow down and do simple things together, the better.
2. At school or work: For most of us, returning to the grind has some good and some bad. Good, because we missed colleagues and are back in the exciting world of accomplishment; and bad, because all the special time of celebrating is gone, and routines and deadlines are back. But don�t that feeling of depression get you down. Make a resolution to do something at work that you have never given yourself time for: maybe it�s just bringing flowers and placing them on the desk of the person you haven�t been able to relate to very much, and asking about their family. Smile and tell all your friends at work how much you are looking forward to a year when all will find new springs of motivation that will give meaning to the task at hand and magic to every moment.
3. Renew your faith in yourself: So if the New Year hasn�t brought the warmth and meaning the holidays did, it may seem we are in a loud, empty world and want the comfort of our families back again. In that case I would say, kindle that fire in yourself. Reach deep down and find within yourself those springs of new life that sometimes only come when we feel all is lost, that nothing can be good again. I would highly recommend starting a practice that enables you to go deep within yourself to mine that imprisoned wealth. Say to yourself every day, �I have in myself everything I could ever need.� Or even better, try meditating on the words of those whose lives have been lit ablaze by the fervor of a larger purpose guiding their every action. One could do worse than contemplate the life and words of Martin Luther King. I was transfixed and energized by them as I heard them on the radio growing up; I knew something very special was happening in the world. Today, I imprint such lofty words on my own mind. Try it, and watch the magic of Christmas happen in its own way in your life, throughout the whole year.
� Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal
Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal is the author of The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditation. He is also the co-author of Eknath Easwaran�s edition of The Dhammapada and the author of Keats and Zen. He has taught meditation and courses on Han Shan at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Dr. Ruppenthal is an international workshop leader in passage meditation and in courses for those looking for end of life spiritual care and for the spiritual step component of twelve step programs.
Visit Stephen�s work at www.directawakenings.com