I heard from so many readers about my post, “I’m not languishing, I’m dormant” — way too many to respond to everyone — and more than one pointed to Katherine May’s book, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times.
May mines wintering lessons from the natural world, and how essential winter is to the process of living things:
Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.
We often think of winter as a time of death and nothingness, but underneath it all, elements are coming together to make something new. (It’s a messy process inside the cocoon.)
Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered. In our relentlessly busy contemporary world, we are forever trying to defer the onset of winter. We don’t ever dare to feel its full bite, and we don’t dare to show the way that it ravages us. A sharp wintering, sometimes, would do us good. We must stop believing that these times in our life are somehow silly, a failure of nerve, a lack of willpower. We must stop trying to ignore them or dispose of them. They are real, and they are asking something of us. We must learn to invite the winter in.
Thoreau said he loved the “imprisonment” of winter because it “compels the prisoner to try new fields and resources.”
May picks up Thoreau’s and many a great poet and physicist’s theme: that time is not linear, and life is made of seasons and cycles, and the sooner you accept this and live by it, the better off you’ll be:
We are (…) in the habit of imagining our lives to be linear; a long march from birth to death in which we mass our powers, only to surrender them again, all the while slowly losing our youthful beauty. This is a brutal untruth. Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish, and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.
“Live in each season as it passes,” wrote Thoreau, “and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
If this way of thinking appeals to you, there’s a whole chapter about creative seasons in my book, Keep Going: