In her 2020 book, “Wintering: The Power or Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times,” author Kathrine May explores the merits of stepping back and taking time out when life appears to be overwhelming. May points out that when times get tough, often times we hear the mantra, “Don’t give in,” or “hang in there.”
But what if “hang in there” meant that it’s OK to go on retreat?
For May, wintering is a “moment when I have to step into solitude and contemplation,” she writes. “It’s also a moment when I have to walk away from old alliances, to let the strings of some friendships fall loose, if only for a while.”
Throughout her book, May relates and mirrors different events in her life to the seasons, particularly late August through late March. In November, for example, May writes: “When November comes, I have no desire to leave the house after dark. My instinct is to hibernate the evenings away. I hate those strange walks along the high street, lit only by streetlamps and the glow of shop windows, the cold seeping up your coat sleeves.” Finally, she writes, “I don’t like the wat that four o’ clock can feel so desolate, the air damp without the corrective force of the sun.”
As the passage above illustrates, May’s book is part memoir, part self-help guide. What makes her book unique, however, is that May asks the reader to embrace solitude and not run away from it.
“[Wintering] is the active acceptance of sadness,” she writes, echoing the idea of embracing loneliness and sadness. “It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stair 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.”
So, then, according to May, wintering is the hibernation of our spirit. It’s time we may set aside during or after some type of personal fallout.
“Here is another truth about wintering,” May reminds us. “[Y]ou’ll find wisdom in your winter, and once it’s over, it’s your responsibility to pass it on,” she writes. “And in return, it’s our responsibility to listen to those who have wintered before us. It’s an exchange in gifts in which no one loses out.”
Finally, when our lives become difficult, it may be time for us to winter.
May, K. (2020). Wintering: the power of rest and retreat in difficult times. Riverhead Books. New York, NY.