At this, the darkest time of year, it’s important to hold on to the things that give us hope for the future.
It’s hard to imagine what the short days of winter were like for our early ancestors with just a flame for light and heat. The physical tasks of daily living and keeping warm were extremely hard. Fears of the unknown and being scared of unseen terrors in the dark were very real and powerful. The deeper meaning of light and darkness is obvious in our language when we talk about ‘being in the dark’ or ‘shining a light’ on a dilemma or mystery. Religions around the World tap into this ancient human experience in the way that light and dark are conceptualised in their beliefs.
It is common to lament that the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas is being lost, but I think we have lost more than that. We are missing a deep and spiritual connection to the ebb and flow of the seasons. The scrabble to buy excessive amounts of food, gifts and have that new sofa ‘delivered in time for Christmas’ diverts us away from the elements in our lives that can sustain us through the dark winter. Today we festoon our homes, inside and out, with bright and twinkling lights; but are we really able to keep our demons at bay?
What can get us through the dark winter months? If we think about what we need to survive; it’s the support of other human beings. At this time of year we need to be with family and friends; showing kindness and care for each other. In this way we reaffirm the relationships that sustain us all year round. We don’t have to spend hundreds of pounds to show that we love and care. A simple, shared meal and a home-made gift; doing activities and laughing together create the connections between people. If we continue to destroy our planet with excessive consumerism we will be heading for a very dark and frightening future.
It’s not just relationships between humans that sustain us. Last week I was inspired by a group of occupational therapy students from the University of East Anglia who created a project about homeless people and their companion pets, usually dogs but not always. They referenced the story of James Bowen and his cat named Bob. James was a homeless man, addicted to heroin, who rescued an injured cat and, in saving the cat, he saved himself. As occupational therapists we understand that this meaningful occupation redefined his self-identity; structured his life and gave James a purpose. Taking care of another person or creature who is vulnerable and dependent fulfils a deep human need. The students developed the idea of providing pet food and veterinary care in homeless shelters to support those living on the streets with animal companions. I feel proud of these students that were able to be so person-centred and caring for others who are struggling to find a way to cope with a difficult life.
In the dark midwinter we need to care for others and, in turn, take care of ourselves and the planet we share.
Read more in these inspirational books:
‘A Street Cat Named Bob’ by James Bowen, published by Hodder & Stoughton
‘The Unselfish Spirit’ by Mick Collins, published by Permanent Publications
Two of my own photographs of some winter sunshine: