Gone To Ground

This period of time between Christmas and New Year always feels a bit like “no man’s land”. In past years I’ve come to recognise the rhythm of this. The cyclical nature of the seasons and what this fallow period can provide. It is during this time that I embrace rest. It is also a time when my mind wanders off to places I’ve not visited for a while. Like the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, I am greeted by thoughts of what has been, what is now, and what might be.

Once Christmas has passed, initially I feel like I’ve stepped off a train onto a strange, yet somehow familiar platform. At first I’m lost and bewildered without the constant rock of momentum. Then comes an adjustment period – A physical and mental slowing down, in order to become more aware of both the internal and external landscape.

Yesterday I spent the day in bed. Not intentionally. I simply slept and slept until I awoke in a fog of confusion. Surprised by my own body, and it’s obvious need to rest and slow down. But on waking I instantly felt a wave of panic. “What will everyone think of this shameful laziness!”. The voice of my guilty conscience telling me this was a self indulgent, lazy, pointless thing to do.

But I obviously needed to. There was an unconscious need for me to withdraw from the world. It wasn’t pointless, or being lazy. It was an unconscious need to take cover, and rest. Perhaps this echoes the need to hibernate, or the self preserverance act of an animal going to ground when it feels weak?

The phrase “gone to ground” originated as a fox hunting term meaning the fox in question had escaped to an underground burrow or den. It began being used figuratively in the 1960s to describe a person who had gone into hiding. “To become inaccessible, to disappear from the scene, often for a lengthy period of time”. The implication being that someone or something was following or harassing them.

I suppose in a way I do find Christmas a form of harassment! I joked to the mechanic at my local garage recently when getting my campervan MOT’d. It was in the lead up to Christmas and he asked how I was doing. I immediately blurted out that I felt bullied. By Christmas. I was half joking, but when he looked at me askance I found myself confessing that I wasn’t quite ready for it all. That I felt I didn’t really have a choice as the whole world seemed to be telling me it was happening, whether I liked it or not. That I didn’t really want to play the game, I just wanted to sit it out, away from it all. (In hindsight perhaps this was a little overdramatic for a Tuesday morning MOT service!). Needless to say that my explanation did nothing to encourage the mechanic to consider whether he might feel like that too. I left feeling, as I often feel, a bit different and like I’m trying to swim upstream.

Perhaps if I’d said I wanted to hibernate this would have lightened the mood. It seems this is more widely recognised, and therefore more acceptable to us. We can joke about this. Interesting given that hibernation is described as “A state of minimal activity and metabolic depression”. Yet there is common understanding here, for nature, for the season, and for animals and plants “doing what they need to do”.

The need to rest is part of the cycle of life. But we are all so busy trying to keep up with everyone else, we often forget what it is we actually need for ourselves. There is a kind of low level of anxiety lurking beneath this modern way of life, yet so many of us don’t even recognise how it effects us. Rest and recovery is what enables us to process, and then progress. We re-emerge stronger because of it.

I’m not saying we should all go to bed until Spring! Obviously this isn’t practical, or necessary, but perhaps we can give ourselves (and everyone else) permission to simply stop and become inactive for a while. To archive all that has happened, compress all that we feel. To sift through our thoughts, and allow them to settle and become still. Time to sit by the fire, read a book. Listen to the wind, watch the rain. Wrap up warm and feel cosy. Perhaps during this time we can also begin to make way for something new. Allowing space for inspiration. Reconnecting with those ideas that lie dormant for now, but can begin to emerge in the light of a new year.

Katherine May says in her beautifully written book “Wintering”; Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through.

Perhaps then, by us all doing this together, with the natural world as our guide, we can allow each other this time. No judgement. No shame. No guilt. No regrets.

Something I felt was a huge positive during the COVID pandemic, was that we ALL experienced a period of enforced lockdown. We, as a world, had an opportunity to STOP, collectively. Momentum ceased. And so many of us had a chance to review, rethink and reset. If we were to try and apply the physics concept of momentum to this, then we can see the parallels. Not just to lockdown, but with Winter too.

“Any object with momentum is going to be hard to stop. To stop such an object it is necessary to apply a force against it’s motion for a given period of time”. The more momentum that an object has, the harder it is to stop. Requiring a great amount of force, or a longer amount of time”.

Perhaps this is true for people, and the force against motion required in order to hault the momentum of the lives that we lead. (The busier we are, the harder it is to stop). A weekend for example will never be enough time to really have an opportunity to come to a complete hault. Perhaps this is reflected by the average length of time we take for annual leave (1 or 2 weeks to properly benefit). Yet still, for me, Winter and particularly the Christmas/New Year period provides an “force” against the motion of life that provides a chance for a complete stop, and therefore a deeper reset.

The end of a year naturally prompts us to think of what has taken place. We take stock and review. And with the start of the New Year comes the promise of new beginnings, hope, a fresh start with new resolutions. So what can we take from this time? What can it provide for us? Perhaps it is the chance to step into this no man’s land, to embrace it. This is a naturally, untethered time for us to slow down, to have the space to process all that we do, all that has happened, all that we hope might happen in the future.

But we must acknowledge also, that this may be uncomfortable. Painful even for some. Presenting truths we have been busy ignoring. By stopping here a while, we may feel vulnerable. Without the momentum to carry us, we are stuck here a while, forced to see and feel how things truly are.

One of my favourite books is “A Short Philosophy Of Birds” by Philippe Dubois and Elise Rousseay. It shows us how there are so many lessons that birds can teach us. Their behaviours can guide us – helping us to reflect on our own lives, they are masters in the art of life. A particular reference I love is how they embrace vulnerability. Moulting is an example given; the shedding of old feathers in order to acquire new ones. A yearly process of loss and renewal, and it can be difficult. “It is a period of vulnerability. The bird knows it is vulnerable and keeps a low profile, not engaging in any important activities during this time. It is patient. It waits for the renewal to occur so that it can regain all it’s former strength and beauty.”

This time of year can leave us feeling vulnerable. Our life temporarily exposed for what it is; warts and all. Flaws are highlighted. Cracks begin to show. Annoyances, frustrations, expectations jostle for attention. Maybe this is what needs to show up for you right now? Maybe it is showing you something you need to see. Allow it to come. Welcome it. See how you respond to it, then, just as it showed up, let it go. You don’t need to DO anything, except be kind to yourself.

We are capable of enduring these fallow periods, just as animals and plants can. Don’t fight it, but instead prepare for it. It may be difficult, but it will not always be this way. “For this too shall pass”.

If you need to, climb into bed! That’s fine! Sink deep beneath the duvet, cocoon your body, and take three deep breaths. Give yourself permission to STOP. And relax. Listen to your heart beat slowing, feel your muscles relax. Feel whatever it is you feel for a minute. An hour. A whole day if needed. This is your own retreat. This is where you can sit, walk, run with your feelings, and connect with your self. Conserve your energy; slow and simple – until you are ready to begin again. Perhaps with a new momementum, a new direction, with new vigour.

Go to ground. The world will be waiting for you when you re-emerge. You’ll be stronger for it. And maybe, just maybe you will see things from a new perspective – who knows what a new year will bring.

Girl Gone Wild x

2 Comments

  1. Mark S says:

    Hi Rachael, Every year I take the week between Christmas and New Years off. Sometimes we travel to see family. o
    Other times, like this year, we stay home. Today I had nothing on the list and just stayed home. It was great. Definitely felt some of that guilt that you mentioned, but I’ll get over it. I also just listened to Katherine May on the On Being podcast. She has a wonderful perspective on things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Girl Gone Wild says:

      Hi Mark. Great to hear you’ve had time to stop and rest. Also, thanks for the tip for the On Being podcast! I’d not heard of it before. Some great content 😄

      Liked by 1 person

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