For many people, places like Bali, or some high mountain retreat in the Indian Himalayas come to mind as the perfect place for spiritual growth. To explore the bigger questions of life and self.… To seek spiritual evolution.
But if the point of going inward suggests just that, why must we distract ourselves with bliss brought on by beautiful turquoise oceans or high mountain peaks?
Nothing makes a person turn their gaze inward like Ukraine in the winter.
I had a special moment of introspection on Truhaniv Island in Kyiv last January. I stood under a rusted, incomplete bridge, on a lonely patch of land, around rogue packs of wild barking dogs. The sky fused with the earth, creating a single grey mass. It could have been a scene from a movie, right before the start of Armageddon. It felt nuclear.
My mind forced me away from my external surroundings. There was nothing to be inspired by. No sun to warm me. No salt water or altitude. No natural beauty to put a smile on my face. There was no joy to find when I looked outward, so I went in.
Kyiv either looks majestically uplifting, or downright depressing. I’ve never observed the city in a balanced state. It’s the embodiment of the banya experience—functioning only in the extremes.
And Kyiv in the winter is certainly not a chocolate bar, releasing quick hits of dopamine; instead, it’s an overcooked lamb shank—it’s hard to digest, but fills the belly with sustenance. The city demands tenacity, strength, and thought.
The winter brings time to Kyiv. Time for walking the empty streets on a weekend winter morning. Time to stop at archways—to feel the snow blowing through them. The time that stands contradictory to the feeling of missing out. Time to gaze clearly into one’s soul.
Now that it’s spring, the mood of the city is alive, inspirational, more social, more uplifting…. This change is much needed for everybody’s survival. There’s been enough time to look inward and think. The external beauty encourages everyone to turn outward.
Instead of that cold, autumn rain in the fall that closes the city’s windows, spring rain makes one want to open the window and smile. The heaviness has lifted. It’s like a thick blanket that’s being removed from our heads.
But not long from now, the cycle will continue. The banya effect will come, first hailed by the cold fall rains… People will migrate into their apartments, into their thoughts, and into their selves. And, once again, only in a place where external conditions get so bleak, does it become easier to avoid the external world and go deeply into the self.
Like most sane humans, I prefer looking at a beautiful ocean perched on a bluff, or observing the sheer titanic power of a high peak in the Himalayas over the frigid bleakness of Truhaniv Island in the middle of winter.
But I’ve learned it’s easy to be “blissed out” and feel spiritual with beautiful natural surroundings; it’s much harder and more honest in a dismal setting. I feel people philosophize about life more in Ukraine than in most places because of this… which can be a heavy burden or a blessing.
So, forget pristine waters or high mountains when you’re looking for a place to “get spiritual.” And forget Bali. All the internal answers can be found on Truhaniv Island in the dead of winter.
It’s a place where the big questions of life will consume the mind. Without a beautiful external world to be inspired by, there is no better place than Ukraine in the winter to seek an unbiased look at the deepest corners of one’s self.
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