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How to Embrace the Concept of "Wintering" in Life's Challenging Seasons

Based on the book Wintering by Katherine May

“The Power of Rest & Retreat in Difficult Times”

In her book, Katherine uses the concept of “Wintering” as a “season in the cold”, which may literally be in winter or more interestingly, of a period in our lives when we feel in some way sidelined, cut off, or “left out in the cold”. The phrase “out in the cold” does not of course, always relate to the winter months, We can feel any of these in mid-July. It’s about what is happening in our lives, leaving us feeling hurt, damaged, even ravaged in some way.

This could be:

  •       Redundancy,

  •       Physical or Mental Illness,

  •       Relationship Breakdown,

  •       A Failure of some kind,

  •       A Transition of some kind.

They are typified by being involuntary, lonely and painful. Note though – you may well experience any of the above and NOT feel it as a Wintering. It’s not the experience per se, it is how they land in your life.

We all know that life is not one long, long summer, full of joy, harmony and happiness. We know that there will be times in our lives that are bleak and desolate – this is what we are referring to here.   We can’t avoid the “winters” – life happens.  So we need to find a way of living through them until “Spring” arrives. Even more radically, can we learn to enjoy winter?

In many ways the book is in 2 parts, the first is about the “Personal” / Emotional Wintering, the need to recover and be more resilient when life harms us in some way. The second part of the book is more about how we can learn to embrace actual winter, the cold, the dark etc. A lot of the ideas are similar to the Danish concept of “Hygge”, those cosy, indoor comforts that we can enjoy as a contrast to our “Summer” outdoors, light, sunny and bright times.

Part 1 - The “Personal” Wintering

This is a period of time when we feel small, reduced, maybe we are mourning a loss of some kind (a person dear to us, a job, a relationship, our mental or physical health etc). These are times when we are forced to stop or slow down at least, to take stock. To recover, to rest, to lick our wounds, to conserve energy, re-evaluate our lives until Spring arrives and we can join in with life again after our recuperation.  This “Winter” might be in May or June or any other of the summer/spring or even autumn months. It’s the time when we are hit with something that stops us in our tracks.  Maybe we experienced something similar before and somehow “pushed through” but we find this time we can’t – the load is too heavy.

If we allow ourselves time to “Winter” we can benefit from profound and insightful moments. We can learn to adapt to our “new normal”, we may have been battered, but after a period of rest, rehabilitation from “wintering” we emerge to Spring in better shape. 

Many animals and plants, tress etc go through this process and come out each spring renewed. Can we do that too after a period of difficulty in our lives? Can we learn things from nature? Rather than rushing onto the next thing, without giving ourselves sufficient time to recover, can we build up our reserves?

Katherine talks about “Transformation being the business of winter” If we do it well, we will have the reserves for the energy we will need in Spring, after nurturing ourselves during what you could consider a “retreat” of wintering after your life has been seriously affected.

Wintering is a time for

  •       Licking our wounds

  •       Mourning our losses

  •       Re-evaluation

  •       Rest, restore, recharge

  •       Reflection – often deep inner reflection

This is what we NEED to do, but so often we are at war with ourselves, to get us back to “normal” as soon as possible. This is often driven by feelings of shame or embarrassment. We have “fallen” in some way, we were beaten, we were overcome.  This is not the face we want the world to see – so we try and hide it rather than allowing full and proper healing by “wintering”.  This can mean we miss a trick, an opportunity to LEARN, to be CURIOUS about ourselves and what has happened, so busy are we in getting our game face back on.

“Wintering is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience, and to commit to healing them the best we can”

Part 2 – Living through an ACTUAL Winter

Our modern way of living does mean that we expect to keep going throughout the year with little concern to the passing seasons.  What if we "accepted" that Winter happens and applied some innate, possibly ancient, Wisdom to it?  Could we survive winter with more equanimity, with more patience if we thought about us, as humans, "Wintering"?

Our forebears would have this imposed on them. We have electricity and heating and duvets etc to pretend that it is "just another day" - except it isn't is it? It's winter and maybe we actually NEED to "Winter" ourselves.  What might that mean?  In nature we see the seasons in a very active state - spring flowers are planted, shoot up and bloom then go back under ground.  Trees may blossom, grow leaves, fruit, lose their leaves and sit bare over winter. 

Our ancestors would have followed a similar pattern; just because modern lives mean that we CAN live a well lit and heated/cooled existence 365 days a year doesn't mean our (relatively) ancient brains concur.  They also need a season of "smallness" or "conserving energy".

It's worth consideration - we try to push through as if nothing is happening. Yet we may be feeling that given a choice we would prefer to hibernate! Now we are not talking about hibernation, but something like recovery, retreat, recuperating, a different slower pace, something we both expect and ALLOW rather than berating ourselves. Something cosy and calmer and gentler, in preparation for the riot that will be Spring and Summer?

If we struggle to function at our normal speed at this time of year we can have a gentle word with ourselves - "It's Winter - time to have some "Cave Time" before Spring makes huge demands on us. You are right to adjust your pace to a slower beat - well done for conserving your energy and "wintering"! "

Katherine spends time discussing the cold, the short days, etc – and how they can be restorative – ice bath anyone!!??!!  We can approach Winter and work WITH it rather than against it.

Give it a go and give yourself a break - let winter be a season to "be" in a different kinder way. It might be something that brings you great comfort and some peace. What do you think?

A gentle thought-provoking book – encouraging us to be gentle with ourselves.


Anne-Marie Gawen



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