Dear Artist: you are an alchemist of mystery. You are an alchemist of the dark.

This is the invitation of the dark: to remember that times of hibernation and fallowness are necessary to rejuvenate both body and spirit . . . Our energy ebbs and flows and this is part of the natural order of things.
— Christine Valters Paintner

I was born in winter. Winter is in my bones and, up until these last few years, I've spent a lifetime running from the cold hollow ache that echoes there.

I've come to know it well. It haunts me with the old refrain of scarcity—

Not enough space.

Not enough inspiration.

Not enough energy, money, or safety.

Not enough room for me and my work.

Not enough {life}time.

Life / death / life is the creative rhythm of winter. Our work is to do what feels hardest then: to stay present. To feel the coldness of the cold, to see our words linger in breath-shapes before our faces, to shiver and know the vibration of cold in our bones. Sometimes we need to peer into once-lush landscapes and hold the chill of want in our flesh, of wanting and not having, of hunger.

Even these are necessary in this season of life. The bleakness holds unearthable secrets when we accept and surrender to it. Emptiness is a great river that sweeps away all that no longer serves, or, in the words of Rumi, clears us out for some new delight:

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks
“I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.”—Jeffrey McDaniel

“I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.”—Jeffrey McDaniel

The hidden grace of winter

Sometimes things must die. Or, as we say, be laid to rest.

Rest is the gift of winter.

Rest is the invitation of dark.

One way or another our bodies will make us—we will collapse if we work without sleep, without play, without nourishment. The cosmos shows us the way of life: empty land holds secret roots, seeds, promises invisible to the naked eye. Blossoms give way to fruit, and fruit to seed, and seeds must fall and die in order to bear fruit. It is a mystery, and if anything, women are alchemists of mystery. We hold it in our flesh and in our connection to the moon and water and the earth. It is how we see—past the surface of things, into intangibility; sensing, intuiting, knowing, containing, flowing.

And for those who long for more, more anything, scarcity is the invitation of winter. 

It is terrifying. Unloved. And yet it takes up the same amount of space as abundance, a quarter of the year, equal to hope and flowering and harvest. As creative women, we can sink into grace even here. We can surrender to, accept, embody and be nurtured by the energy of the dark. If we allow ourselves to be seasoned, to keep our eyes open to the stark truth of it, our hollowing becomes our hallowing: we are made empty like a womb, a well, a sacred space, a field that will one day hold roots and stems and living things. Or space to run and play. Space to lay foundations and build homes. In the depths of our creative winter we can be like glimmering Tibetan bowls—holding emptiness and holding song.

In the depths of our creative winter we can be like glimmering Tibetan bowls—holding emptiness and holding song.
— Hillary Rain, Dear Artist

Art is alchemy

Whether you are an artist by trade or an artist by desire, there is great power in embracing the dark. When you face a blank page and words don't come; when you collapse to the ground, breathless and burned-out; when you've got nothing—no inspiration, nothing to give, no light—guess what, love?

You get to rest. It is time.

And rest will do the work for you...

  • Rest allows what is deep to rise to the light.
  • Rest stills the breath, calms the heart, invites sleep—and sleep opens the door to dreams, and dreams are essential to a creative life.
  • Rest is a liminal space for clarity to press through.
  • Rest allows you to see what is right in front of you.
  • Rest means no striving. 
  • It means surrendering to the truth of now. 
  • It means asking yourself what you need and receiving it.
  • It means self-care. Nutrients. Giving yourself a break. Slipping away from the pressure to produce, perform, show up, say yes.
  • It means identifying for yourself the difference between not doing the work because you're afraid, and not doing the work because it is not the season for your work.
  • It means staying present & willing to feel what wants to be felt. 

How often do we give these gifts to ourselves? The grace of winter is that life supplies what we need, even when we do not give it to ourselves. But we can learn how. We can listen to our body's wisdom. Create rituals that nourish. Feed ourselves well. Accept the descent. Know ourselves. 

How to make it through winter—

What must die, dies. How does one make such a decision? One knows. La Que Sabe knows. Ask within for her advice. She is the Mother of the Ages. Nothing surprises her. She has seen it all. For most women, to let die is not against their natures, it is only against their training. This can be reversed. We all know in los ovarios when it is time for life, when it is time for death. We might try to fool ourselves for various reasons, but we know.—Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves

Winter happens to all of us and without it, we would not have the thrilling blossoms of spring or the verdant, golden heat of summer or the ecstatic harvest of autumn. We have forgotten how to be seasoned, but we can remember. We can recommit to staying. We can open ourselves to the baring down of life. 

Winter invites us to see what is true. To see and examine ourselves in our most vulnerable: bare, stripped, exposed, wanting. And the ache of cold against bare soulskin is what seasons us, makes us hardy and strong so we can withstand wind and storm, drought and rain. This is the wisdom of winter.

So gather your nutrients now. Invest in self-care and soul-care. Commit to your life in seedtime and harvest, winter and summer, light and dark. Create a wintering space for yourself that can hold nourishment for times of leanness.

There is wisdom in storing up for winter. There is wisdom in being present to what is. And there is wisdom in knowing the difference. What would planning ahead for winter look like for you? 

  • Create a backlog of blog posts you could share when you've got nothing to say.
  • Pre-schedule your social media.
  • Reach out—collaborate with others in community. There is strength and warmth in the collective fire.
  • Come into rhythm with the elements. Go through everything you've collected before now. Art supplies, your pantry, archived blog posts, dusty manuscripts, a closet full of clothes. How can you re-purpose what you already have or let them go? Use the natural rhythm and spirit of winter to shed yourself of excess. This is winter's invitation, one you can embody in a manner that supports your life.
  • Take the season off to go inward. Nestle. Hibernate. Stop producing. Give yourself a month (or more) of Sabbath.
  • Release any pressure or expectations. Explore the discomfort of visibility. What does it reveal about yourself? 
  • Start a weekly or monthly meal plan. Post it on the fridge. Do your grocery shopping accordingly. If you have the space, make your meals ahead and freeze them for later ease.
  • Train your eyes to find beauty even in the starkness of things. Create a theme around it and incorporate it into your art.

This is the way of living. Your life is in the present. And your art—no matter what form it is—is truest when it comes from your embodied experience. My friend Sarah tells me so poignantly, “Stop writing what is beautiful. Write what is true.” And when your true comes from the grief-gutted hollow in the pit of your stomach, know that this is a holy place, a thin place.

Because all life begins in the dark.

“The creative force flows over the terrain of our psyches looking for the natural hollows,
the arroyos, the channels that exist in us.
We become its tributaries, its basins; we are its pools, ponds, streams, and sanctuaries.
The wild creative force flows into whatever beds we have,
those we are born with as well as those we dig with our own hands.
We don’t have to fill them, we only have to build them...
– Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves

This is an excerpt from Dear Artist. You don't have to be a painter or writer or dancer to call yourself an artist. You just have to be willing to see things a little bit differently, follow your curiosity, get unstuck and break free from whatever is holding you back from the meaningful life you long for. This program will change everything. You are an artist!