We had to relisten to several parts of the conversation many times. It was so rich, so full of nuance, and contained so much wisdom. We knew we had to write about it before winter was over here in Pennsylvania, where we live.
This rich conversation appeared on the On Being podcast hosted by Krista Tippett and featuring her conversation with British author Katherine May. They spoke about a season “not just in nature, but in life,” about the winter which is not just colder, darker, and bleaker than any other season, but something much more.
The January 2021 dialogue captured our attention and wrapped around our souls, evoking truths we deeply believe and hold.
We both love listening to On Being each week, often on Sundays. It’s a Sunday kind of offering; a quieter, more contemplative podcast than most, touching on the spiritual and burrowing more deeply into the heart of the human experience.
The episode’s title drew us in more closely. Wintering. Winter is the most restless season for both of us. The letdown after the holidays, the lack of abundant sunshine, the need to brace against often freezing temperatures, and the diminished time we are able to be outdoors can all make the season seem so much longer than the rest. Its barrenness where we live can also feel stark and forbidding.
Katherine May’s book, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, presents a different perspective on not just the natural season of winter but the sadder, more fallow and difficult seasons of our lives emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, and relationally. She and Krista Tippett explored the “storm clouds over our heads,” inviting us to change “how we relate” to times of hardship that inevitably come to us all.
Katherine May invites us to actively accept sadness when we feel dormant, less alive, unproductive, stagnant, or cold. She encourages us to care for and repair ourselves when life knocks us down. She reminds us that plants and animals don’t fight the winter — they prepare for it, adapt to it, and metamorphosize to survive it. She equates it not to death, but to a crucible in which we can reflect, recuperate, and replenish; a time to put our “house in order”. She declares wintering as essential to our well-being and growth; to our health and contentment.
When death robs us of someone we dearly love, when a job goes sour, when a cherished relationship derails, when pain takes over our lives, when disappointment crushes, May encourages us to embrace the sadness and grief, to invite them in and sit with the feelings for a while. They will not last in their intensity. We need to let sadness be real sometimes, acknowledge it, allow it, and support one another through it. We need to be there for each other.
Respect unhappiness, she teaches.
She reassures us that it is instructive; it has a function. “It tells us something is going wrong.” We need to acknowledge those seasons. Therein lies the beginning of healing.
This book excerpt that May red upon Tippett’s urging resonated deeply with us:
“We need friends who wince along with our pain, who tolerate our gloom, and who allow us to be weak for awhile while we’re finding our feet again. We need people who acknowledge that we can’t always hang on, that sometimes everything breaks. Short of that, we need to perform those functions for ourselves. To give ourselves a break when we need it and to be kind. To find our own grit in our own time.”
To sit with them in their pain, to walk with them in their distress, to accompany them on the pathway to greater hope and light.
Already, as we approach the end of February, glimmers of spring approach. More light pours through our windows each day. More birds sing each morning. The snow that we received so much of this year after several years of very little is melting considerably, and the temperatures have inched up into the 50’s a day or two, by now. We see signs that winter’s harshest days are coming to a quickening end. For winter will not last in its intensity.
This past year has been a time of wintering for all of us, no matter where we live. The many disruptions caused by the pandemic, the reckonings of long-established racial discrimination, the devastating economic losses, and the toxic political climate have all contributed to an intensely lengthened wintering season all around the world. We’ve desperately been trying to survive this unwelcome darkness and coldness in our midst.
How can we use this extended season to create new ways of relating, connecting, and nurturing one another?
At the end of their conversation, Katherine May reads from her book,
“I asked myself what’s this winter all about? I asked myself, what change is coming?”
We ask it with her, too.