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Talvihorros: Embracing the Darkness

Kalevala Linocut, Akseli Gallen-Kallela

“Words shall not be hid

nor spells buried

might shall not sink underground

though the mighty go.”

Elias Lönnrot, The Kalevala

There is a distinction in the Finnish language between two words, talviuni and talvihorros. While talviuni is described as a general winter sleep or period of rest for plants and animals, talvihorros hones in on the idea of a deep winter sleep, where many creatures drastically lower their internal temperatures, in a sort of suspended animation, to survive the hostile environment and divert energy to essential systems needed upon reawakening. It is the latter term that really resonates as a phase we humans pass through during the winter months; a slowing, a shifting of priorities and a period of deep introspection.

We may also experience this phase on a grander scale as well: Rest and resistance, two inexorably linked mantras quietly propelling us toward a more equitable world. They are essentially the redefinition and redistribution of labor explored through stillness and release of the “grind” culture narrative. They are the recognition of the importance of the darkness and seasons of stillness.

Revolution is born in darkness.

When you look at a snow-covered forest glade, it appears quiet and calm-- no evidence of the teeming life underneath! You do not see the plants that require a cover of snow to keep warm only to burst forth at the thaw of spring nor the animals holed up in their burrows safe and warm. You do not see the churning of activity creating new iterations out of old shells, the insect larvae transforming pupae into caterpillars. In fact, many flora and fauna depend on a period of hibernation in order to spur growth. Are we so different?

Winter is an opportunity for rest, for resistance, and for reconnaissance* of our internal and external worlds. It can be an opportunity for us all to slow in sync with the rhythms of the season and take stock of where we are at. To plan and dream for the coming year. To address the things whose perceived importance so easily evaporated in the summer sun.

We are drawn inward, not just physically from the biting air, but emotionally and spiritually as well: we are given a clear invitation to enter the darkness. If we accept it, we give ourselves space for potential new growth in the seasons to come.

*reconnaissance in this context: exploration, observation, scrutiny

The End of Hibernation, Maki Horanai

Winter can feel unforgiving, even cruel, with little patience for nonsense. However, it is this atmosphere that supports a rich space for inner work-- we are able to strip ourselves bare, to dig to the roots, to pull from our reserves, in tandem with the movements of the outside world. Sitting with silence and untangling our webs can inspire feelings of discomfort and disconcertment. Divesting ourselves from the GO GO GO of colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy can lead to considerable conflict in our relationships. Parsing out which labor is ours to do and which aspects of ourselves and our communities need to be addressed can lead to revolutionary realizations that can drastically shift the arc of our lives.

So, what can this look like on a personal and societal level? What can we do on a practical, tangible scale? Here are some suggestions, with the disclaimer that all of these are not accessible or possible for everyone, and that that is not a failing of those people but of the systems we have built around them:

  • Reconnection with our natural rhythms as much as possible: Defining our sleep health needs. Taking rest when our bodies would benefit from it. Working when our energy is at its peak. Spending time in nature. Moving our bodies when they want to move.

In winter, this can look like: sleeping and rising earlier to maximize daylight hours.

Scheduling small breaks throughout the day. Going for a short walk. Standing up

every hour for a few minutes of stretching.

  • Redefine our relationship to food: Eating when we are hungry. Enjoying our cultural foods and ignoring diet culture. Eating according to seasons and local availability. Education around traditional plant medicines. Make our own food. Share our food with others.

In winter, this can look like: enjoying extra soups, spices, teas, and other warming

foods. Dedicating time to food preparation. Bringing fresh baked goods to seniors.

Potluck dinners with friends.

  • Dismantle internal and external bias: racism, colonization, fat-phobia, bigotry, classism, ableism and any forms of oppressive beliefs that require subjugation of one to another, or part of yourself. Consider and shift our own biases. We all have them, and it is our work to identify them in ourselves and --at least-- not cause harm.

In winter, this can look like: eliminating body-based comments from your

interactions. Respectfully learn about other cultures traditions during this time of

the year. Supporting local Black, Indigenous, and POC creators for your holiday

needs. Protest/Political resistance. Put pressure on local systems. Donate resources.

  • Invest in mutual aid: supporting others that may not have the same resources for winter and other periods of difficulty. Build communities of all sizes that care and look out for each other. Tangibly support Black, Indigenous, Visibly Racialized People and their endeavors.

In winter, this can look like: give time, energy, and money to people that have been

systematically disenfranchised--Pay their rent, provide them with warm clothes, set

up a food delivery. Buy holiday gifts and donate them to children, purchase gift

cards to local businesses. Support CSAs and local farms.

  • Cultivate the practice of creativity and play: divest from the narrative that we always need to be producing, or creating perfection, that every hobby must be for financial or emotional gain. Embracing the idea of being just mediocre at something and doing it anyway because you enjoy it.

In winter, this can look like: Singing holiday songs. Dancing in your kitchen. Making

your gifts to others. Try new hobbies. Do a puzzle and then break it back into the

box. Read the books on your shelf. Creating new rituals and worship.

  • Creating boundaries around our worth: Insisting on being compensated for any labor we are not giving freely. Declaring what we are and are not available for in our relationships, partnerships, and interactions.

In winter, this can look like: Releasing the expectation of gift giving and receiving.

Holding firm in what we are comfortable with vs what our family and friends expect

from us. Not overextending ourselves. Asking for help. Saying no to engagements

that don’t feel right or that ask us to overextend ourselves. Not overexplaining.

An offering:

Let this winter season be one of deep internal reflection and shift. Consider yourself like the flower bud buried beneath the snow, percolating in the frosty depths, ready to explode with a rapture of scent and color. Take this time to process, to parse out, to form a plan for the new year to come. Embrace talvihorros.

Ilmatar, Joseph Alanen 1913

Author’s Note:

My ideas on rest, resistance, and revolution are deeply influenced by the many Black and Indigenous thinkers and writers that came before me and have done/are doing that work. It is not a new concept, and not a concept that needs to be rebranded or co-opted by white people or other People of Color (with the exception of us all needing to divest from and dismantle capitalist and colonialist systems). This is just my understanding and view of the concept through the lens of a mixed-race immigrant in Finland. For more in-depth conversation and analysis of this topic, please support Black and Indigenous writers and revolutionaries (like Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry or Monique Melton or the groups Rest for Resistance or Black Power Naps).

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