Psalm 91:6 says “You will not fear…the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.” But as winter approaches, I do fear what Christian monastics called “the noonday devil.” The creeping sense of sadness, lethargy, and despair that accompanies the season that is now almost upon us.
Andrew Solomon also wrote a beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful book on this very subject. Winter is the noonday demon of my year. The summer light is fading. The sun is going to ground. Like our brother bear, as mammals we humans may also wish to sleep these cold months away.
But we must resist the urge to hibernate, and instead find ways to fill ourselves with warmth and light.
I have developed a few strategies that help me, and may help you, through the dark, icy months ahead. First, we must keep moving. I had a friend in college who said that he gained weight in the summer, but stayed fit in the winter. The reason, he told me, was because during the summer he lounged around eating too much cheese and crackers and drinking way too much wine. Fair enough. But during the winter months (in his cold native Ohio) he spent his time skiing and ice skating to stay active and keep the pounds off. Myself, I wake at 4:30 am and head to my local YMCA for some running, weight lifting, rowing, or whatever else I can do to stoke the engine of my metabolism for the rest of the day. Even though the opposite would seem to be true, the more active we are, the more energy we have. So don’t pad your den; exercise instead. Even if it’s a walk around the block.
Second, although we have a temptation to eat heavy, comforting foods, for me the opposite is true. I need to stay light, both in my eating and my attitude. What I do consume, however, are warming teas and other homemade potions to keep my agni burning. My favorite is a very simple “tea” made from hot water and a blend of powdered ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and sometimes a clove or two. Ginger especially is good for maintaining energy and a robust digestive fire.
Third, we share an occasional sauna with friends at one of my favorite places on earth, and one I’m so blessed to live close to. I also use full-spectrum or halogen light bulbs in my home and at work wherever I can, to mimic natural sunlight.
Reading over what I just wrote, I guess my keys for keeping the demon and the sadness at bay can be summed up in three words: movement, warmth and light. Take that, you devil.