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  • Writer's pictureBarry Shirley


Updated: Jul 7, 2021

Hi Guys. In this July 2021 blog (Issue19) – I would like to contemplate the subject of ‘Winter’ and ‘Change’. ‘Winter’ as in the season itself and in the context of a metaphor of how the world appears, how you feel about it, and yourself and how you can feel better.

It could also be seen as a euphemism for fear (i.e. ‘winter is coming’ as in the ‘Game of Thrones’ – not everyone will get that reference!). It will be, however, a little bit of Shakespeare’s, “Now is the winter of our discontent…...” and a little bit of Albert Camus’ quote, In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

As in my previous blogs, I will draw on the views and opinions of past and current masters, sages, mystics, gurus, philosophers and generally wise people. I also tap into all the worldly belief systems, religions and philosophies to draw on ancient knowledge and wisdom. These blog posts are designed for those interested in mindfulness and will only give you a taste of the information, knowledge and wisdom that is out there (and all points raised can easily be further researched).

You could be forgiven for feeling fearful or overwrought given the alarming COVID - 19 situation we are now in, both here and around the world. Also, given the way the world seems to be in a period of decline and adversity. Short of completely shutting out the news and ‘burying our heads in the sand’, we could try accepting things as they are (i.e. being more aware) and letting go of things (i.e. like fear and negativity) – to get through all this.

COVID -19 has certainly changed the world – it’s changing the way we work, socialise, interact and live. Many persons have a strong perception of a hostile world out there. However, those living in an unsafe country (prone to war, hunger, dislocation and disaster etc) might have a different practical viewpoint. But as Viktor Frankl said in his seminal book on his holocaust experiences, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’: - “The last of human freedoms is one’s ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” He also said, “the meaning of life is to give life meaning.”

I write this piece as the Winter Solstice is upon us (21 June 2021). This is when the Sun in the sky is farthest north in the Southern Hemisphere and when the Sun travels the shortest path through the sky, and therefore gives the least daylight and the longest night.

Does this start of winter in nature affect us in our human condition? There are many anecdotal experiences of our behavioural changes during the transition to winter. The strongest evidence of this is how some people might experience a type of mood depression called ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ (SAD) which often tends to be predominant in the winter months. Also known as the ‘winter blues’, see the link explaining the disorder

Winter has traditionally been a time for reflection and possibly a time for new beginnings/thresholds. Whilst the Shakespeare quote, “Now is the winter of our discontent” is used as a metaphor in his play, Richard III, it also expresses the idea that we have reached the depth of our unhappiness and better times are ahead. The aforementioned quote from Albert Camus (French Philosopher) is in the context that he believed that life is an adventure without final meaning, but still worth experiencing. Since there is nothing besides life, people need to live life to the fullest and find meaning in human existence.

Following on with this theme and at this particular time of year, I always like to contemplate the excellent poetic piece by John O’Donohue (Irish Poet and philosopher – b.1956 d.2008) called ‘Thresholds’ from his book To Bless the Space Between Us. I have reproduced the excerpt in toto: -

‘Within the grip of winter, it is almost impossible to imagine the spring. The grey perished landscape is shorn of colour. Only bleakness meets the eye; everything seems severe and edged. Winter is the oldest season; it has some quality of the absolute. Yet beneath the surface of winter, the miracle of spring is already in preparation; the cold is relenting; seeds are wakening up. Colours are beginning to imagine how they will return. Then, imperceptibly, somewhere one bud opens, and the symphony of renewal is no longer reversible. From the black heart of winter, a miraculous, breathing plenitude of colour emerges.

The beauty of nature insists on taking its time. Everything is prepared. Nothing is rushed. The rhythm of emergence is a gradual slow beat always inching its way forward; change remains faithful to itself until the new unfolds in the full confidence of true arrival. Because nothing is abrupt, the beginning of spring nearly always catches us unawares. It is there before we see it; and then we can look nowhere without seeing it.

Changes arrive in nature when time has ripened. There are no jagged transitions or crude discontinuities. This accounts for the sureness with which one season succeeds another. It is though they were moving forward in a rhythm set from within a continuum.

To change is one of the great dreams of every heart – to change the limitations, the sameness, the banality, or the pain. So often we look back on patterns of behaviour, the kind of decisions we make repeatedly and that have failed to serve us well, and we aim for a new and more successful path or way of living. But change is difficult for us. So often we opt to continue the old pattern, rather than risking the danger of difference.

We are also often surprised by change that seems to arrive out of nowhere. We find ourselves crossing some new threshold we had never anticipated. Like spring secretly at work within the heart of winter, below the surface of our lives huge changes are in fermentation. We never suspect a thing. Then when the grip of some long-enduring winter mentality begins to loosen, we find ourselves vulnerable to a flourish of possibility and we are suddenly negotiating the challenge of a threshold.

At any time, you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it? A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms and atmospheres. Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up. At this threshold a great complexity of emotions comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope. This is one of the reasons such vital crossings were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognise and acknowledge the key thresholds; to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.

To acknowledge and cross a new threshold is always a challenge. It demands courage and also a sense of trust in whatever is emerging. This becomes essential when a threshold opens suddenly in front of you, one for which you had no preparation. This could be illness, suffering or loss. Because we are so engaged with the world, we usually forget how fragile life can be and how vulnerable we always are. It takes only a couple of seconds for a life to change irreversibly. Suddenly you stand on completely strange ground and a new course of life has to be embraced.

Especially at such times we desperately need blessing and protection. You look back at the life you have lived up to a few hours before, and it suddenly seems so far away. Think for a moment how, across the world, someone’s life has just changed – irrevocably, permanently, and not necessarily for the better – and everything that was once so steady, so reliable, must now find a new way of unfolding.

Though we know one another’s names and recognise one another’s faces, we never know what destiny shapes each life. The script of individual destiny is secret; it is hidden behind and beneath the sequence of happenings that is continually unfolding for us. Each life is a mystery that is never finally available to the mind’s light or questions. That we are here is a huge affirmation; somehow life needed us and wanted us to be. To sense and trust this primeval acceptance can open a vast spring of trust within the heart. It can free us into a natural courage that casts out fear and opens up our lives to become voyages of discovery, creativity, and compassion. No threshold need be a threat, but rather an invitation and a promise. Whatever comes, the great sacrament of life will remain faithful to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace. We merely need to trust.’

Fear appears to be the overall driver of how some of us feel about the so called ‘Winter’ throughout the world. Programmed egoic tribal identity also seems to be a dynamic. In his book on the world crisis, With the Falling of the Dusk, Stan Grant states (p244), “Identity. It is everywhere. Identity, identity, identity. It is inescapable, and at its worst – at its most toxic – it is the scourge of our age.” Later in the book referring to terror wars he writes (p254), “…..I see revelations like this as like light bulbs that illuminate the deep connections between identity movements the world over, and the common pattern: manipulate a people; discover their weakness and fear; bind them to an ideology; give them a story of oppression and historical humiliation; arm them and send them to war.”

He later suggests (p260), “To survive, we need to look for little moments of joy, those moments when if you like, the light of God shines. We take those moments where we find them and hold them close; sometimes this is all that gets us through. this is what the fundamentalists of any faith, any political ideology – the identity warriors – hate the most: they hate love. They hate joy. And most of all they hate the freedom that only love, and joy can bring.”

Not wanting to get too far from the overall point of contemplation, I would like to mention that in Hindu philosophy we are said to be currently experiencing the age of Kali Yuga (apparently starting from 5,000 years ago). The Kali Yuga is the last one of four extremely long periods of time which are described in the form of seasons. The current one (Kali Yuga) is described as a ‘winter’ and in the ancient Sanskrit texts, as an age of strife, discord, contention, injustice, war, pestilence and disease. There is also a reference to bad rulers, large migrations, an intolerance to each other and overall age of spiritual and moral decline. A better Yuga ‘spring’ age is forecast many thousands of years into the future but even though dharma (i.e. in Hinduism, right action/right way of living) has currently declined, each of us can do something to make the world a better place.

As I normally do, I will now turn to the Bhagavad Gita (ancient Sanskrit Hindu teaching at least 3-5 thousand years old). The Gita basically denotes an allegorical battle between the forces of ego and the higher self, it does this with with dialogue between Krishna, as the Supreme Soul teaching the warrior Arjuna (representing the best but flawed aspects of humanity) how to defeat the ego forces and discover the higher Self, (The Gita is considered a practical guide on living a spiritual life. The entire text is a representation of the battle that goes on in our minds).

There are many references in the Gita to our impermanence and how our senses and ego act to emphasise some perceptions and ignores others. This selectively captures a narrative between ourselves and the ego - change makes a mess of that story and plunges us into uncertainty.

The Gita guides us to accept change as a certainty, to be less self-focussed and ruled by the ego and seek to deepen our level of consciousness (i.e. going inwards to the Self).

At chapter 2 sloka (verse) 68 of the Gita, Krishna instructs Arjuna with the following advice:

‘Therefore, O mighty armed warrior, one who always restrains his senses from objects, his wisdom is steady.’ Or, from other translations;

‘Therefore, O Mahabaho, his wisdom is established whose senses are completely restrained from sense objects.’ Or;

‘Use all your power to free the senses from attachment and aversion alike and live in the full wisdom of the Self.’

If we can learn to be a little more detached, accepting and non-judgemental we become less reactive, look inward and deny the ego its hold on our fears. Meditation will assist in this, helping to move inwards and using stillness to make the right response to situations involving change or the like.

In terms of eastern philosophy and belief systems, the 4th century BCE Chinese tradition of Taoism (or Daoism), founded by Lao tzu, is of interest regarding the aspect of change. It emphasises living in harmony with nature (defined as, ‘The Way’) rather than being concerned with the human way of life. It involves the constant, competing and complementary aspects of Yin and Yang (i.e. passivity and activity) and how to keep in balance with the different cycles of nature which are ever changing (NB not that different to the three Gunas and Prakriti in ancient Hindu philosophy).

From a Taoist perspective Winter is a Yin season, governed by the element of water and the energy of storing. Winter in this context is therefore the season to conserve our qi (pronounced “chi”) – our vital energy (Prana in ancient Hindu philosophy). In Chinese Traditional Medicine, qi embraces all manifestations of energy and it is said that a gathering of qi makes a healthy and happy human being. Check out the following link from the University of Minnesota for more information on this.

As in nature, things slow down during winter. Gather and settle your qi,restore your wellbeing and go with the flow in readiness for the Yang of Spring.


  • “You must be the change you wish to see in the world “– Mahatma Gandhi – b.1869 d.1948 – Indian lawyer, nationalist, spiritual guide.

  • “When you no longer perceive the world as hostile, there is no more fear, and when there is no more fear, you think, speak and act differently.” – Eckhart Tolle – b.1948 spiritual teacher, author.

  • “No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” – Hal Borland – b.1900 d.1978 – US author, journalist and naturalist.

  • “Be content with what you have. Rejoice in how things are. When you realise there is nothing lacking, the world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu – 6th century to 4th century BCE – Chinese philosopher.

Take away

  • Everything comes to pass - what could be your next challenge? - don’t be surprised with a new beginning/threshold.

  • Whatever happens – look for the patterns and embrace change – not letting the ego interfere.

  • Winter is time to turn inwards, reflect and slow down if you can.

  • This is the perfect time to get creative!

  • Also, try yoga (especially Yin yoga at this time of year), along with meditation – a natural combination for overall well-being.

Compiled by Baz Shirley.


*See also:

Instagram: @bazabstractart - Facebook: Barry Shirley

And all my previous posts on:*

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