by Amanda O’Bryan
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I moved to Louisville, KY.
It’s a little known fact that Louisville is actually rainier than Portland, OR – 45 inches per year, vs. Portland’s 37, and fewer days of sun than Fargo, ND.
Louisville has about 170 days without sun a year. That’s close to five and half months of no sun.
And unfortunately, those months without sun tend to cluster in the winter.
Now, I grew up in a place that had an annual average of about 220 days of sun, and even on non-sunny days it was at least partially sunny.
In Louisville though, during the winter months the cloud cover is low, oppressive and near constant. It’s enough to drive anyone to the edge.
Every year for the past ten, I have dreaded winter.
Seasonal depression is just like “real” depression.
You loose interest in things that make you happy.
You want to sleep all the time. You run out of motivation to do even the simplest tasks. And yes, you are sad, deeply and exhaustedly sad.
Often people turn to drinking and isolation. In years past, that was my go-to.
Watching movies and watching my laundry pile up. Nursing hangovers and self-medicating with French fries.
This year is different though. I quit drinking last summer, and I’ve started looking for healthier ways to cope with things.
Fortunately, I’m part of a pretty huge wellness community here, and seasonal depression is a common topic of conversation.
Everyone discusses their favorite supplements; Vitamin D, Magnesium, Ashwaganda, CBD oil. We compare our favorite SAD lamps, or the best infrared saunas in town.
We get acupuncture for seasonal depression, hot yoga classes are packed, we try “forest bathing”, and Wim Hof techniques of immersing ourselves in freezing cold water, even when it’s 20 degrees outside.
In fact, over the years people seem to be sharing and finding all sorts of wonderful methods to combat the winter blues.
And this winter, I finally started to feel it lifting. I didn’t struggle like I have in past years.
I’ve felt, well… good.
But regardless of all the holistic methods I’ve employed, I actually attribute my ability to thrive during the winter to something else: celebrating the Winter Sabbats.
I’ve generally acknowledged the big one in years past, the Winter Solstice, by having a fire and maybe a little ceremony.
But this year was different. I decided to create a strong ritual around each one, including both quarter and cross-quarter days.
Beginning the evening of Samhain, I led a deep community meditation for our personal ancestors, guides and ancestors of the land.
I led a deep community meditation for our personal ancestors, guides and ancestors of the land.
I created a communal altar adorned with orange Marigolds and dried Echinacea flowers, yellow Maple leaves and smoky quartz.
Folks placed photos or belongings of people that had passed, and we kept the candles lit throughout the night. We asked for guidance, blessings and wished them well on their journey.
Then, for the Winter Solstice we hosted a huge feast, complete with a Yule Log.
We placed the log on a table, and all evening during the party, friends wrote on little pieces of paper the things they wished to release from their lives.
After a big dinner we all carried the log and papers outside to the fire pit and ritually burned them all, calling in the four directions, and throwing branches of sage and juniper on the fire, drumming and singing.
Afterwards, returning inside to eat the chocolate Yule Log I had baked, play instruments and sing songs into the night.
And finally, for Imbolc – a time when I would normally be deep in the pit of my depression, hiding under a pile of blankets, I spent the day alone outdoors, observing paw prints in the snow, and spotting the push of crocuses and daffodils- those tough little harbingers of Spring.
I gathered horsetail reeds from my frozen yard to create a Brigid’s cross for my altar, and meditated on the return of spring and the goddess awakening.
Expressing gratitude for the winter, I promised to tend the fire until the return of Spring.
These rituals and ceremonies gave me a deep and sustained sense of comfort.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the season, I felt an alignment and hopefulness I’ve never experienced.
I set the intention each time to go inward and rest, rather than push myself and collapse.
I vowed to not be afraid of the darkness, and asked instead to have my shadows illuminated. And the space that we held for community and sharing was powerful.
It provided our friends with an alternative to what has become a celebration of consumerism that leaves so many feeling empty and disconnected.
Sharing food and music with family and friends, is so simple, and so healing.
I await the coming of the Spring Equinox this year not with a feeling of having trudged through the winter, or a feeling of having just survived.
I feel like I worked with the season instead of against it, and I was able to recognize it’s quiet gifts.
I feel gratitude now for the winter, and might even (gasp) look forward to next year!
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About the Author:
Dr. Amanda O’Bryan, PhD enjoys the challenge of combining science and spirituality to create a new method of teaching, and a new perspective that is both modern and meaningful. Before becoming a full-time meditation teacher, she worked as a Psychology professor and brings that knowledge of human behavior and the brain to her meditation teachings. Amanda teaches workshops, creates online meditations and works one-on-one with individuals to deepen their practice, and bring mindfulness to all aspects of their lives. Join her for live meditations on Instagram, or download a guided meditation from her website.