Yogini has gone Bear, quite literally. I am currently spending six months on Bear Island in the Arctic.

Combined with shift work at the meteorological station, dark days lead to a circadian rythm that would put any free jazz ensemble to shame. Waking up at three in the morning and staring at the ceiling for hours. Pancake parties at five. Bodies draped across furniture for impromptu naps at all hours. The presumably mythical state of “Arctic Hysteria” or “Piblokto” in inuit language does somehow not seem too unreasonable.

The darker side of life in the Arctic is the increased rates of depression all across the region during the winter months. It is no wonder, really. We are people of the sun. The sun gives us life. Spending too long in the dark is a bit like having it sucked out, slowly, slowly. Sleep deprivation is a strange side-effect of the polar night. Somehow the lack of light doesn’t always make us sleep more, rather the opposite. At least this is the tendency among those of us who work shifts. Rampant insomnia can mess with the soundest of minds, and I am no exception. After a sleepless or interrupted night my body is out of whack. And unless I make up for the lack of sleep my heart feels fragile too. We tend to live in a bit of a bubble up here, for good reason. During the winter months dealing with what goes on in the world can simply be a bit too much. Even thinking about the state of the planet can make my eyes start leaking. According to a recent estimate there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. That would get to me on the best of days. On a sleep deprived, cold and dark winter morning it feels like my heart has taken a beating.

But it aint all bad. Feeling the hurts can be a good thing. This is the season to embrace vulnerability and to shed any layers of cynicism. Literally spending some time in the dark can be a great way of tapping into what really matters, of taking the time to feel the feelings. There is nothing wrong with that. The only danger is of succumbing completely to waxing and waning emotions, without the ability to step outside and just observe with non-judgemental compassion. Are you feeling the winter blues too? I believe practicing self-care and especially mindfulness can be a way of turning the tender ache of winter into something fruitful. My first recommendation – always – is to just sit your butt down and observe the breath and the passing thoughts and sensations with an attitude of compassionate, spacious awareness. Feel whatever is there to be felt. It is already here. Let it be. Also, try some of these winter survival tips.

Truly feeling the hurts of the world instead of turning numb is also the first step towards dealing with it. If we tuned out, became numb and closed our eyes and hearts to the not-so-ideal situations, would we care enough to actually do anything about them? I am spending a lot of time pondering alternatives to plastic these days. Because there has to be something we can do. There always is. Simple acts go a long way, and they start with awareness. If we are just aware of it, reducing the amount of plastic we bring into our lives becomes easy. If we tune in and really see and hear the people around us, lending a helping hand to someone who needs it comes naturally. I understand the paralysis often felt when facing seemingly impossible challenges, like the current refugee crisis. I guess one place to start is by not voting for people who deport asylum seekers to Russia in -30°C without the right to a hearing or an appeal. Just an idea … The sooner we realise that we are not seperate from one another, but parts of the whole, the sooner we can create a sustainable world.

Spending time in the dark makes me appreciate the return of the sun all the more. And it will return, inevitably. On February 4th, to be quite precise. Spending time in the dark also makes me feel the shadows more intimately, and thus get to know where to direct the light.

A reminder, for dark and sunny days alike:
“We must accept our pain, change what we can and laugh at the rest.”
Camille Paglia