I have long struggled with winter. I ripened in Minnesota where winters were long and savagely cold. I remember hauling myself through hip-deep snowdrifts on my move to elementary school and that was in the suburbs! The North of England, where I lived for virtually twenty years, has a much milder atmosphere. But being so far north, I was hurtled into infernal darkness from Halloween to Candlemas. It started getting twilight at 3:30 in the afternoon and by 4:00 it was pitch dark. Remember those fright movies where it’s dark ALL THE TIME ?? That’s Lancashire in midwinter. I felt I was captured inside some offspring gothic fiction.
Now that I’ve moved to the Silver Coast of Portugal, I get a lot more daylight in wintertime, but likewise cyclone jazzs and torrential flood. My Welsh pony was not impressed and her friend, a Lusitano gelding who came up from Southern Portugal, was so grumpy that he was like he wanted to jump on the next pony trailer back to the Alentejo!
Yet no matter where I’ve lived geographically, I have always faced the same struggle. I find I simply can’t get as much done in winter as I do in the summer. Winter’s short eras and long darkness seem to drain my energy and drive. While summertime is expansive with so many sun-filled hours to fill, in winter everything seems to shrink to the size of a single candleflame. Every year I fought tooth and nail against that contraction. But winter ever won.
This winter, curled up by the fireplace on a tempestuou light, I hurtled into Katherine May’s highly recommended book, Wintering: The Ability of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. In her diary, she refers to winter not just as a season in its first year, but any fallow or difficult period in our life when we must withdraw, lick our wounds, and replenish ourselves. Our personal wintertime might be an illness, a relationship break-up, the deaths among a loved one, a feeling of spiritual dryness, or a epoch of burnout when we just have to stop and rest.
In Nature, darkness and winter are absolutely necessary for life’s regeneration. May adds that our personal winters, though we would never endeavour them out, are likewise regenerating and eventually regenerating if we can be present with them, as frightening and unpleasant as they seem, without determine them as some personal failure we brought upon ourselves for not being strong enough to resist the natural cycles of extinction, dissolving, and fallowness.
We live in a culture deep in denial about wintertime and wintering, where we’re supposed to be “on” all the time, as if we exists in a perpetual summer, full of summer’s buzz, force, and busy-ness. But if we try to doggedly maintain this level of intense act during winter when all the elements, as well as our internal lilts, are telling us to slow down and remain, we get ill, we get burn out, we get depressed.
“Plants and swine don’t fight the winter, ” May reminds us. “They don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same life-times they lived in summer . . . . They adapt.” She adds that once we stop fighting the winter, it can be a most consecrated season of thinking and recuperation. In an senility when even getting enough sleep and respite feels like a revolutionary number, May learns us to invite the winter in.
Artwork by Jessica Boehman
May’s book learnt me the importance of ensuring that welcoming the most wintery aspects of my own soul, all the shadowy stuff I like to repress. Winter is a time of welcoming the darkness. No one of the purposes of myself needs to be left out in the cold. Anger, incredulity, sadness, and skepticism are not shortcoming that need to be “fixed.” Just stay present with them in compassionate awareness.
Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere notes ourselves nearly at the threshold of the Spring Equinox. Yet we are still deep in the collective winter of the Covid pandemic, a wintertime that’s dragged on for over a year. All of us are affecting the pandemic wall. How much more of this can we take? It’s not so easy to rest and renovate if you’re a father directing remotely while simultaneously trying to homeschool your boys. The pandemic hit hard by women and girls peculiarly hard, as they carry the brunt of domestic chores. Girls’ schoolwork is suffering as they take on more and more housework during lockdown. Family violence paces are soaring across the world. In this pandemic wintertime we fulfill is not simply our personal palls, but the cruelties that were hiding in the collective that we can no longer afford to ignore.
If we go through a personal or a collective wintertime, the work requires a sanctuary. A matured spirituality that satisfies us where we are, that’s robust sufficient to carry us through the Dark Night of the Soul. Spiritual bypassing and trite tropes like “everything happens for a reason” have no place now. A good litmus test for matured spirituality is to see how spiritual spokesman from this knowledge have responded to the pandemic. Regrettably, I’ve heard several variances of “God/ dess is punishing us for climate change.” While climate change is real and certainly the biggest crisis we face today, I don’t think this punishing suppose of the divine is a supportive or instructing paradigm for anyone. Life under Covid is hard enough without being told we’re being punished for our sins.
Mature spirituality demonstrates us the daring us look deep into the darkness without flinching. Without identifying it as evil or as punishment but as the deep, making, beautiful puzzle that borders the see. The fertile darkness. May we all find residual and regeneration here.
Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write maids back into biography. Her acclaimed novel Illuminations, drawn from the striking life of Hildegard von Bingen, is published by Mariner. Her brand-new story Revelations, about the globe-trotting mystic and rabble-rouser, Margery Kempe, will be published in April 2021. Visit her website .
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