Lessons from Nature: Living with the Seasons
Last week in Thrive in Five! We looked at the importance of eating a variety of different foods, with a little challenge to “eat the rainbow” – a great way to optimise this and something I often talk about with my 1:1 clients too. A great way to do this is to also focus on eating seasonally too – what’s in season naturally varies so helps you to get that variety of nutrients without even thinking specifically about it.
This thinking about variety and eating seasonally got me thinking about variety more generally though, and how not just eating but living seasonally can also play a role in our health. I love thinking about how our ancestors ate and lived and often see correlations between a downturn in food quality, reduced movement, increased use of synthetic chemical and toxic air quality, and the rise of chronic disease (or dis-ease as we might call it).
What I’m thinking about more lately though is the role that our busy lifestyles play in ignoring the seasons. There’s no longer a need to eat seasonally or significantly adjust our daily routines to fit the weather conditions or influence the types of physical activity that we do (let's face it, the gym is the gym, no matter the weather outside!). We also don't tend to vary the mental workload that we manage on a day-to-day basis – we work, the kids go to school, we socialise in the evenings and at the weekends. But what impact might this lack of variety have on our physical and mental health?
One thing that I’ve been doing more of late is getting in touch with my spiritual side and exploring the way in which spiritual practices often line up with the changing of the seasons and the rhythm of the solar or lunar calendar. These encourage us to make changes in the what we so or think about, adding some natural variety to our daily focus.
Up here in the far north of the northern hemisphere the seasons are much more prominent and that’s really helped me on my journey towards recognising and embracing these differences. We just passed the autumn equinox and it’s full speed now towards the longer dark nights. The trees are shedding their leaves in a beautiful display of vibrant colour, a final celebration of the summer and a letting go of those things that we no longer need as we enter a phase of rest and rejuvenation. Might we also be doing that?
The final harvests are being collected – the last mushrooms and berries from the forests, the digging of the final potatoes and root vegetables. We are storing for the winter, preserving what we have harvested as it will not be in abundance now for the long winter ahead of us. But there is something satisfying about that feeling for me. Of seeing the produce of my hard summer’s labours, a satisfaction at looking in the pantry and seeing the jars lining up with jams and chutneys, dried mushrooms and berries and herbal teas. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not there yet – there’s not nearly enough to see my family through the winter in the way that would have been necessary for those that first lived in my house almost 150 years ago (and it’s a relief that we live now rather than then honestly, imagine the stress and pressure that would have caused!) The garden did not produce nearly as much as we would have liked and it’s still very much a learning process, but it’s one I am enjoying very much. One that teaches me day by day, season by season, year by year.
It feels good to have that shift in focus from growing to harvesting to preserving and knowing that what I cook will also change as the winter sets in and I am using dried or reserved foods rather than fresh ones. Switching from salads to soups. Starting to be inside more, lighting the fire, burning candles in a very Scandinavian "hugge" style rather than sitting outside in the sunshine late into the evenings. And soon the fire will need to burn all day and all night. Soon the children will return from school in the darkness and the lighting of the candles will start earlier in the day. We will have switched from diving into the lake for a cool down to bundling up in winter jackets to shovel snow and play snowball fights to warm up.
With longer nights there can be more rest. Sleep comes more easily and evening activities focus on quieter connection. Board games and jigsaws, creating cards ready for Christmas, being in a smaller space with each other to share a closeness that balances out the exuberance of summer where the space is expansive. Honestly I didn't see my children for many hours at a time as they climbed trees, made dens in the forest, played man-hunt across the village. Now is the time for a deeper connection again with them and my husband, our family unit.
Surely this variety, this seasonality is also healthy for us in the way that seasonal food is? Afterall, they say that variety is the spice of life.
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