This winter has been hard on me. Not for any reason in particular. I’ve just felt the weight of the season hold me down like an unwanted weighted blanket. It’s been unusually cold with more snow than I’ve remembered in most years. This in turn translates to cloudy skies and grey days. For someone who needs the sun and blue sky, it takes its toll. Which is why I was happy to discover the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May.
I read “rest and retreat” in the title and thought the book would be more about slow living and restoration but what I found was a journey through living through hard seasons (whether snow is involved or not). She tells the stories of family problems that occur, a plethora of small things that build up into a mountain of hard things, and how life essentially stopped for her as she figured out how to make it through her winter season.
It’s a story of a journey. One that looks to nature for refuge. She watches how the animals prepare and embrace winter, how the trees acknowledge the change of the seasons, and how we as humans have forgotten how to embrace our wintering.
“If happiness is a skill, then sadness is, too. Perhaps through all those years at school, or perhaps through other terrors, we are taught to ignore sadness, to stuff it down into our satchels and pretend it isn’t there. As adults, we often have to learn to hear the clarity of its call. That is wintering. It is the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.”
Winter is an important season. Rest is important. And the trials we face (whether in literal winter or throughout the year) are reminders to slow down, tune in, and take stock of what is and isn’t working.
While I read this book I was sitting in my own season of depression. A few weeks out of every Winter I often find myself down or numb. With no real desire to do anything, feeling disconnected from the world. The words of this book were a reminder that everything is temporary and that this is the opportunity to lean into that pain and suffering and let it flow through me. Like falling into the tide, it will eventually wash you to shore. So I did. I pulled back on work and the to-dos (my heart wasn’t in them anyway) and instead I slowed down. I allowed myself to watch soapy TV shows, to read books, to stare off into space, to ugly cry in the shower, and just fully be in this winter I was in. And eventually, I came out of it.
There isn’t a right way to winter. There isn’t a right way to deal with pain, grief, or suffering. But this book opened my eyes to a few different ways we can prepare ourselves for the next winter (because it always comes back around.)
So if you’re wintering now or if you’re living on top of the world, this book is a great story to witness of how to prepare for your winter, how to live through it, and how to learn from each one so you can take those lessons with you out on the other side when you reach spring.
“In our relentlessly busy contemporary world, we are forever trying to defer the onset of winter. We don’t ever dare to feel its full bite, and we don’t dare to show the way that it ravages us. An occasional sharp wintering would do us good. We must stop believing that these times in our lives are somehow silly, a failure of nerve, a lack of willpower. We must stop trying to ignore them or dispose of them. They are real, and they are asking something of us. We must learn to invite the winter in. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how.”