For me, February marks a milestone in my year. It is a turning point in the cycle of our seasons, as the natural world transitions from winter towards spring. As I write, the recent weather conditions have been very wild and very wet interspersed with very snowy, very sub zero temperatures.
One might be forgiven for believing we are still well and truly stuck in winter. However below the earth and beneath our feet the seed of life is reasserting itself. Above ground the bird song grows stronger, the days quietly lengthen and the joy of the smallest of spring flowers can, if we take the time, delight us as they emerge.
I take these small shifts in the natural world, as a prompt to retune and reconnect with my place within it. Once, pre industrialisation, most people lived an essentially rural existence. They were dictated to by the seasons, the day light hours, the weather and its temperature and the work that needed to be done on the land, for their survival.
That was how the human race evolved. We lived to survive and we survived to live. Through each year there was a time to be furiously busy and frenetically active, balanced by a time to slow down, to reflect, to pause, to draw breath. Simplistically speaking, life was simultaneously ‘the gym’ and ‘the retreat’.
Fast forward to the the 21st Century and in general terms, one week, one month can look and feel, pretty much like any other in terms of our activity and inactivity levels, pandemics aside.
We tend to fall into lifestyle patterns, undertaking the same type of exercise and activity at a similar intensity, at the same time of day, on the same day, week in week out. This is peppered with some changes in routine associated with holidays, ill health and changes in circumstances. However the peaks and troughs of our physicality and headspace are fundamentally far shallower than those of our fore bearers. The longer we live, and the associated changes of reduced strength and ability, often result in an even greater flattening out of these peaks and troughs.
Until I chose a different path, I too used to live like this.
Over the years I began to notice I tended to fall ill, nothing particularly serious but poorly nonetheless or I’d experience a mindset slump at a similar time of year (February and September in case you are wondering) year in year out and I found myself wondering why. I began to explore a variety of possible explanations when it began to dawn on me that my modern life was so very different from that of my pre internet-mobile-phone-remote-control-TV-all-day-seasonal-eating childhood. How I ate (very seasonally out of necessity) how I moved (different termly school sports, summer tree climbing and winter snowball fights) and how I stimulated and then rested my mind (hours outside exploring, creating, discovering with my brother by my side).
As an adult, my diet, with the globalisation of food, gradually proved to be very habitually repetitive week in week out, much like my activities. This was sprinkled with the odd seasonal strawberry in July and sprout in December.
The most significant difference between my adult life with that of my childhood, was my disconnect with the circadian rhythm I, and our ancestors, once lived by. I realised that there was little change in the rhythm of my life in real terms, because today there is an endless supply of light, heat and the same foods to live by day in day out, month in month out, year after year. Throw in the technological advances of living through our screens with the associated diminishing perspective and context from the natural world and this was my wake up call. My life was now an imbalanced, unsustainable and unnatural way to live and feel and be.
I was expecting my body and mindset to be up-and-on-it permanently without the balance of being down-and-off-it, in terms of what I ate, how I lived, when I moved and where my thoughts were. I was inadvertently burning the candle at both ends and my health suffered as a result.
I was mutating and not contributing to the evolutionary success of my species…
So I began to rethink my thinking. I started to make changes to reflect the time of year and the natural world around me. I began to consciously note, not just the four main seasons but the midseasons as well. I have taught myself how to notice and absorb the tiniest of details that the flora and fauna are instinctively aware of, which had once been an unnoticed but essential part of my life. I take myself outside at any opportunity (much to my children’s astonishment) regardless of the weather, even if for only a few minutes to recharge, still or indeed stimulate my headspace, my breathing, my soul.
These opportunities have brought about a more intuitive way for me to live, with my choice of exercises, the food I eat, the activities I involve myself in and a cyclical checking in with my mental and emotional me. This has helped to keep the balance of all the facets of what makes me, not just me, but a human-living-breathing-moving-thinking-joyful-being.
My focus this February is very much towards focusing less on the challenges of living within this pandemic and more towards what is directly within my control, should I choose to look. I’m reflecting on what movements and activities I’m repeating (far too much sitting and cake for starters…) or avoiding (strengthening activities for my arms and not enough water and seasonal veg for my innards). I need a shake up, to ensure I nourish all aspects of my body in different ways, at different times of the day.
I am cherishing more than ever, every emerging sign of spring. I am patiently allowing myself to gently emerge with of my energy expenditure (not all guns blazing on the first spring like day, as I would once have done) and am fuelling my body with fresh seasonal goodies: rhubarb and chard. I’m now strengthening my arms and breathing more consciously more of the time. All of this, for my body to work better and feel better and for my head to tick along in unison, better.
So if you are reading this and it has stirred something within you, you too can choose a different path.
Start by looking at how you live and feel one month to another, one season to another. Consider how you could live a more reflective, connected life with that of the natural world, for you, your body and how you think and feel, to be all the richer for that connection.