Hibernating   (first published by Moon-Books.net, December 2013)

After a very long, warm summer and autumn in Ireland the north wind is finally upon us. This week the last of the leaves are starting to come down and I’m spending many hours at work clearing them up (they make great leaf-mulch compost). Despite the abrupt shortening of the days as we move ever closer to the solstice mankind continues to rush about like mad things.

We get up by electric light (in most cases) and rush off to school or work and quite often it’s also dark by the time we leave to come home again. In the winter it’s possible for many of us to hardly see the sun at all due to the demands of civilised living. This lack of sunlight is often the cause of vitamin D deficiency and also depression known as seasonal affective disorder (appropriately SAD for short). I used to suffer from SAD myself, that is until I changed my career – ditching the office job in front of a computer for the outdoor life – often clutching shears, a shovel or a rake instead of a ‘mouse’.

Since I made that rather dramatic change I can’t help but think that animals and plants have more sense than we have. If they have any innate sense of how to live it is obviously directly connected to the cycle of the seasons, as they instinctively know when to stop or slow down. Sadly humans often put such considerations as their physical and spiritual health on a much lower priority than earning money, getting that big promotion or just keeping busy.

This intense, almost manic, way of life has become an end in itself as well as being a way of avoiding having to look inward at the deeper questions of our own lives and what we are here for. If we are constantly busy then we have no time for getting in touch with our more subtle needs and often it also serves to create a lack of intimacy with our friends and family. The festive season, for various faiths, is meant to be a time of spiritual contemplation and renewing the bonds of family and friendship that we may have neglected during the year.

With rampant consumerism and an orgy of excessive drink, food and television being increasingly common I wonder if we have not lost sight of what should come naturally. The whole natural world slows down around us, while we rush on regardless. Perhaps this hiatus was not a strange human idiosyncrasy in the past, perhaps it was actually necessary for a stable and healthy society? Whatever your beliefs may be, this should be a time to slow down if you can. I won’t be exactly hibernating myself, but I fully intend to take as much time as possible to relax, reflect and see all the loved ones I’ve not been able to share time with during the lighter months.