5 Ways I Survive DepressionJan 27, 2022
I’ve been in a season of soul-winter for a year and a half. It began in October 2020 and stretches to this very moment, the winter of 2022. Even during the long languid days of summer, in my perfect bliss of heat, my soul wintered. Grief, trauma and the culmination of too many too-hard-days in a row dropped me into winter.
I didn’t know the language of “wintering” until I read the book Wintering by Katherine May. May describes these difficult seasons of Wintering with beauty and compassion: “a fallow period in life when you're cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress or cast into the role of an outsider.”
Whether we adopt this name or not, we are going through a collective “wintering” during Covid, as we are cut off from the life we lived before, from institutions and experiences that give meaning, and from relationships and connections.
Last fall, my soul broke down completely. I felt I could not do this one. more. day. I entered fully into a season of winter when there was no option to push my Self to the margins anymore or to keep ALL the lights on to fight off the dark. Darkness was coming for me, and like daylight in December, each day was shorter than the one before. Before I had the language of winter, I struggled to find other words that could capture the challenge and pain of this season.
Sometimes unbearably hard.
A dark night of the soul, then I wake up to a dark morning, live through a dark afternoon, and on it goes.
True healing is exhausting, energy sapping work.
Have you ever been in a soul season of winter, when it feels like you drop out of the usual pace of life into your own dark, difficult season?
Illness, grief, trauma, and depression can send us into winter. Sometimes there is no clear reason why it happens, but we know we’re wintering all the same.
Many people write from a space of healing, from getting to “the other side.” That’s not me. I write from my winter. I can’t attest to how it all gets so much better. My heart is still clogged with tears. My schedule is dominated by expensive intensive therapy. My family’s healing is still in progress, it’s all still so hard. Instead, I write about a love and presence that comes right at the heart of the darkness. While I can’t shout from the mountain tops that things get better, I can say that the cracks exposed by the harshness of winter have let light in. Dropping into winter has not been the end, or the beginning, but another piece of my journey. I am discovering what it means to live, and even possibly to live well, in a season of winter.
As a wintering person, I consider my role to be a tender-of-light. Like a shepherd tends sheep, I tend to light. I feed it tiny scraps of fuel, protect it from harsh winds, and celebrate its fierce vulnerable flame.
How do you feed your flame? What practices help you keep your body and spirit alive?
I feed my flame is with embodied contemplative prayer—prayer practices that get my body aligned with my spirit, so that my full Self can move back into the deep places of my soul. Many contemplative prayer practices traditionally take place in the context of stillness, but I don’t find stillness to be the most grounding body posture. By incorporating movement into to my prayer, my soul rests.
1) I feed my flame by sing-walking. I walk and sing aloud from my favorite playlist, a list of songs to which I know every word and that move me to sing. When I need to connect deeply to my body, I turn up the volume and turn up my pace, waking and singing right at the edge of what my body can sustain. Is singing a type of prayer? I think so. Is it weird to walk by a woman on the sidewalk singing full volume? Absolutely yes. Does it make me feel alive? Also absolutely yes.
2) I feed my flame with holy grounding (I made this name up but I love it). Grounding is a contemplative practice that opens me to trust God’s intimate, cosmic holiness, present all around and in every moment. I take off my socks and shoes, and if the weather is nice enough, go outside and plant my feet in the grass or the dirt. Wiggling my toes and pressing my consciousness down to the soles of my feet, I imagine roots of trusting connection growing downward from my feet. Like a tree planted by streams of water, I am nourished and refreshed by the goodness of creation, present with me and for me, a new miracle every day. Drawing up from this wellspring of goodness, I breathe and stretch my arms out like a tree.
3) I feed my flame while reading the bible through lectio divina, especially when I incorporate walking. The practice of Lectio Divina (latin for “divine reading”) is one of slowing down to listen deeply to the living Word. Lectio Divina allows you to find the silence within the words of the bible and to experience surprise, even in familiar passages. If you’ve never read the bible before, this is an excellent way to be introduced. If you’ve read it many times, lectio divina will open up passageways into fresh discovery. There is no set formula for lectio divina, but I like to print out a passage or pull it up on my phone— a small and manageable chunk, 1 story from Jesus’ life or a piece of a chapter. I pick a familiar loop to walk, down the sidewalk in front of my house, up my stairs, around my kitchen. I walk my loop, slowly, reading the passage. Then I stop and pray, listening to God’s voice more than sharing my own thoughts. I ask God to illuminate a word or phrase in my next reading that will lead me closer to God’s own heart. Then I walk and read again, listening for that inner nudge that pushes me to pay close attention. I stop and pray, turning that word around in my mind, wondering with curiosity what might be here for me. In my final reading, I walk the familiar path and read the now-familiar story, slowing down when I get to that particular word or phrase. In my final prayer, I commit the phrase to memory, and hold it with me as I leave the practice. Sometimes it lives in my spirit for days, yielding new crop of discernment, wisdom and self-reflection.
4) I feed my flame with the practice of breath prayer. In breath prayer, the gentle, graceful flow of the breath, in and out, provides the structure for prayer. Just as the breath goes on and on without conscious attention, breath prayer can flow without forceful intention. It can meander and bring rest. It serves as an ever present nudge to pray without ceasing and to rest in God’s nearness. As air comes in and fills the body, I allow a word or phrase to fill me. As breath flows out of me, I move to a second word or phrase. Some I particularly love,
(In) — (out)
You are — with me
I love you — my child
Come to me - and you can rest
5) Finally, I feed my flame with centering prayer. Centering prayer is to typical prayers as hugging is to having a chat. In centering prayer, you are wrapped in the loving arms of God, enveloped by goodness, joy, gentleness, and presence. Your only job is to breathe and soak it up. Centering prayer can happen with any body posture, and I do try to switch it up to see what I experience. I practice centering prayer snuggled up in my bed, with my favorite covers pulled up tight to my chin. I practice centering prayer on my fake sheepskin rug before the fire, crisscross applesauce, bowing down low so the top of my head gets extra warmed. I practice centering prayer on my sofa, legs tucked up underneath me, hands curled around a cup of tea. There is no wrong way to draw near to God. When in centering prayer, I say hello, acknowledging to myself that God is nearer to me than my breath, nearer than the beat of my heart, nearer than the stretch of my skin. God’s divine breath brought me into existence, and every moment I live in God’s eyes. I settle into that truth in some deep place within me, opening my mind to contemplate God’s nearness. As in mindfulness practice, I notice what rises up without judgment, knowing that God sees and hears it all, not just the thoughts I carefully craft and curate.
In dark winter seasons, prayer practices can feel so far off and impossible. It is too hard to pray, too hard to know what to ask for, too hard to keep hope alive. These 5 embodied contemplative prayer practices have served me in my most poured out, exhausted hours. Even when they don’t feel good and my only response is tears, I know I am still alive and still breathing, and if I am still breathing, then God is still with me. And some days that’s all I have. On those days, it is just barely enough.
If you are in winter, exploring this starkly beautiful terrain, this is my blessing for you:
May God bless you and keep you,
May friends face your darkness and not press cheery wishes onto you
May the light fall gently upon you, surprise you and give you peace
This day and any hard days to come.
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