As longer nights and colder days take hold, pause to savour the pleasures of winter calm, says writer Judy Darley.
Winter offers the perfect excuse to burrow down indoors beneath heaps of woollen blankets amid fragrant aromas – we’re thinking baking bread, the tartness of wild berries, sweet curls of candle smoke, and subtle scents of pine needles, orange peel and aromatic spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, saffron and ginger.
The Scandinavians have elevated the delicious cosiness of this season to an art form. While Danish or Norwegian ‘hygge’ is about relishing the moment and celebrating the smells, tastes, sensations, sounds and sights, Swedish ‘lagom’ (pronounced lah-gom) is a philosophy that goes far beyond this to embrace a lifestyle founded on equilibrium.
To fully absorb this ethos, begin by focusing on temperature. Make yourself comfy in a space that is warm but not hot – layering up soft fabrics is key to the sensory enjoyment. Sit or lie down and concentrate on your breathing, allowing your eyes to drift closed as you inhale and exhale, noting as your heartbeat steadies in unison.
Ideally, at this point your everyday concerns should ebb away, but you may find the Finnish concept of ‘sisu’ comes into play here. This is about embracing the practice of trying, failing and trying again. In the ‘sisu’ philosophy, each setback is its own step forwards as you draw knowledge from the experience and welcome this learning as an opportunity to reflect and grow.
If your mind resists your attempts to quieten and flutters from one thought to another, don’t let this deter you. Instead, notice each thought and then gently nudge it aside, concentrating instead on your breaths and your heartbeat. Perhaps envisage your breaths as an ocean wave rising and falling, and imagine the refreshing coldness of air entering and leaving your body.
The joy in winter serenity can be found in the balance of cosy relaxed down-time in your home and revitalising strolls out in nature, listening to the crunch of your boots striding over virgin snow or rustling through fallen leaves, and admiring the pattern of bare or needled branches against the sky.
It’s up to you whether sunbeams or moonlight dapple your scene, and whether the birds you hear are northern hawk owls, the rumbling of black grouse, the rattling of the Siberian jay or the trilling of Arctic Redpolls.
Consider your whole body, from your feet in thick fleecy socks to your fingertips and ears, either exposed to the chill of the air or snugly covered in silky woollens. Picture your breath blooming outwards in a mist that carries with it all your worries and dissipates among the trees.
As you walk, your blood will warm and rush through your veins, energising every cell. Imagine you are strolling to meet someone – a colleague, family member or friend – to indulge in a spot of ‘fika’, the Swedish pastime of enjoying a hot beverage and tasty snack while chatting. The sense of peace your journey has fostered within you will extend to the remainder of your day, allowing plenty of space for laughter to bubble up.
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