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Have you noticed that - no matter how organized you are, no matter how far in advance you plan and do and prepare, and even if you don't participate in the religious and cultural customs and rituals of winter in the Northern Hemisphere - this time of year makes you cranky? Out of sorts? Stressed?
There are lots of reasons why you might feel this way – everything from being overwhelmed by holiday activity to something as serious as the onset of seasonal affective disorder. Although you can find plenty of advice on how to cope with the stress of the holidays, and you can buy light boxes to fool your brain into thinking it is still midsummer, I want to suggest an alternative, one that moves past Surface Mind solutions and addresses the needs of your Deeper Mind.*
When you live in a temperate climate, Deeper Mind responds to seasonal changes in ways that are easy for Surface Mind to ignore or override, even when doing so leaves you with a feeling of being out of step and out of sorts. Deeper Mind speaks in images, in symbols and signs, in dreams and in synchronistic “coincidences.” Tune in to that language and you will learn how to work with the seasons, all year round.
We respond to the change of seasons in ways that are rooted in our evolutionary past, when everyone (except babes in arms) contributed to meeting the needs for food, shelter, clothing, water, sleep, and play. Our ancestors’ brains evolved, and were trained as they grew from child to adult, to respond without conscious effort to seasonal changes. That included changes in the level of activity needed to find, grow, preserve, and store food; the need for more or less shelter and warmth; the need to make or mend clothing and footwear.
In Winter, the time of darkness and cold, our Deeper Mind craves rest. We both want and need longer periods of sleep, quiet conversations, more time to ponder and process and plan and, yes, play. Contemporary culture stands in clear opposition to this craving: we are surrounded by bright lights, noisy crowds, and insistent demands that we go out – out of our safe, warm places and into the cold and the dark. With Surface Mind handing us a list of all the things we should be doing while Deeper Mind is saying, "Stay in where it’s warm, rest, reflect, and dream. . . “ it’s no surprise we feel cranky.
So give yourself a break. Literally. Take some time each day to meditate or just sit quietly. Put on music that soothes you, and tell Surface Mind to pipe down. Give yourself permission to turn down party invitations in favor of staying home, or take a stay-cation. Be conscious of how fulfilling work or family obligations might contribute to your feeling less than optimal. You don’t need to renege on all of your obligations, just build in some alone time, some play, or some other way to bring yourself back into balance.
Then, if you wish, make some use of this season of darkness and rest.
Winter is the best time to do the thoughtful, inner work related to deep or large change. (The custom of "New Year's Resolutions" is a distorted remnant of this.) If you want to develop a new line of business or research, start a new career, or find a new job, Winter is the optimal time for laying the groundwork of research and planning.
And then, as the days begin to get noticeably longer, and as Deeper Mind stirs, gently and slowly, with a longing for sunshine and the out of doors, you’ll be ready. Spring - the time for moving from planning to planting, for taking the first small steps to making what you dreamed of in Winter a reality - is just around the next turn of the year.
Happy New Year to you and yours!
*Your Deeper Mind is variously called the unconscious, the subconscious, the intuitive brain, and the primitive brain. Deeper Mind takes care of things like breathing, digestion, body temperature, and other body functions. Deeper Mind generates your experience of the world by processing and filtering the information coming in through your senses. Deeper Mind responds to changes in your environment in ways that Surface Mind pays little attention to. The feelings you experience – the sensations in your body and the emotions that arise as you interpret those sensations – are a product of Deeper Mind. They are also messages from Deeper Mind that, as you attend and respond to them, can bring you into greater harmony and ease in your life.
I am quickly starting to hate and despise the words “virtual” and “remote.” That’s a shame, because they are perfectly decent words than can be very useful in the right place at the right time.
What I hate and despise is when those words are used to describe work and the people who do it. For example:
“We sold our office building and now we have a virtual office.”
“We allow some of our staff to work remotely when that’s appropriate.”
“I just hired two new people. One works in the office and the other is remote.”
“We are improving our infrastructure so we can work virtually.”
Go to your bookshelf. Blow the dust of your college-years copy of Roget’s Thesaurus and open it up. (OK, I know you didn’t do that, so just open a Google search window if you want to play along.)
Look up the words “virtual” and “remote.” Here is what you will find.
Synonyms for virtual: indirect, unacknowledged, tacit, potential, implied, basic
Synonyms for remote: far-off, faraway, inaccessible, isolated, lonely, unknown, alien
Antonyms for virtual: actual, authentic, real
Antonyms for remote: close, known, near, open, sociable, loved
Now think about what you are really saying when you describe your work environment and your coworkers or staff as “virtual” and “remote.” You are saying, “My inaccessible, lonely and unknown coworkers work in a way that is unacknowledged, implied, and indirect.”
When you use these words to describe what you do, when you do it, and how you do it, you are sending implicit and unconscious messages to those “remote” workers in your “virtual” office, and to your members, your customers, your clients, and yourself.
What if you just called the workplace, “work” and the staff, “workers?” Then, “In my organization, the remote staff work in a virtual office,” becomes “In my organization, the workers work.” And it hardly seems worth stating something that obvious.
“In my organization, workers work.” No judgment, no anxieties, just an accurate statement of what is so.
Try it for a week or two or three. Eliminate the words “virtual” and “remote” from conversations about how work gets done. Better yet, whenever you hear yourself using time and place as a measure of work getting done, stop yourself. Stop admiring Joe for always getting to the office early and leaving late. Stop making snarky remarks when Sally leaves at 3 pm to go to her daughter’s dance recital or soccer game. Let go of the outdated belief that work can only be done in a particular place at a particular time.
Change your language and your messages and, ultimately, your beliefs about work, and notice how much easier it is to focus on what is real, actual, and authentic. Reframe expectations so that desired results (including benchmarks and deadlines) are clear and explicitly agreed to by those responsible for creating them. Hold everyone accountable for producing those results, without exception. Focus on the ultimate outcomes, the advances and accomplishments that truly tell us that work has been done.
Then ask yourself, “Does it really matter when and where work gets done, as long as the results are what we wanted?”
That’s not virtual, and it isn’t remote. It is actual, and it is as close at hand as you decide to make it.