The first month of 2016’s now done and dusted. One down, eleven more to go.

The festivities of Christmas and New Year’s Eve are naught but a hazy memory, replaced by endless sale offers, credit card statements, calamitous weather and scattered fragments of new year resolutions.

I’ve had a cough and cold virus for the whole of January (which is only now abating), so I feel I’ve pretty much done zero, zip, NOTHING so far this year. No playtime at the Museum of Happiness’s pop-up event, no tea with friends, not even further damage to my credit card in those darned sales.

I recently read that the cold virus is supposed to make us feel depressed and lethargic so that we don’t go out and pick up another infection whilst fighting the first one. This insight brought me tremendous relief because it’s not just that I’ve been too unwell to go out and connect with the world; to be honest, I often haven’t wanted to. Attempts to plan the year ahead have felt like treading through treacle: cancelled plans have felt like a blessed relief.

It’s a difficult line to draw. As an introvert (and one in chronic health), few things make me happier than a day on my own to simply tickle personal projects, ponder, read and sleep. And I also know how easy it is to slip unnoticed onto the foothills of depression in this state. It’s not always easy for me to sense if I’m holding space for integration and comfort, or the subtle stagnancy of disinclination and numbing.

But I also know how easy it is to find myself being busy without being productive. We’ve all done it; the crammed schedule, the knee-jerk saying ‘yes’, the exhaustion as ‘badge of honour’ that proves we’re always ‘on the go’ and ‘in demand’. Some hide from life by drawing away from it; others, by submerging themselves within it.

As always, as with everything, awareness, balance and compassion is key: awareness, so we know where we are, balance, so we’re not focusing too much inwardly or outwardly, too much on action or reflection, and compassion to accept ourselves however we are but especially if we’re out of awareness and balance.

I’m not saying I’ve got any of it right over the last month, but here are a couple of things I’ve noticed;

It’s OK to take a break sometimes

This may not be possible as everyone’s circumstances are different, but you know what? Taking a break’s allowed. A break that isn’t filled with new activities (ie, an annual holiday) or an official permission slip (ie a glorious retreat – although no wonder they’re becoming so popular).

Sometimes the Universe gives me a lull (and mysteriously provides me with the empty diary space), at other times I’m the one that does the culling; either way, recovery time isn’t just for athletes or after operations.

I’m halfway through a planning programme for the year. One of the earliest questions invited me to go through my diary/planner and write down all the things I did last year. As I reached the end of my third sheet of A4, two realisations struck me. One, that it was no wonder I felt so exhausted and resentful of several commitments during the previous 12 months and, two, no wonder I was still exhausted from it all now!

The body has its own wisdom. In my case a virus is the Universe giving me a permission slip to rest, recover and integrate everything I experienced in the previous year.

What do you need to give yourself a permission slip for, so you can rest?

It helps to know where you are before you work out where you want to go

It’s so easy to be caught up in the eyes-to-the-ground detail of day-to-day living that I can lose track of the direction each step’s taking me in. So busy with surviving I lose track of thriving.

Taking a pause allows me to lift my head up and take a look around. Am I where I want to be? Am I still heading in the direction I want to? Do the journey and destination still lift and inspire me, or am I trudging aimlessly?

No decisions have to be rushed. Nothing needs to be forced. Confusion is natural and OK. Allowing and holding space for myself with kindness is the only challenge to meet right now. As Lao Tzu famously put it, “Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear”.

We’re part of nature. And nature has her seasons

It’s winter here in the Northern hemisphere. The trees are bare, the ground sparse and sodden. Little appears to be happening on the surface; even the grass seems to have stopped growing. And yet, come spring, all of this will burst once more into blossom, colour and life. We trust this will happen without our intervention.

Farmers allow fields to fall fallow for a cycle so that the soil can restore itself. I too need time to pause and withdraw, to regather and renew my internal resources, and know that while I fear I’m doing little externally I can trust that things are turning in my soil. Part of being a writer is letting ideas percolate in the subconscious, after all.

Trust, surrender, receptivity, acceptance: they’re harder to do if we’re not quiet and slow enough for them to dwell within us. Spaciousness is a gift, if we’re willing to welcome it.

It’s OK to miss out on stuff

One of the side effects of withdrawing and not doing things is, understandably, missing out. I’ve felt sad when I’ve missed workshops, exhibitions and opportunities. I’ve had to show myself real care and compassion when the panic of ‘missing out’ has started to fizz in my belly, and felt challenged to remember that things happen with divine timing. I know that pushing myself to do things when my inner wisdom’s disagreed has led to mutual resentment, frustration and scattered energy, a situation that doesn’t benefit anyone.

So how do I feel after a month in unintentional retreat? I’m feeling less overwhelmed, more centred, and that there’s still more silence to come.

I recently started an 8-week long class with Mark Silver at heartofbusiness.com, which has at its core the Sufi practise of Remembrance as a way to develop our relationship with ourselves and with the divine. I’m loving the course, AND it’s bringing up hidden and painful aspects so I may address them with loving compassion. It’s pretty tiring stuff to integrate, and I’m so glad I’ve got the space in which to gently hold it. By devoting time to myself during these winter months, I hope to have more energy and love to devote to others when nature’s cycle re-inspires me to blossom and bloom.

Which is the irony, of course. It turns out that doing nothing is doing something, after all.

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