How do you manage to weather the hard seasons of life?
I've been asking myself that over and over as I've tried to make my way through this incredibly difficult year.
I haven't found one clear answer but reading Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May reminded me that it's ok not to have all the answers to that question. This book soothed me in such a way that reading it felt like a much-needed meditation in the chaos and confusion that has been the year of 2020. I will be thinking about it long after we've shifted into the new year.
Wintering is a mixture of a memoir, self-help book, and a chronicle of how different animals, countries, and cultures prepare for the cold and winter months. May intimately recounts her own bad times, describing them as 'winters' and she compassionately relays the winters of several others throughout the book.
These anecdotes are complemented by narratives on unexpected topics such as the hibernation habits of dormice, the significance and practices of St. Lucy's Day, preserving foraged fruits and vegetables, and the contentious relationship between humans and wolves throughout history. This may sound like an odd mixture, but it's all woven together in a way that works beautifully.
Wintering isn't a sunshine-y, positive book about powering through bad times; nor is it a book that glorifies sadness or melancholy. It's a book that gently speaks to the fact that hard times are part of the human existence and it does so in a way that feels compelling, thoughtful, and unintimidating.
We will experience pain alongside joy, sorrow right along with happiness, and our personal winter may take place over a continuous period. We'll need to adjust accordingly and relax our expectations of ourselves.
We will have periods of heightened uncertainty, anxiety, and stress. We'll eventually be touched by loss, endings, and deaths. It's unavoidable.
Additionally, May points out that even if our lives go exactly according to plan (when has that ever happened?!) and are free of strife or conflict or woe, the people close to us will at some point go through a winter of their own.
We have to acknowledge that these hardships will cause us to feel low, down, or maybe even frozen, because forcibly shoving them out of our consciousness or suffering through them silently is not a healthy coping mechanism. Wintering is a reminder to feel our grief and sadness, even though it is painful to do so.
Wintering also encourages us to allow ourselves the time and space to hunker down and do nurturing acts for ourselves. Giving ourselves the gift of acts of self-kindness and self-care, however small they may seem to be, can be crucial in enduring tough times.
Read a comforting book on the couch in the evening. Cook your favorite recipes in the kitchen. Take the time to get plenty of sleep and truly rest.
Be gentle with yourself. Feel the feelings you are experiencing right now.
You are doing the best you can do right now.