Embracing Our ‘Wintering’
The natural rhythm and human right of rest
Around the time of the winter solstice, I was listening to the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett. Her guest for the episode was Katherine May, author of Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, The Electricity of Every Living Thing, and Burning Out.
I was coming off a few stressful months of juggling the demands of in-person and virtual work at USC as both an adjunct instructor at the Annenberg Specialized Journalism program and running the twice-monthly speaker series for the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities as the organization’s associate director. I was exhausted — and my tinnitus was giving me a fit. Having filed grades and settled year-end administrative details in the office, the hamster-wheel run didn’t stop in my personal life. The days ramping up to Christmas had me on a constant go.
Even as I was go-go-going, I was questioning myself: Why all this hustle? I’d taken enough mindful courses, and written my share of wellness stories, to know that this season wasn’t the time for hyper-speed action. It was time to slow down; take more opportunities for ease. Rainstorms in Los Angeles (yes, it does rain in Southern California) made it clear that winter was here, and that settling down for “a long winter’s nap” was more than just a great line in Clement Clarke Moore’s beloved Christmas poem. It was my call to “wintering.”
As Tippett noted in her introduction to the conversation with May, wintering is both a season in the natural world, but “a respite our bodies require, a state of mind; a cyclical, recurrent weather pattern, if you will, of any life.”
But wintering is not just about the cold. Periods of loss, the ongoing isolation and uncertainty caused by the pandemic are also wintering seasons. May noted, “wintering is a metaphor for those phases in our life when we feel frozen out or unable to make the next step, and that that can come at any time, in any season, in any weather, that it has nothing to do with the physical cold,” she told Tippett. “So, it was very useful from a narrative point of view to be able to start with what indeed happened, which was, on an unseasonably sunny day in September, just before my 40th birthday…