Hibernation

Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you ― Rainer Maria Rilke

On a typical morning during the workweek, I wake up before seven, snoozing my alarm at least once. I have a cup of coffee or tea, take my vitamins, dress, and head out the door. I go through my day, speaking when spoken to, teaching, spending my afternoons lesson planning or simply being present at school, and then I go home. I might work out at the gym, but lately I’ve opted for a simple YouTube yoga session at home. I’ll make a simple dinner, shower, watch TV or read, and then head to sleep. The variations in this routine are infinitesimal. I might have a phone call or Facebook chat with a friend back home depending on the time of day. Mostly, though, my life here in Korea is one of far less conversation than I have ever known.

It’s winter vacation here. I just finished “teaching” English camp (which mostly involved telling my students we could only watch movies in English, but yes, I would make sure the Korean subtitles were turned on). It’s more time alone with my kids than I’ve had since I arrived, and for the most part, that time with them was a good experience. We folded a lot of origami, managed to read some simple stories, played kickball, dodgeball, and badminton, and the rest of our time was unremarkably beautiful. Still, I’ve spent more time alone than with others this winter season, much of it in spaces of silence.

Be still
Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity
― Lao Tzu

Yesterday, during my yoga practice, there was a point when we’d just come from plank up to the top of the mat and into mountain, hands at heart center. Adriene, the instructor, said something along the lines of “Capture the magic… try to stay still.” And so I did, avoiding my normal habit of fixing my shorts or wiggling my hips. I stood more still than I did the entirety of the day leading up to that moment, and you know what. There was this smile that crept up on my face, the corners of my mouth lifting ever so gently. Something about embracing not moving gave me joy.

You might be thinking, “What does any of this have to do with hibernation?” Don’t worry, I’m right there with you. I was reading about hibernation earlier, and I was amazed to learn that some animals can go for weeks without waking up, lowing their heart and breath rates by 50-100%, only rousing to eat and pass waste. I thought about how fidgety I am most of the time, seemingly unable to sit or stand still. Look at my bedspread in the morning, and you’ll have incontrovertible proof that even sleep can’t force me to stop moving.

I thought about this period of winter, of silence and routine, and how the repetition and the quiet are training me to also slow down my need to move restlessly and unnecessarily. I think about what it would be like to stop moving for weeks at a time, not because I’m sick or incapacitated, but because it’s my body’s natural reaction to my environment. It’s what my body needs. What if my natural inclination were not to fidget or be restless, but instead to be restful and still? What if I take this period of silence as an opportunity to settle down, give my anxious heart and my scattered mind a break from their worries and concerns?

Most of us get some kind of “cabin fever” during the winter, annoyed by the cold, irritated with the need to bundle up. Far too often, we beat ourselves up for this weather-imposed lack of movement. Instead of treating it like some environmental punishment, maybe we can embrace it as simply a chance to slow down, rest, and be still. Hibernation isn’t forever. Only for as long as we need it.

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Photo credit: Matty Adame (via Unsplash)