Looking Inwards - Workshop 3

Published: 30 November 2022

Diary #5 follows our third Wintering Well workshop, and the last for 2022. It looks ahead from some of Winter's longest nights to the upcoming Solstice and the turn back toward the lighter months.

An up-close photo of silver reflective emergency blankets in a box.

We closed out November with our last Wintering Well workshop for this calendar year, just as things are starting to feel a bit chillier. There’s been frost on the ground these past few days. Myself, I’ve actually been relieved: the muddy morass in my local park has frozen solid, and so is walkable again. But this spell of weather has come with the usual need to bundle up—and at least for me—that added struggle to get out of bed when the sky’s still dim and the frost has crept inside the windowpane! In our workshop, we asked everyone to reflect on their “Sense of Self in Wintertime”. We heard about similarly mixed feelings. Positive experiences, like finding new places to spend time outdoors during the winter, mingled with worries about lowering energy levels, pressure to socialise and feelings of inauthenticity. A time of year when questions like “How are you?” only leave room for positive replies, “I’m fine”, “Doing okay thanks”.

Throughout our project, we’re making it a priority to acknowledge that people’s experiences of SAD and the winter are not all the same. This is something that the findings from our Big SAD Survey makes abundantly clear: the holiday season, is for some a convivial and warm respite from isolation, while for others its a time of stress, social pressure and grief. Some of our respondents reckon November the hardest month - with the whole of winter still awaiting. Others find the long stretch of January and February the most demanding —“When will it pass?!”. Workshop 3 was all about sharing these different experiences and feelings about the winter, during the winter.

Because SAD can be difficult to discuss when someone is feeling low, we used our ‘between workshop’ practice to connect with how people are right now. Pictures, songs and words were shared. Poems got read aloud. Personal practices put up for discussion. The murmuring, laughter and emphatic nods in the room confirmed a growing sense of community, and a vital sense of trust.


What is the nub of such a plain grey day?
Does it have one? Does it have to have one?
If small is beautiful, is grey, is plain?
Or rather do we sense withdrawal, veiling,
a patch, a membrane, an eyelid hating light?
Does weather have some old remit to mock
the love of movement, colour, contrast –
primitives, all of us, that wilt and die
without some gorgeous dance or drizzle-dazzle.

Sit still, and take the stillness into you.
Think, if you will, about the absences –
sun, moon, stars, rain, wind, fog and snow.
Think nothing then, sweep them all away.
Look at the grey sky, houses of lead,
roads neither dark nor light, cars
neither washed nor unwashed, people
there, and there, decent, featureless,
what an ordinariness of business
the world can show, as if some level lever
had kept down art and fear and difference and love
this while, this moment, this day
so grey, so plain, so pleasing in its way!

Edwin Morgan 2002

 While spending some time outdoors, we used shiny, silver emergency blankets as a reflective device, creating a small protective space to access SAD feelings and to mirror them back to others. The setting for our creative experiment was Woodlands Community Garden, a green space for community growing and sharing.  Everyone spent time sitting in a mizzle of rain, reflecting on their own experience with negative thoughts during the SAD winter: what becomes hard, what gets sacrificed, what is the greatest struggle? Consciously avoiding the isolation that SAD can bring, we then paired up to talk and listened to one another’s experiences. When we all gathered together again as a group, each person told their paired partner’s story. This approach makes relating and listening a priority, helping identify the ways we can learn from one another’s experiences. One participant captured things perfectly: “the comfort of listening to one another and recognising parts of yourself”.

One of the big returns from the day was about the value of supportive company: the space, the language and the recognition for sharing feelings ‘authentically’, to find different ways to winter well together. With a bit of a longer gap until our next in-person workshop in early January, we’re planning to gathering together online to mark the Winter Solstice. This day of all days seems a symbolically significant one when collectively we begin the long turn toward longer days and lighter months. Our plan is to gather on-screen, each bringing a favourite source of light—a candle, a lamp, a light box, or fairy lights —to share with one another.

A distant photo of one of the workshop participants wearing one of the reflective blankets in a community garden reflecting on their experience during the winter.

This is a simple thing to do to find a sense of community during the darker, more isolating times—and it’s something we’d very much invite others to share with us. Send in photos, descriptions or videos of your favourite source of light in action, and we will create a digital collage to share in our next project diary.

First published: 30 November 2022