Here more ways to practice your spirituality in winter.

15. Keep Hope Alive Against the Icy Odds

In her book Comfort Prayers, editor June Cotner shares a poem by Barbara Crooker titled "Hope."

"Winter sunlight, fool's gold, pours in the south window,
fails to warm. Weak as tea, pale as bone, insubstantial
as dust on a mantle, water falling over stone.
The ground outside, hard, white as the hospital bed
where my friend waits after her marrow transplant,
hoping her white count will rise. I watch
birds at the window —
sparrows, titmice, finches —
the plain brown, the speckled,
the ordinary, no flashy travelers up from the tropics,
where winter is a verb, not a state of the heart.
I go out to fill the feeder, feel silky grain slip
through my fingers: millet, proso, corn.
Little birds,
little angels, singing their small song of consolation.
A thin drizzle of sun slips through clouds,
a strand of hope against the icy odds."

Look around your winter environment today. Where do you see a strand of hope?

16. Reasons to Love Winter

Here is a passage from Diane Ackerman's Dawn Light on the joys of winter:

"Personally, I love winter, and regard snow as a great big toy that falls from the sky, just as I did as a child. I love how snow becomes a prism in the sun, crinkling with colors, and how ice coating a wire fence creates visual firecrackers. I love that snow is a mineral, falling as billions of temporary stars. Today I am paging through an exquisite atlas of snowflakes, from crystal ferns and side-branching stars edged with rime droplets to ice slabs and puffball clusters."

Winter provides us with a smorgasbord of surprises. Write down a few reasons why you love winter. Try illustrating your list with snowflakes and other winter delights.

emperor penguins

17. Learn from the Penguins

Penguins are creatures of instinct who have been around for 40 million years. But as the film March of the Penguins shows us, they go way beyond our easy categorizations of them as cute and anthropomorphic. Penguins are incredibly adaptive birds whose survival instincts, mating rituals, and parenting skills have been honed over the centuries. Luc Jacquet's incredible 2005 documentary about them is a magical experience filled with many moments of wonder, delight, and reverence. Here are a few spiritual things we can learn from penguins:

  • Walking slowly is one of the best ways to move. We're often in too big a hurry. Waddling is the right rhythm for those who want to savor all that is going on around them.
  • Stand tall, and do not let the forces of nature torment you or bring you down.
  • In courting rituals, try bowing to the one you love. It is a sign of both tenderness and respect.
  • Huddling together in a circle is one of the best ways to handle tough times when the winds of change knock you for a loop or you just need to be close to the warmth of another in times of suffering.
  • All of us have a nurturing instinct within us, and part of the spiritual task of life is to draw it out in as many ways as possible.
  • We all need some play time and that usually happens in a milieu that enables us to let go and do what comes naturally.
  • Each of us has a distinct voiceprint. Use it well to sing a loving song to the ones who are near and dear to you.

18. Find Something to Lean On

In A Cry of Absence, Protestant historian Martin Marty observes: "While seeking boldness and strength in the wind and the storm, a person relies on landmarks. In a blizzard, a 'whiteout' can disorient, until a wanderer cannot know whether a dark object is a match cover nearby in the snow or a hut farther away on the horizon. The seeker reaches for known, locatable objects. There must be a place to lean on, to hold on."

Reflect upon the "known locatable objects" in your life. What landmarks can you lean on?

19. Beware of January Thaw

Martin Marty writes about the illusory hopes of January thaw in A Cry of Absence: "January thaw: those who must endure the worst of winter have mixed feelings about this moment. They do not dare to settle in to it with security. They fear its deceptive character. . . . For a moment those who enjoy it are tempted to delude themselves: 'The climate in which we live has changed.' The thermometers suggest to residents of the northlands that they might begin to partake of the warmth in which southerners always bask. This year, maybe, the weather will not be so bad! Yet while the pores open to warmth, the head knows what the dates on the calendar insist upon. . . . The spiritual January thaw will not last. Enjoy the warmth and sound it brings, the heart tells itself, but know that this is not a dispelling of winter, only an interruption."

Write in your journal about moments of thaw in your spiritual life. First, describe your situation and/or challenges you face, i.e. your winter. When have you experienced a thaw, and did it last?

20. Enjoy the Comforts of Home

In Comfort and Joy, Colette Lafia, a San Francisco-based writer, spiritual director, and educator, presents a treasure trove of comforts which add pleasure and meaning to our lives.

"I have a velvet pillow filled with buckwheat and scented with lavender that my husband gave me for a Valentine's Day present one year. It's designed as a roll to fit underneath my neck when I am reading in bed. Now, when I have trouble sleeping, I lay the pillow on top of my chest. Its weight and softness feel comforting. This simple pillow roll has now become an object of comfort for me.

"There are things that comfort us by their presence: in our rooms, our cars, and our pockets. They remind us of special people, important moments, or powerful feelings. They are the silver candlesticks that belonged to our grandparents, a smooth stone picked up at the beach, the medal of a saint on a keychain, and the tattered photographs in our wallets. They are totems of comfort that we can touch and hold in our sight."

When the weather outside is uncomfortable, it is possible to find comfort inside our homes with treasured talismans from our lives. Winter is a perfect season for treating ourselves and exploring past experiences that have meant so much to us.

21. Stay at Home When You Are Sick

In 201 Little Buddhist Reminders, Barbara Ann Kipfer shares gathas on daily life. Here is one that is very relevant to the winter season when so many of us get sick with colds, the flu, and other maladies:

"I shall not be angry with getting sick. Illness is inescapable and I can choose to be at ease with and even gain strength from illness. I free myself from fear and am grateful for the blessing that the illness will eventually go away. Everything is impermanent, even sickness."

Try this helpful and healing gatha when it is needed and please, for the well-being of the your neighbors and colleagues, stay home and rest. Or as the Buddhists say when you sick, only sick time counts.

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