The Book, the Concept, and my Personal Reflections
I’ll be the first to admit my timing is a little off with this post. I’m writing about a book called Wintering in the second week of spring.
But I really think this book and concept are worth sharing right now. I recently picked up Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. Written by Katherine May of southeast England, the book focuses on how we can “care for and repair ourselves when life knocks us down.” It’s also chock-full of insights around our relationship to the cold, taking us on a meandering journey from September through March.
I grabbed it thinking, “Oh, I know some people who can probably use this book right now,” and marched it right up to the register. It wasn’t until well into the first chapter that I thought maybe I’ve been going through a sort of wintering myself.
May describes metaphorical wintering in the initial chapter:
“Winter is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider.”
She later writes that it’s “the active acceptance of sadness,” and “However it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful.” She says winter quietly rolls in when we’re least expecting it, adding, “Winter blanked me, blasted me wide open.”
I appreciate that she describes an “active acceptance” of sadness. That’s a verb, an action. It’s neither denying nor muscling through difficult times. It’s allowing for them and tending to ourselves as best as possible as we move our way through.
Have you seen those memes about the many seasons? There’s:
Spring of deception
And so on and so on…
As for my own personal “wintering,” maybe I’m more in a place of mud season, feeling stuck in a rut trying to meet project deadlines, file taxes, respond to emails, make post office runs, fulfill my local neighborhood commitments, all while wanting to make time for the rest of life (not always successfully).
It’s not just me. People are so darn busy these days. Maybe that’s your wintering – feeling like you can’t get out from under the load. Or maybe your winter involves something that has removed you from the buzz of everyday life altogether.
I posted something early in the pandemic that struck a chord for people. On my personal Facebook page, I offered, “It's okay to grieve the spring you thought you'd have - the trips you thought you'd take, the senior year you were excited about, the concerts you were planning to see, the loved ones you were hoping to visit. I know we have bigger concerns right now, but it doesn't make you selfish to allow yourself to miss what would have been.”
Exactly a hundred people liked that post. My life wasn’t seriously unsettled by the pandemic. It didn’t interrupt any significant life events or phases. I didn’t lose any loved ones to Covid. Besides a disruption in travel, I kept on working and even wrote a book. I actually enjoyed my “pandemic pace” with limited travel and fewer social commitments. I relished in the quiet.
But I had this nagging feeling…”Don’t squander this. Don’t go through this whole pandemic and not learn anything about yourself. Don’t miss this chance for reflection.” Coaches would call this a “gremlin” or inner critic. I love talking about gremlins and have even done workshops on the topic. So why was there a gremlin in me saying, “Don’t, don’t, don’t”? I mean, honestly, wasn’t it enough just to make it through that time?
I think the gremlin had to do with this idea of rest and retreat. I sensed I may not have been doing “enough” of either, even with the space in my schedule to allow for it. And when restrictions started lifting, I wasn’t sure I was ready for my life to change again, to jump right back in.
May says she isn’t suggesting wallowing in misery, and neither am I. I’m enjoying being able to do some of the things from before. I really am. But there’s still something worth noticing and tending to for me personally and I’ll do just that. Because if there was one thing to be learned from the pandemic, in my opinion, it is that life now doesn’t need to be an exact imprint of life before. We get to reshape our lives and the pandemic has given us an opening for that. And maybe I didn’t totally figure out the “how” before all the doors were flung back open this spring.
As for the book…I can’t say I loved it, but I liked it well enough. I found it to be both instructive and insightful. I can’t put my finger on it, but there was just something about the flow that wasn’t holding my attention. But boy has Katherine May put something out into the world that so many of us need right now. She tells us, “…wisdom resides in those who have wintered…we must learn to invite the winter in. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how.” This, my friends, is the gist of the book. Let me know your thoughts if you’ve read it.
I’d like to close with a favorite excerpt from Wintering. Near the end, she wrote about a flock of rooks flying over her:
“I realize that my arms have dropped to my sides and I am standing stock-still, gazing up at them. There is no happiness greater than this. Every part of me is absorbed in this moment.”
If you’ve ever stood with jaw-dropped staring at a flock of birds or witnessing any other special-to-you moment in nature, you know the feeling.
Have a wonderful, gremlin-free weekend, everyone!