This past summer I did a slow living inspired guide to enjoying summer . Those lazy days feel long gone now, but I’ve heard from a number of readers lately who are looking to fill their winter and holiday seasons with the same Primal inspiration. Besides the amazing recipes  and great winter workouts , what food for thought can the Primal Blueprint offer this time of year? What can we do to make the most of these shortest, darkest days and busiest holiday weeks? What does it mean – in practical as well as broader terms – to apply a Primal lens to the season?
Let me actually reframe it in terms of the Primal Connection  – the concept that our evolutionary roots have something to teach us in creating a contented, fulfilling life – because I think it most aptly addresses the question. In making the Primal Connection, we’re motivated to embrace the full potential and pleasure of our physical as well as intuitive selves. We’re moved to reconnect with the natural world and our innate rhythms. We’re drawn to explore deeper, more essential dimensions of social relationships  and expand our practice of creative play .
The modern dilemma is often untangling ourselves from the distracting and distorting cultural baggage attached to these fundamental inclinations. Look at what we too often put ourselves through this time of year. As much as we’re driven to fit in with our surrounding culture – a complicated instinct of its own – there’s a certain irony in the fact that these weeks are often our most unhealthy. While nature encourages us to lay low, rest more, and keep life casual, many of us are burning the candle at both ends. We sleep less, eat more junk food, rush more often, overspend more frequently, and then wonder why we’re so tired and cranky by the end of it.
A lot of great blogs and publications encourage us to slow down during the holidays. By all means, the slow movement is as applicable now as it was back in August. In the spirit of those readers’ inquiries, however, let me take it a step further. If slow suggests a pace for living and a subsequent winnowing of priorities, what practical cues can the Primal Connection add to that deliberation? What can our Primal roots remind us to prioritize in the midst of the commercial blitz? And how do we put the holidays in perspective and give the winter season it’s celebratory due? In short, beyond the buffets, what does it mean to keep it Primal this time of year?
- With solstice tomorrow, make a point of observing what so many Primal cultures caught onto quickly – the significance of the longest night of the year, however you choose to see it scientifically, spiritually, or metaphorically. Some of you, I know, go all out celebrating solstice . I have friends who specifically go on personal or organized retreats  for the night. Others throw parties. Still others purposely take a quiet evening at home or go star gazing  outside the city. However you mark the occasion and make meaning from it, consider it your own private New Year’s.
- As a culture we tend to put too much emphasis on specific days. The inclination too often results in an explosive or deflated critical mass. Why not make a goal to appreciate the beauty and significance of this darker, sparer season throughout all its months? Even if you don’t consider yourself a spiritual sort, check out Winter: A Spiritual Biography , a book specifically about winter as part of the natural rhythm of life.
- Take advantage of winter’s dark-light schedule. Make fire a part of every week if not every night. Break out the candles, light the fire place, or clear the fire pit in the backyard. There’s something unique to the warmth and quiet of a fire, and I can’t imagine anything (well, almost ) more Primal than that.
- In keeping with the light and dark cycles of the season, give your body the benefit of dim evening  and a full night’s sleep. Why not save a bit of money  and do a weekly voluntary power outage ?
- Plan for stress – and its antidotes. Grok  wasn’t ever in charge of the office holiday party, his kids’ scouting troupe caroling, the extended family dinner, shopping for thirty relatives and friends, and cooking and decorating for the neighborhood open house. Granted, if you can give some (or all) of the work away, by all means do. (No is a complete sentence after all.) That said, if you’re one who thrives in the center of the bustle, at least give yourself the benefit of some high caliber release time . Do something pleasurable for yourself. One hour of quality relaxation  is worth five hours of sitting slumped in front of a television.
- Prioritize healthy pleasures: home spa, professional spa, partner massage, sex, casual workouts, comfortable clothes, hot drinks, Primal comfort food  (favorites?). A happy body does wonders for one’s mood. Imagine that.
- Give yourself some psychic space by taking a break from media , parties, crowds, and other duties/chores. Especially for some of us, the succession of social obligations and extra responsibilities can leave us feeling burned out. When you add to that the regular barrage of (mostly bad) news, it’s crucial to retreat to your own Primal ground. Even within the closeness of the band community , Grok found plenty of silence and relative solitude  for himself in a day. Make extra time for these when life is fuller and/or more stressful.
- Rein in expectations. Can you imagine any event was as hyped in Grok’s day as the holidays in our country? We make rampant joy the goal, but the focus too often ends up counterproductive. I imagine Grok would see it as kind of a backward endeavor. Create the ceremonies to honor the events and/or particular values, and what will come will come. Release your attachment to the outcome , and you might end up experiencing something wholly unexpected.
- Prioritize primal level connections. We’re designed to seek out and benefit from feeling connected – to people, to community, to culture. Yet, we can strain to experience real bonding in the huge cultural and social nets we cast these days. Prioritize your tribe  – those couple dozen or so people in your life you’d consider band mates in a different time. If you feel like you’re running out of social or emotional bandwidth this season, home in on a tighter circle. Likewise, take advantage of the whole season to connect rather than cram too much in at once. Quality matters over not just quantity but also over culturally imposed schedules. Send New Year cards in January (Groundhog Day, anyone?). Have your neighborhood open house in February. Remake your annual meetup with old friends into something more relaxed and fun post-holiday.
- Value ritual . When you think back to your childhood, what stands out about the holidays? What did you enjoy? What is the stuff of good memories? Chances are, it’s ritual to some degree. Don’t underestimate the power of minuscule details in your own and others’ experience of the holidays. Ritual adds a sense of nostalgia to the events, yes, but it also adds continuity and equilibrium to life in general. (That’s nothing to sneeze at these days.) Wear the same old sweater your kids laugh at every year. Decorate the house the same way. Keep the same favorite dish front and center at the big family meal. Go to the same concert. Drive down the same streets to look at the lights. There are well over three hundred days in a year to experiment and throw off convention. When it’s all said and done, however, there’s something to the steadiness of the familiar.
- Do an outdoor winter retreat. Every year friends of ours spend four days and nights between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays at a nature center in their area. The center hosts a full family retreat complete with winter sports, hikes, and kids’ activities. They consider it the best family time they share all year. In another take, a friend does a solo snow shoeing weekend in January as the ultimate time to get away and unplug from the universe.
- Head out on a winter night hike. If you’ve never been, you’ll be hooked the first time. There’s something amazing about the light on the snow and quiet. The full moon is next week. Consider it the perfect time for a full moon night hike or cross country ski/snow shoe trek. Take the kids, and enjoy the giddy energy and imagination they’ll bring to it.
- Make an outdoor winter bucket list, and do it Primal style. Too often (especially in those Northern climates) people get past the holidays and feel stuck in limbo until spring. See how many Primal activities can get you loving the winter season. (Remember: there’s no bad weather, just inadequate clothing.) Write down your old favorites, but make room for the new, unusual, and adventurous. There are undoubtedly activities you’ve never even heard of awaiting your discovery. (Hmmm…maybe there’s fodder for a post here.) And that doesn’t even take into account the outdoor festivals, competitions, sights, and trips. Sure, Grok might have never tried heli-skiing, but I’m still calling it Primal.
- Schedule play  if you have to. It seems contrary to the point, but some of us might need the structure in the midst of an overloaded schedule. (Sure, you might end up just taking a nap  on the couch instead, but that’s not so bad either.) The point is carving out space for self-determined time and freedom. The wholly unself-consciousness and free form of play takes us out of the mindset of manic planning and orchestration that can reign this time of year. Preserve those times when you and your loved ones (kids especially) can do whatever you feel like in the moment. Some of the most fun and meaningful holiday memories happen when you allow yourself to just be in the moment  and let crazy, spontaneous, or casual whim take over. Consider the schedule part a modern accommodation to keep the Grok spirit alive and kicking. We sometimes gotta do what we gotta do. The end result is worth it.
- Use the post-holiday lull to take up or return to a creative hobby . Grok had more going on in that department than we imagine, and a quieter season of the year (not the migratory period, for example) would’ve been the time he indulged his curiosity. Be inventive. Push yourself in your craft. Try a totally new art or skill. January is one of my favorite months for this reason. Sure, I’ll be plenty busy with this one coming up, but somehow January always feels like the most spacious month. After the structure of the holidays and their obligations, January can seem like a wide open field. Add to it the promise of a new year, and the (relatively) sparse calendar is like a blank canvas for the creating. Make it what you will.
Thanks for reading today, everyone. Share your own thoughts and suggestions on enjoying a full Primal season. Have a great weekend.
The Sequel to The Primal Blueprint Releases on January 8
In a few short weeks I’ll be releasing The Primal Connection, the long-awaited sequel to The Primal Blueprint . As friends and colleagues within the ancestral movement have so generously described, The Primal Connection offers the first really new dimension in the paleo/Primal space in years. Is there any better way to start the new year – not to mention the fact that we all survived the Mayan apocalypse? In all seriousness, I’ve been pumped about this launch for months now.
Like The Primal Blueprint , The Primal Connection is both a culmination and expansion of principles I’ve first introduced here on MDA. It picks up where The Primal Blueprint left off, by extending the primal theme beyond the diet and exercise basics. In it I present a comprehensive plan to overcome the flawed mentality and hectic pace of high-tech, modern life and reprogram your genes to become joyful, care-free, and at peace with the present. Inherent to The Primal Connection is the concept that we can use the model of our ancestors to create not just a healthier existence but also a more balanced and fulfilling life. My hope is that upon reading it you’ll emerge with a renewed appreciation for the simple pleasures of life and our most precious gifts of time, health, and love.
Just as I did for Primal Blueprint Healthy Sauces, Dressings & Toppings  earlier this month, I’ll have something special put together for devoted Mark’s Daily Apple readers when this book is released on January 8th, 2013. So mark your calendar and be ready to jump on the offer while it lasts.