A Magazine About Food, Art & Exchange In Midtown Kingston, Published By The Hudson Valley Current.

WINTER LIFE HACKS: TIME TO GO DEEP

And just like that, boom, it’s 2023.

The frenzy of the various holidays, which impacts just about everyone who’s not living in a cave, has passed; we made it through the odd week between Christmas and New Years. Mainstream media, as they do every year, goes from pushing feasting and drinking and carrying on to jokes about how no one knows what day it is to promoting Dry January, as if we’re all waiting for them to tell us exactly when to be doing all of that stuff. Personally, if I want to feast and drink and carry on, vegetate, or leave alcohol alone, it’s going to be based on my personal choice at the moment and not on a calendar prescribed by corporate entities.

On a deeper level, though, strong instincts are beneath the calendar of feasting and resting. The harvest, the solstice, the cold dark days have a rhythm we’ve been feeling for thousands of years. Beneath the hardened earth, the seeds await their moment. Some animals, having feasted and bulked up in autumn, slip into torpor, in which their metabolism slows and their temperatures drop. It’s not sleep. When a mammal sleeps, unconscious physical functions continue at their normal rate; in torpor, body temperature can drop by 10 degrees or more and breathing slows down.

Dwarf lemurs can make it through a whole hour on six heartbeats and six breaths. Bears can last 100 days without eating, although science tells us they’re easily awakened…

Stillness can be hard to find in the modern world for so many reasons. The rent is too damn high and so is the heating bill. Cars refuse to start. Customer service in both government and private sectors can feel as sluggish and mysterious as a fogbound frozen-over creek. The season of stillness in the great Northeast can be a royal pain. Since we can’t hibernate, here are some handy stillness-finding life hacks I’ve found over a lifetime here:

Go gentle. We’re all in this struggle together, some rafting the rapids while others lounge on yacht decks. Everything is relative and nobody consciously picks their starting point, and people who forget that and think their circumstances entitle them to step on toes are the ones to be truly pitied. Even if we’ve got nothing but our hearts and minds, we’ve got that much and no one can take it away.

Grief and guilt and shame can hit hard in the stillness. Don’t just swallow that stuff and play tough; it’ll give you indigestion. Write about it. Talk to someone you trust. Drill tenderly inward and find out what’s underneath. Our minds mask anger with sadness, or sadness with anger; till I figure out which I really have going on, I’m unlikely to be able to figure out how to make it better. 

Pay attention to your breath for a few minutes: in through your nostrils, hold for two seconds, out long and slow through your mouth. Practice this at odd moments when you’re calm and cozy. I find it can help fend off a panic or a rage response, neither of which are fun. It can literally reset your brain chemistry.

When you get up, take a minute to open a door or window and fill your lungs with fresh cold outside air; it’ll make the coffee taste better. 

Cold weather pairs well with feasting on root veggies and beans, soups and stews. Make love, whether to yourself or someone else. Explore the wide world of the world wide web—everyone moans about its flaws, but we can study up on just about any subject in the world, watch livestreams of the world’s great cities or eagles nesting, watch history being made and human nature in all its tragicomedy. Find your fascinations and vet your sources. (Even studying darkness itself, in its various forms, can be fine and instructive, but season it with laughter, with amazement and awe. If rabbit holes didn’t have exits, we’d run out of rabbits.) (Which don’t get to hibernate either.)

Use the still time of year to make just a few small changes that make your life a better place, and if there are bigger, harder changes needed, they’ll get nearer and easier. Remember that the sun is already coming back to us, making each day about a minute longer than the last. Using our time well right now, being gentle with ourselves, can make it easier to be patient when it’s gruesome out and glory in the sunshiny T-shirt weather when it finally shows up.