A line through the season

photo 2Above: "Ah, just stay home. Make some hot choc, watch some videos..."Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reproduced by permission.“Mood follows action.”I learned that concept from one of my favorite podcasters. It means that instead of waiting to be in the mood to start something, we can just…do it. The irony is that when we take that unwilling first step, the action can create the mood we were waiting for in order to begin.The holidays provide an excellent example of this idea. The acts of getting out the Christmas decorations, cuing up ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ bringing home the Douglas fir, tell the psyche that it’s time to feel the joys of the season.There have been years where those things didn’t happen, when we were too busy, when we knew we’d be out of town, when it was unseasonably warm and who can celebrate Christmas when it’s 70 outside? I think we’d admit that life was a little bit the poorer for it. It’s the rituals that help create the feeling, and not always the feeling that needs to happen before we decide to follow the ritual.Getting outside is the same way. It’s darker and colder now, and at least where I live, there’s no beautiful snowfall to add seasonal beauty to what is really a pretty drab landscape a good bit of the time. Sometimes it’s a matter of crawling into the basement and dragging out the box of shiny ornaments. Sometimes it’s about going out to the shed, plucking the mountain bike off the hook where it’s hanging, and pedaling into the gloom.Part of me wants to say that it all feels a little forced and artificial, like I should be able to feel it without having to induce it. But perhaps that’s just overthinking it. Who cares why or how it happens? Holidays are at bottom exercises in finding joy and community in our lives. If the first move has to happen deliberately — if the feelings have to be summoned up — so what? Aren’t they worth it?Besides, life does a lot to get in the way of the seasonal spirit. Not just the daily grind, the demands of work and chores and responsibilities, but also the strictly seasonal messages competing for our attention: the dispiriting “Buy buy buy!” that tries to convince you that what your spouse really wants for Christmas is a Lexus with a bow on it. Or the countervailing theme: that Christmas is overcommercialized and we should all hand-make every gift, every ornament, every wrapping.It’s enough to make you go and hide until it all goes away.Instead, we make our choices, and take a step. We find our own clean line through the season, giving thoughtful attention to the few presents to be chosen (while being thankful that our family picks names to limit the process). We’ll unwrap the Christmas-tree ornaments with their unique histories, remembering a specific time or place. By doing that, we’ll connect back through time, enriching the present moment.Just as I never regret having immersed myself in the Christmas spirit, there’s never a bad side to going to the trails, to riding or running in the winter chill. Whether I’m inspired at the idea of getting out there, or just consciously decide to take it on, to layer up and do it, the result is the same: peace, and joy.