The start of November is a time that has a special place in my heart. It is a time where those who live in the northern hemisphere really begin to feel the descent to the darkest days of the season. Every day the sun shines a little less and the night time stays a wee bit longer until we are living in more darkness than light. This time of the year can be challenging for some to find the positive light for darkness is often associated with negativity. For others this time can be very emotionally charged, cause feelings of loneliness, sadness, despair, even depression.
Acknowledging the darkness and learning how to embrace it holistically is the key to maintaining wellness during this time. Think of it like the side of the mountain that doesn’t see much sunlight. Its not a wrong or bad place, it just lives more in the dark than in the light. This side of the mountain offers us insight and wisdom that the sunlit side does not. The darkness is an important time of introspection, evaluation and completion. Just as nature sheds her skin, readying for the big sleep and rebirth, we need to make space for our own processes this time of year. The darkness allows us the space to go inward, to see our progress, our healing, to finally compost what is no longer serving us.
This is also the time to acknowledge the contrast between the light and the dark. In the heat of the Summer, we are open, outgoing, extroverted and full of energy, sometimes intensely so. Summer is a time that the sun infuses all living beings with the life force necessary for survival. Whereas the darkness of this season asks us to find the beauty in the reflective state, the pause, the rest, the time where we can make space to nourish deeply and intentionally. This darkness has such wisdom for us. Seek out the wonder of this season, look for what it can offer you and in return nature will hold you gently while you find your footing and your eyes adjust to navigating the darkness.
FIVE STRATEGIES TO FIND THE GIFTS THE DARKNESS HOLD
In this season more than any other its a good idea to have a daily routine, a rhythm that you hold steady to and rely on, especially when times get sluggish, slow, hard to motivate and inspire. Start and end your day consistently by waking in the morning and retiring for the night at the same time each day. Include routines that nourish your mind, body and soul.
- Meditate for 10 minutes when you wake up, drink a sustaining beverage while you watch the world outside wake up.
- Invigorate with a daily physical activity that you enjoy and takes you outside in all weather.
- Avoid electronics upon waking and before retiring to allow for your natural bio-rhythm to be your guide.
- Follow the Moon cycles and notice your own energies match the ebb and flow of the new and full moons.
Consume Seasonal Appropriate Foods
This is a time to evaluate how you are nourishing yourself. Are you still mixing up that raw greens smoothie? Eating fresh fruit imported from somewhere in the world where spring is the season? Its time to take stock on what your body truly needs right now. Think of your tummy like a big pot of soup on the stove that needs to keep bubbling away for optimum digestive wellness. If you add a big glass of cold, raw smoothie to the “pot” it stands the chance of become a still sea of inaction hence affecting digestive wellness.
- Consume warming foods that encourage the digestive fires to keep burning. Avoid cold beverages, frozen fruit, ice cream, abundance of raw veggies, cold food.
- Its now time to include foods such as sun-dried mushrooms, grass fed butter and beef, pasture raised chicken and lamb, bone broth, root vegetables, squash, carrots, steamed bitter greens, preserved berries. The foods that you and/or your local farmer lovingly and diligently propagated this Spring and Summer, that you carefully harvested this Autumn and preserved with great care and attention are like gifts of gold on your pantry shelf. Think of all that sun infused energy in those foods that will deeply nourish and kindle your fires these dark days.
- Ferment for maximum seasonal wellness. Remember that when you ferment farm fresh foods you not only capture their in season nutrient content, you create new nutrients and a whole plethora of healthy bacteria and micro-organisms necessary for gut/immune system wellness. Now is the time to get that crock full of pounded down cabbage for delicious Kraut for your Solstice feast.
- Time your meals to be consumed well before you retire for the night. Its better for your digestion and your sleep if you go to bed 2 hours minimum past eating.
Include your Herb Allies
Many of the Herbs that love up the Sun in the Summer, love us up in the darkest of the season. Have you ever been in a herb garden and watched how the flowers of certain plants open widely mid day to happily absorb all that the Sun has to offer? Capture that energy and utilize it for your physical, emotional and spiritual wellness through this season. Include the herbs you have a kindred connection with, that support the immune system, the nervous system and skin, the digestive system. But, most of all include the herbs that you love and enjoy being with. Here are a few suggestions:
- St. John’s Wort Hypericum spp. Harvesting the beautifully abundant flowers tends to begin in our region around the St. John’s Baptiste holiday at the end of June. The flowers and all ariel parts can be dried for tea, made into a tincture or into a wonderful infused oil. This herb is known to assist during times of sadness, depression and seasonal lowness. Its also greatly documented at assisting with nerve pain and inflammation making the oil such a lovely addition to a self care routine in the winter. Its as though applying the oil is like adding a dose of sunshine to the skin. Note that any medicine made from fresh St. John’s Wort should yield a rich dark red colour if prepared properly.
- Elderberry Sambucus spp. The rich dark berries and the ethereal, starlike white flowers are both useful medicines to stock away for these dark months. In the Summer the white flowers of the Elder arrive seemingly at the hottest moment of the season and interestingly enough they are useful at ridding the body of heat symptoms, helping to calm and nourish a fever. Elderberry has long been documented at its ability to be a potent anti-viral, some may say better than any flu shot you could get. Beautiful addition to teas and syrups, this herb is a staple, must have.
- Calendula flower Calendula officinalis Calendula’s sweet ray like flower faces stare widely and openly into the sun and infuse all that warmth into their self level. Infused oils of Calendula are the skin’s best friend in the harsh winter weather, protecting and healing it from the elements. Calendula flower tea is supportive to the lymphatic system, helping keep the immune system working at optimum ability. Calendula tincture is known to help heal sore and torn skin as well as calm and soothe a sore and upset tummy.
- Garlic Allium sativum The healing power of Garlic has long been documented to help assist with everything from infections, to cardiovascular health to immune system support. There are many medicines one could create from fresh garlic: syrups, tinctures, fire cider/witch’s brew, infused oil etc. The easiest way to incorporate Garlic is to simply eat it, cook with it and include it in your daily meals. After all its one of the most accessible kitchen herbs out there.
- Mullein Verbascum spp. I fell head over heals in love with Mullein and all its greatness years ago when I was in herb school. Such a wonderfully supportive herb for respiratory wellness and so easy to include. A daily cup of Mullein leaf tea will keep your breathing deeply and support your respiratory system all winter.
- Gill dried Shitake (or Maitake or other) mushrooms Growing your own mushrooms is becoming easier and more economical all the time. There are many kits out there that enable you to grow, harvest and dry medicinal mushrooms all on your own. When a mushroom is dried with its gills to the sun, it captures all the wonderful vitamin D that the sun has to offer, making this an excellent way to access this essential nutrient during those dark times.
Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
The Aroma of Nature is profound and often linked in our memory to happy feelings and events. The intoxicating scent of a flower that has first opened and released its aroma is a true moment of pure joy. The resinous, earthy smell of the Coniferous Trees when the sap is running can be so grounding and reaffirming. The crisp clean scent of basil and peppermint can sharpen the senses and bring awareness to the task at hand. The aroma of fresh lemon, orange and grapefruits being peeled can be a delightful uplifting event, taking one out of a sad mood and into happiness almost immediately. Capturing these Aromas and placing them in our day to day routines can enlighten and bring joy and light to dark places. The direct benefit of integrating essential oils into your every day use is first and foremost all oils have some antiseptic/anti-microbial healing potential. They are able to scavenge airborne pathogens and influence the immune system in a positive way while addressing emotional and spiritual health as well. Consider creating a custom blend of your favourite aromas to have on hand for moment of need.
Time in Nature
The best way to make peace with the darkness, embrace it and integrate it is to immerse into Nature on a daily basis. Carve out that time to be still and experience the subtlety of this season, the peaceful quiet that the natural world comes to in the darkness. Nature is wise, it will teach you how to be in this season. Observe the beauty in the stillness and embody this energy, allowing yourself to be still, quiet, introverted. Be present when the sun is shining and be outside, allow that sun to cascade over your face and give gratitude for that moment of calm infusion. Take walks at dusk, when the sun is inching below the horizon and allow yourself to find your footing instinctually in the darker hours of the day. Smell nature, the darker seasons smell differently. Sense when its going to snow or rain and be outside when it begins. It is nature’s symphony when the snow begins to fall and blanket the earth.
Use your senses to integrate the natural world, the darkness and find the wisdom and gifts that it holds for you. This is the season to let go of what is no longer serving, to rest, and build your reserves for the big rebirth of spring. Be grateful that we are given this opportunity every year to do this, what a wonderful moment of pause, restore and rebuild that the darkness holds for us.