There’s no denying that Autumn is here. The beautiful gold, russet and umber flashes on the trees and bushes mark her arrival, before the wind whips them bare. I’m taken by surprise every year at just how quickly the mornings shrink, and the evenings too. It makes me want to retreat to the warmth of home, safe from the wind and the rain and the cold. To ignore the trilling of the phone, darken the screen on my computer and quieten the Pavlovian prompts that demand my constant attention.

There is a world of difference between retreating and contracting, though. Many creatures hibernate through winter, effectively ceasing their existence until Spring. For you and I however, the change in season demands a change of pace, rather than contraction. If you’d like to retreat, rather than contract this autumn, here are three things that will help you enjoy the comfort of a long winter, whilst continuing to thrive.

Your Winter Morning Routine

I have long been a passionate practitioner of an early morning routine that enables reflection, planning and movement. My morning routine has varied vastly over the years from a five-minute scribble in my journal whilst on the commuter train, to a more leisurely twenty-minute space for reflection, processing and problem-solving. During the winter months my morning ritual becomes even more precious. With a steaming cup of tea in my hand, legs curled up under me on a comfortable sofa, and my pen and journal at the ready, I plant the seeds that will ripen into reality. I think through challenges, cultivate awareness and visualise dreams that I want to make come true. To go on retreat is to create precious time for reflection and insight with a view to change. Why not take yourself on a mini-retreat each morning to enjoy a few moments of reflection or cultivate a gratitude practice as the rain batters hard against the window panes?

How to Expand and Grow During Winter

How can you indulge in the comfort of retreating, without contracting? My answer is to stretch. Set an intention to do something every day that stretches you mentally, emotionally and physically (or even spiritually). A ‘stretch’ is something that makes you feel just a little bit uncomfortable. You could make the phone call you’ve been dreading, or start a piece of work you’ve been putting off. What about learning to paint, knit, ski or wild-swim? Take the opportunity throughout wintertime to do new things – or even old things in new ways, like cooking a new dish every day in November, walking a different route with your dog or cutting back on alcohol. To stretch is to actively seek out change, to embrace discomfort and watch it transform into the norm.

‘Stay Social’

Part of being human is that we crave social connection. In the winter months we can feel temped to pull up the social drawbridge. My mother-in-law called me out of the blue just this morning. She was checking in to see if I was recovering from a winter cold (remember those pre-Covid conditions?). She lost her husband only six weeks ago, yet she was calling me to see how I was. Of course, she was also calling because it made her feel less lonely, and I savoured our chat because I knew it was making us both feel better. Whilst loneliness is not seasonal, there is something about the winter months that can deepen its chill. ‘Staying social’ this winter means that you commit to regularly reaching out to those at greatest risk of isolation.

What commitments will you make to retreat, rather than contract this winter?