Wintering: Resilience, the Wisdom of Sadness, and How the Science of Trees Illuminates the Art of Self-Renewal Through Difficult Times

Rilke reverenced winter as the season for tending to the inner garden of the soul: “Suddenly to be healed once again and aware that the very ground of my being– my mind and spirit– was provided time and area in which to go on growing,” he composed to a grief-stricken young woman who had actually reached out to him for consolation. “In the depths of winter, I finally found out that within me there lay an invincible summer,” Albert Camus composed a generation later on in his stunning essays about travel, which are really meditations on homecoming to our strength.

That is what Katherine May checks out in Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (town library)– a beautiful book, a generous book, a layered book of unusual sensitivity and substance, drawn from Mays own experience of enduring a disquieting and deep winter season of life. She composes:

[Considering that youth] we are taught to ignore sadness, to stuff it down into our pouches and pretend it isnt there. As grownups, we frequently need to discover to hear the clarity of its call. That is wintering. It is the active acceptance of unhappiness. It is the practice of permitting ourselves to feel it as a requirement. It is the courage to gaze down the worst parts of our experience and to dedicate to recovering them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of instinct, our real needs felt keenly as a knife.

Rilke, who wintered amply and sensibly, knew that great unhappiness clarify us to ourselves– winters of the spirit come in numerous sizes and cycles, each significant, all cumulative in their soul-sculpting beneficence. Might writes:

This cyclical nature of the seasons of the spirit is counter to our dominant cultural story of self-improvement, with its ethos of linear development toward states of ever-increasing growing. And yet befriending this cyclical rhythm of our inner lives, May observes with life-tested clarity, is the secret to wintering– to emerging from the coldest seasons of the soul not only undiminished however revitalized.

When you begin tuning in to winter season, you understand that we live through a thousand winters in our lives– some big, some little … Some winters creep up on us so gradually that they have infiltrated every part of our lives prior to we genuinely feel them.
[…] To improve at wintering, we require to address our really notion of time. We tend to imagine that our lives are linear, but they remain in truth cyclical.

Ever/After by Maria Popova. (Available as a print.) Making use of the example of tress– these most fertile metaphors for our humanity, in which we see ourselves and see peaceful wisdom on how to cope with ourselves, on how to live with each other, on the root of credibility, on what it means to be an artist and what it indicates to be human– she writes:

We are in the habit of imagining our lives to be direct, a long march from birth to death in which we mass our powers, only to surrender them once again, all the while gradually losing our vibrant charm. This is a brutal untruth. Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we grow and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow once again.

In among the books wonderful portals into the world of science as a method of understanding our elemental mankind, May thinks about the impressive reality of trees beyond the merely metaphorical:

It occurs on the cusp between fall and winter season, as part of an arc of maturity, growth, and renewal. In spring and summer season, leaf cells are full of chlorophyll, an intense green compound that takes in sunlight, fueling the process that transforms carbon dioxide and water into the starch and sugar that permit the tree to grow. At the end of the summer season, as the days grow much shorter and the temperature level falls, deciduous trees stop making food.
While this is taking place, a layer of cells is deteriorating in between the branch and the stem: this is called the abscission zone. Gradually it severs the leaf from access to water, and the leaf dries and browns and in many cases falls off, either under its own weight or motivated by wintery rains and winds. Within a couple of hours, the tree will have released compounds to recover the scar the leaf has left, safeguarding itself from the evaporation of water, infection, or the intrusion of parasites.

Sundown Poem by Maria Popova. (Available as a print.) I have constantly cherished the bare appeal of winter season trees, so fractal and pulmonary versus the somber sky– so skeletal, yet so alive. Anybody going to look closely– and why be alive at all if not to delight in the ecstasy of seeing, that crowning splendor of our awareness?– is rewarded with the gasping recognition that the branches are currently covered in tiny dormant buds encoding the Braille promise of spring.

May writes:

The majority of trees produce their buds in high summer, and the autumn leaf fall exposes them, cool and expectant, protected from the cold by thick scales … from the sharp talons of the beech to the hooflike black buds of the ash. Lots of trees also display catkins in the winter, like the acid-green lambs tails of the hazel and the furry grey nubs of the willow. These utilize the wind or bugs to spread out pollen, all set for the new year.
Its fallen leaves are mulching the forest flooring, and its roots are drawing up the extra winter wetness, supplying a firm anchor versus seasonal storms. It is in reality the life and soul of the wood. It will not break into life in the spring.

Art from Trees at Night by Art Young, 1926. (Available as a print.) Reflecting on her own barren-branched seasons of the soul, she reflects:

The whole of Wintering– which checks out the biological, psychological, neurochemical, and philosophical subtleties of our state of being in winter season the season and winter season the metaphor– is a remarkable and soul-salving read. Enhance it with Thoreaus transcendentalist technique for discovering inner warmth in the cold of life, Annie Dillard on how winter awakens us to life, Adam Gopniks lyrical love letter to the white season, and D.H. Lawrence on trees, privacy, and how we root ourselves when our worlds collapse, then savor more of Mays writing and the personal story from which it springs in her fantastic On Being discussion with Krista Tippett.

Here is another reality about wintering: youll find wisdom in your winter season, and once its over, its your duty to pass it on. And in return, its our duty to listen to those who have wintered before us. Enjoying winter and really listening to its messages, we discover that impact is typically out of proportion to cause; that tiny errors can lead to substantial catastrophes; that life is typically bloody unreasonable, however it carries on happening with or without our consent.

Rilke reverenced winter as the season for tending to the inner garden of the soul: “Suddenly to be recovered once again and aware that the really ground of my being– my mind and spirit– was provided time and area in which to go on growing,” he wrote to a grief-stricken young woman who had actually reached out to him for consolation. Rilke, who wintered amply and carefully, knew that great sadnesses clarify us to ourselves– winter seasons of the spirit come in different sizes and cycles, each meaningful, all cumulative in their soul-sculpting beneficence. Enjoying winter and actually listening to its messages, we learn that effect is often disproportionate to trigger; that tiny errors can lead to big disasters; that life is typically bloody unfair, however it brings on happening with or without our consent. The whole of Wintering– which checks out the biological, mental, neurochemical, and philosophical subtleties of our state of being in winter season the season and winter season the metaphor– is a magnificent and soul-salving read. Enhance it with Thoreaus transcendentalist strategy for discovering inner warmth in the cold of life, Annie Dillard on how winter season awakens us to life, Adam Gopniks lyrical love letter to the white season, and D.H. Lawrence on trees, privacy, and how we root ourselves when our worlds collapse, then savor more of Mays writing and the personal story from which it springs in her fantastic On Being discussion with Krista Tippett.