Have you ever considered what we can learn from the life cycle of a tree in the midst of winter? Or how altering your sleep schedule in line with the changing seasons can impact your overall mental and emotional wellbeing? We discuss these intriguing ideas and more as we delve into the enriching exploration of “Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times,” a captivating book by Katherine May
The episode brims with personal anecdotes, reflections, and insights, as we explore not only the concept of “wintering” but also how it influences and resonates with different aspects of our lives, including motherhood. We touch on the necessity to take time for rest and retreat in the midst of chaos and crises, taking inspiration from the natural world around us.
Get ready to embrace “wintering” and discover how it can bring purpose, growth, and healing into your life.
What you’ll learn:
- How rest and retreat can be empowering during challenging times
- The beauty of darkness and the natural rhythm of life
- The importance of accepting sadness as part of the healing process
- Insights on navigating difficult times, inspired by Katherine May’s book
Featured on the Show:
- Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
Click HERE to watch this video to learn The 3 Things to Avoid When Reading Self-Help Books
Listen to the Full Episode:
Welcome to the Mom On Purpose podcast. I’m Lara Johnson and I’m here to teach you how to get out of your funk, be in a better mood, play more with your kids, manage your home better, get your to-do list done and live your life on purpose. With my proven method, this is possible for you, and I’ll show you how.
You’re not alone anymore. We’re in this together.
Welcome everybody to the Mom On Purpose Book Club. I’m excited about this book today. We were just talking before we turned the recording on that. This is one book that we kind of heard a quite a bit about. And so, when I sat down to read it, was not pleasant. Like what’s the opposite of pleasantly surprised.
I was kind of discouraged when I started reading it because it wasn’t a book that drew me in. So, for those that are looking at it, it’s called wintering the power of rest and retreat in difficult times by Katherine May. And so, when I started reading it and I wasn’t really drawn in. It was probably a book that I don’t know if I would have gone back to if we weren’t doing it for book club, but the more I read it, the more I started.
To understand her style and the way she was writing by the end, it was like a favorite book of mine. And so, it was really interesting to see my own journey of this book kind of unfolding as I was reading her style and her stories. As I was reading it, if anybody, oh, shoot, what was the, oh, I just forgot the name of the book.
You guys might have to help me. It’s with the swamp, not the giver of stars, where the crawdads sing. There we go. That’s the book. So, if anybody has read where the crawdads sing, that was one book that I felt a lot of people loved, absolutely loved. And as soon as I started reading the book, I had kind of a similar experience to this book, to where the stories, a lot of description.
Like really going into detail about things that I didn’t think necessarily mattered. And so, like where the crowd I was seeing, it was one that I had a hard time kind of getting into, but then by the end, you’re like oh, I kind of want to go back and read that. Oh, that was really interesting, very similar I would say to this book.
Honestly was saying that one took a while to get into. So, I feel like a lot of the descriptions and the stories reminded me of, like, when I was reading Where the Crawdads Sing. So that’s just a little bit about the book and we’re going to dive into it in just a second, but the other thing that I wanted to mention before we dive into it, and she talks about it, you know, ever so briefly in the book.
I, for one, always love to find women authors. I think it, especially in this, the personal development self-help space, traditionally women authors are not as recognized or readily read. And typically, men are still dominating the self-help personal development type space. And so, for book club, I’m always very conscious about making sure we have equal voices and really hearing the voices of women.
And what I really enjoyed about this, that, you know, she had mentioned in the book that she also has Asperger’s syndrome, which is that phrase has been discontinued within the autism community, depending on who you talk to, where they have different levels. And so that would be like autistic level one. And so that to me was also very important because that is the reality of many members within my household.
And so, it was kind of fun being able to support an autistic writer and to hear an autistic person’s lived experience, not from a neurotypical person explaining autism, but her actual lived experience and the challenges that she feels as she has gone into these quote unquote wintering phases. And we’ll talk about what that means.
So those, you know, just as you’re reading the book, something to keep in mind that you are supporting a woman author who is autistic, which I love, and there will be in the very beginning, I feel like it’s slower going. And a lot of stories that don’t seem like they mesh, but at some point, they kind of come together.
So, you know, to start, okay. So, this is like an example where she is talking about hunger and then literally like the next paragraph, she said, I once met a man who tracked wolves. You’re like, what just happened? We were just talking about hunger and now we’re talking about a man that tracks wolves. So that’s just a very small example.
I just loved the start, like the shift between those two paragraphs. So, it just kind of made me laugh. So, in order to start, you know, in, I’ve mentioned this in the past that oftentimes. To start these book clubs. I love to first see where we’re going and then go back and kind of build to that point. So, I, she has the book separated starting from October and each section is like the month of winter.
So, October, November, January, February, March is where it ends, and then late March. So, she breaks it down into these pieces, which are traditional winter months. And what I appreciated is that when she is talking about wintering, she is not necessarily talking about winter, meaning the seasons, but what she is talking about is there are times where it feels like we are.
Entering winter months based on the challenges that we are going through. And so, what I like that she kind of mentions here is she said, sometimes like we get to this point where it’s like, life’s not fair, life is more secure for other people, and we just need to make sure that like. Like it’s just like we’re resisting that a lot.
And she said, the part that’s really happening is that change will not stop happening. The only part we can control is our response. And then she goes on to say that like, she sees a lot of posts on Facebook offering unsolicited advice on how to cope with a crisis, like hang in there or you’re stronger than, you know, she said.
These things are presented like greeting cards, pastel texts on dreamy backgrounds and words rendered in elegant cursive, as though scrawled by a particularly inspirational friend. So, you can see her type of language that she uses. She says, this is where we are now. Endlessly cheerleading ourselves into positivity while erasing the dirty underside of real life.
There are days when I can say with great certainty that I am not strong enough to manage. And so, then she talks about, like, at this point, there’s always this subtext that exists within life. Misery is not an option. We must carry on looking jolly for the sake of the crowd. While we may no longer see depression as failure, we expect you to spin it into something meaningful.
And if you can’t pull that off, then you had better disappear from view for a while. You’re dragging down the vibe. And I think that is so much my reality, especially within the personal development space that I live and work in, where there is this belief that if you are miserable, then you had better cover it up very quickly.
It’s okay for you to be there. We can honor our feelings. But don’t bring down the vibe of everyone else. And I’ve been thinking a lot about this in my own phase of wintering right now. I can really see my desire to do that to myself. Like even the other day, as I was coaching myself and I was writing some things out and processing some emotions as I was writing.
I kept wanting to write, but this will get better. But and it was like every single thing that I was saying, I kept wanting to add like the silver lining to it. And I got to where like, I even wrote in my journal, like, no, I’m not going to look at silver lining at this point. I am going to honor the feelings that I have right now, it was almost a lot of discomfort to not add in that silver lining.
Now, I will say there are times and places that you can do that, and that is still an okay thing to do. But in the event of this book, and what we’re talking about is There is that time and place just like there are the seasons and we’ll get to that, but if you are in it right now, it’s okay to be in it and you don’t have to immediately spin it into something positive or meaningful really quick.
So, then the last thing she says, you know, before we go back to the beginning of the book, she said, here I am. And here it is talking about winter. She said, the only difference, the only reason I have finished this is experience talking about the only way she’s finished this book through this wintering season.
I’ll explain that in just a second. She said, I recognized winter. I saw it coming and I looked it in the eye. I greeted it and let it in. I had some tricks up my sleeve. You see, I’ve learned them the hard way. And I really appreciate that. She said that nature shows us that survival is a practice.
There are times when everything seems easy and times when it all seems impossibly hard. She said, in the meantime, we can only deal with what’s in front of us at this moment, we can take the next necessary action and the next at some point along the at some point along the line, that next action will feel joyful again.
So, as we’re talking about this, that’s where I wanted to like present that. Where at some point we’re just taking action and action. And at some point, those actions do feel joyful again. And if there’s anything that my wintering seasons have taught me, that is like an eternal truth. Like I think about it, you know, in a spiritual sense where.
Sunday will come when you think about, you know, Good Friday and the crucifixion of the Savior. And at some point, Sunday, that resurrection will come. And I think that in terms of wintering at some point, it will feel joyful again. That anchors me as I go through the seasons of wintering that my body is craving, and we’ll talk about that craving.
And so, when she had started this book, and there was one other part, you know, in this last section of the book, where she mentioned it, she’s like, I wanted to get to a place where I was joyful, and I was feeling good. And I was looking back. On my wintering writing this book, but what she didn’t anticipate is that she would still be wintering through the length of her writing this book.
And I actually really appreciate that because we do, at least for me, especially I like to talk about things in the past after I’ve worked through them and the wintering that we’ve been going through right now. Has taken a long time and I would never be doing anything if I had stopped and, you know, try to get through all of this.
And I’ve been trying to be better at communicating the lessons as I’m learning it and as I’m still going through that. So, I did appreciate, you know, Catherine May’s perspective and her realness that she was still wintering while writing this book on wintering. So, Miranda says, yes, I feel like our society always says we will get through.
When we need to stop for a minute and grieve. Oh my gosh, preach. Like that has been the theme, I feel like of my last couple of months that it is good and healthy for us to stop and grieve. So now let’s go back to, you know, the beginning of the book where she starts out in October. And as I was reading through, well, sorry, she does start in September.
And, you know, typically I, you know, mark a bunch of things that we’re going to talk about. I highlight, there is nothing highlighted in the first two chapters because I’m like, I have no idea what she’s talking about. And I don’t even know how, but at some point, she’s talking about foraging. At some point she’s talking about like a bunch of different stories where I’m like, I don’t understand how these are laced together.
The more I got into the book, I could see that. But the biggest thing that you need to know in the beginning of these is that she comes to a point where she introduces, like her husband was in the hospital, had some kind of medical You know, emergency, and that was very challenging for her going through that and then fast forward a little bit.
And then she started having significant health problems where she had to step away. I believe she was a professor. She had to step away from teaching and had to go on medical leave for those stomach pains that she was having that would like. You know, fold her in half. She couldn’t move, but there was no, like, nothing as far as test go could show what was wrong with her.
And she even said that somewhere in the book. She said, I don’t know, which is worse. The fear of going into an appointment, the fear of having a life. Threatening diagnosis or them telling you they can’t find anything and that nothing’s wrong, totally relate to that, you know, with some of the medical challenges that my family and I have gone through, you literally are praying for like to be okay, but you want a reason on why you’re not okay.
And so, if there is no reason you start questioning yourself. But at the end of October, let’s see, this is page 51, she says that at this point, she’s really trying to settle and slow. She’s on this medical leave and she’s kind of going through this experience of trying to figure it out. What is happening and she has gone into the gym, she’s in a sauna and then she’s gone back and she’s trying to acclimate to this heat in order to sit in the sauna longer.
Because it’s supposed to be really good for you. And then she comes out and she becomes very faint to the point where she does get her underwear on, but then lays on the floor while she’s in, you know, this locker room, like the, her little cubicle in the locker room. She lays on the floor and can’t get up.
And so, she starts, you know, saying to someone, can you go get someone? I’m feeling a little faint. I just need some water. Well, that person leaves and alerts the entire staff. And so, they all come rushing in, you know, the emergency, they’ve all been prepared for this, you know, as a gym staff, and they all come in and she was mortified because she was embarrassed.
She was embarrassed. She was only in her underwear. And she just wanted a glass of water, she said. I just am feeling faint because I got too hot. And so going through this, she said, you know, the only thing that I really took away from this was she said, one, I’m never stepping foot in that gym again. I can relate to that after being so embarrassed.
She said, perhaps then it’s a mistake to adopt the practices of the North wholesale, talking about like how they all live in the sauna. She said, perhaps it takes a lifetime to acclimatize. She said, perhaps I need to feel the true cold before I can warm up again. So that’s the introduction as we dive into it is feeling the true cold.
So, a lot of the experiences from here on out are not talking necessarily about warmth and how we, if you look at warmth being like our positive thinking and the silver lining of all things, we have to first understand the true cold before you can warm up again before you can get ready to see the silver lining.
So, as we move into November within the book. That’s where she kind of begins the like really like in depth experience of wintering is how do we move more into the true cold, more into processing what is happening and to truly Winter in the healthy sense, so she goes into like this beautiful detail on page 69 about the life cycle of a tree and as it moves from autumn into winter, like the actual science behind what is happening.
And she said, in spring and summer, leaf cells are. full of chlorophyll, a bright green substance that absorbs sunlight, fueling the process that converts carbon dioxide and water into the starch and sugar that allow the tree to grow. But at the end of the summer, as the days grow shorter and the temperature falls, deciduous trees stop making food.
In the absence of sunlight, it becomes too costly to maintain the machinery of growth. So, what she’s talking about here is that as the winter comes, you know, all of the leaves that are here are going to stop having the chlorophyll coming from the sunlight, the chlorophyll starts to break down, and that’s where like the chemical process starts to happen where the leaves start to fall.
She said other chemical changes take place to create like the red pigment. She said the exact mix is different for each tree, sometimes producing bright yellows. oranges and browns and sometimes displaying as red and purple. She said while this is happening, a layer of cells is weakening between the stem and the branches.
This is called the abscission zone. Gradually it severs the leaf from access to water. So, the leaves that are hanging on to each of these branches are being cut off from the water supply. Which if you think about that in terms of anywhere else, like cutting any kind of living thing from a water supply isn’t good, but what the tree is doing is preserving its roots.
Okay. In order to release this, she says, you know, in most cases, it will start to cut off. She said, the leaves are falling. She said, even as the leaves are falling, the buds for next year’s crops are already in place. So even underneath there are little like nodules. that are already in place for the springtime, but they are not being cared for while the tree is going through this process.
She said, we rarely notice these little buds because most of the time we’re only seeing the skeleton of the tree and it will look like it’s dead. In reality, it’s very much alive. She said, the tree is waiting. It has everything ready. Its fallen leaves are mulching onto the floor and its roots are drying in extra moisture, providing that firm anchor.
So, the moisture is coming into the roots. Now, here’s the part that I thought was really beautiful. And I want you to think about this in terms of motherhood. Okay. She said the roots are drawing up extra moisture, providing a firm anchor against the personal storms. It’s ripe cones and nuts provide essential food in the scarce time.
So, everything that dropped from this tree is now caring for other things within the forest. And it’s bark right here is hosting hibernating insects and providing a source of nourishment for hungry deer this tree is far from dead. And so, as I was reading this, and I was thinking about, like, how does this relate to motherhood?
This experience of entering wintering where we’re. Like dropping our leaves and in times for me where I feel like I’m entering this wintering process, I have a lot of guilt because I’m not being the vibrant mom that I normally like to be. And I’m not playing as much with my kids and I’m slowing down, and we might be cuddling and watching movies.
But I feel bad about that. And so, as I was reading this, the thing that really stood out to me is that these are the times when my roots are drying up moisture. There are times when I’m spending more time alone. I’m getting my secure ground, but that doesn’t mean I’m neglecting the other things of the forest.
I may not be providing the shade or, you know, A big experience for my children right now. And I love this. It’s right. Cones and nuts provide essential food in this scarce time. And so, I was thinking about like, even who I am is still nourishing to my children. I can still provide nourishment to them.
I can still feed my kids, even in this process of dropping things. And then it’s bark is hosting the hibernating. And so, I was thinking about like. During this time, I do snuggle more with my kids or I’m hibernating with my baby. I’m like lying in bed longer, just soaking that in. And that’s such a beautiful thing.
Like that is fulfilling and nurturing to both of us is when we can spend more time, like in that physical contact. And then she goes on to say, you know, and then providing the source of nourishment for our hungry deer. And I think about in terms of like. I don’t always have a lot to give, but I do still try to give where I can to my neighbors and to like those in immediate contact with me.
And I thought about this in terms of, like, the other day we were having neighbors over for dinner. I made a crock pot meal. We always have too much leftover. So, I invited the neighbors over, so I don’t have to eat the same leftover for the entire week. There is a strategy behind that. But then, you know, this guy, he came and dropped off lumber.
We’re redoing our basement right now. And just in passing, he mentioned, you know, that he had just broken up, like literally that day broke up with his girlfriend and he was having a really hard day. I don’t know why he mentioned it. He even said later, he’s like, I don’t know why I mentioned that. And I don’t know why I offered, but I said, you know what, we’re having dinner.
Come on in and come and eat with us. And he did. He took me up on my offer. And so, I thought about like, As I’m wintering how something as simple as just opening my door to what is already happening, God brings other people into our sphere that can just tap into this process. It was no extra work, but it was something nourishing to someone else that needed it that day.
So, she said this tree will not burst into life in the spring. It will just put on a new coat and face the world again. The starkness of winter can reveal colors we would otherwise miss. And so, when we’re looking at this, if we talk a lot about like in my coaching about like the law of opposites, how the starkness of winter, you know, going through this process.
Makes the colors feel so much more vibrant when they come again. And if those colors were always here, maybe they wouldn’t feel as vibrant. You know, that’s the law of opposites that I believe that God has created. And so, when we’re thinking about our wintering, there is a purpose to our wintering now, the more we resist wintering and the more we try and stay in full bloom at all times are the times that we suffer the most.
And I say that, you know, from full experience, you know, as. As I’ve been going through a very long wintering phase. I feel like this time I keep learning that lesson over and over again, that like it’s not time for me to come out of wintering yet. There is a great purpose in this process. So, this is November that she really teaches us, but then she goes on to December and as we go into December, she drew a lot of really interesting stories.
And she kind of weaves them together. Like she takes a lot of nature, which of course I love, but she also takes a lot of culture and history from countries that I’m not as well-known. Like you hear a lot about European, I hear a lot about You know, where I live, like South American, the Native Americans, I have not spent a lot of time in like the northern areas where, you know, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, you know, all of those, you know, kind of lumped together.
And so, a lot of her experiences of, you know, going to that true cold, she is going to these parts of the world that know and enter these wintering times with a lot of purpose and drawing on those experiences. But, you know, as part of that, she said that, you know, there’s a lot of things that we can study.
So, one of the things in her study that she talks about, you know, as she, as you study it. The sun and the days get longer, you know, all of this stuff starts to happen in the past. There was studies that show and not even study. She said, it’s really like a forgotten thing with the industrial revolution that it used to be in the darkest of winter.
Their sleep used to be broken into two. There was the first sleep or the dead sleep, and then there was the second sleep or the morning sleep. And she said in the past where, you know, poor families were trying to save money on candlelight and people didn’t have electricity. And the nights were really long, they would break it into two separate sleeps.
And I think what I liked about this one is it normalized the fact that this is the way I’m sleeping right now, because my baby has been teething, and so they’re very much as a first and second sleep based on how he is. During the night, but also like I can feel that as the darkness is coming, I can feel like inside of my body, something shifting.
And in the past, you know, as she mentions in the book, we use a lot of artificial light in order to like change those sleep cycles when in reality this is what we have always done. It’s just not as well documented. And so, in her research and between these 2 sleeps, the 1st sleep was going to bed early.
This is where you’d get into that dead sleep and then you wake up sometime in the early morning. We’ll call it the early AM. She said during the early AM, this is where families rose to urinate, to smoke tobacco, and even visit close neighbors. Many others made love, prayed, and reflected on their dreams, a significant source of solace and self-awareness.
She said, in the intimacy of darkness, families and lovers could hold deep, rich, wandering conversations that had no place in busy daytime. And I thought how beautiful that is. Oh. And then there’s like the second sleep that she talks about, which is, you know, she said, this is like the morning sleep where the slumber safely goes to daybreak.
So, for me, you know, as I’m talking about and trying to normalize what’s happening in my own life, sometimes I’m going to bed at like eight 30 in the morning, but I’ll wake up at like one 30 and I’m awake for hours or my mind. Like it wakes up. It’s like, Ooh, that was amazing. Night’s sleep. I should get up and party.
But it’s too early. And so there is like one night where this is just this last week. My husband, you know, he’s like, did you sleep great? You went to bed so early. Cause I was like out cold. And I was like, yeah, I slept great till one 30. And then I got up and hung out with my 12-year-old until two 30. And then the five-year-old was up for an hour.
Because he had a bad dream and he wet the bed. And so, I was changing that. And then by the time I laid down, my mind was still awake, but the baby woke up. So, I got up and hung out with the baby for a while. So, I went to bed at like five and then I slept from five until seven thirty and it was great. I woke up feeling rejuvenated and I thought how weird that was until I read this, and I was like, oh, that’s so fascinating.
That can be a normal thing. We can normalize that. But what I have seen as I’ve experienced this, you know, shift in my sleeping is I start thinking, oh my gosh, I have insomnia. And then I’ll lay there, and I’ll stress about like, oh, I should be sleeping right now. I’m going to be so tired. And then my mind starts racing instead of thinking like, oh, this is just my body’s way of wintering.
And that’s okay. This is something that’s been done in many other generations before ours right now. And so, I just really appreciated that. She kind of talks a lot about that as a way to start moving to our true cold. And as our body starts adjusting, she says, at this point, a lot of people and they’re artificial light.
She says, we have lost our true instincts for darkness and it’s an invitation to spend some time in the proximity of our dreams. She said, oftentimes our personal winters are so often accompanied by insomnia. She said, sleep is not a dead space, but a doorway to a different kind of consciousness. One that is reflective and restorative, full of tangential.
I don’t know how to say this word, but something I thought and unexpected insights. So, Miranda says, in farming, the daylight hours definitely changes our work hours in the fall and winter. Yes. So that is like a perfect example. So, Miranda has a very large cow farm in Kentucky, and so she experiences, you know, the shift of wintering and going through the seasons on a very different level, I feel like, than I do in my more city life and the way that we live.
And so, one of the things that she says, you know, going back to that insomnia, you know, waking in these early hours, she says my own midnight terrors vanish when I turn insomnia into a watch, a claimed sacred space in which I have nothing to do but contemplate. And so right here, what she’s saying is this becomes like a very sacred time for her.
And so even last night I noticed as I was kind of contemplating this today, that I could then spend the time that I woke up last night as like a beautiful contemplation. It wasn’t something to stress about. It was how can I enjoy this space to be more prayerful in all that I’m doing? And so, I was grateful that she really brought that up.
So, then she goes on to continue, you know, in. She speaks a lot about the history as we move into December of different cultures around the winter solstice and talking about Druidism or Druids? I’m just going to say druids. I love that. And she talks about how during the darkest time of the year, this is when they really give rise to festivals and being able to celebrate the rhythm of the year.
And I really liked that phrase of being able to look at the rhythm of the year. When we’re looking at like that true cold and how much in the past I’ve resisted winter as dark and gray and depressing and I have such a hard time, instead of being able to look at this is the rhythm of the earth as well as the rhythm of my body, and I can use this as like a festival time, not just with Christmas, but also being able to follow my own wintering experiences and that I don’t have to resist those.
So, she goes on to say, I have come to think of it as a prayer. So, talking about these times when you’re entering the true cold. She says, I ask for nothing, and I speak to no one. She said, it is a profoundly nonverbal experience. You know, the celebration where you just get to spend time being like this open communication to the earth and the rhythm of it.
And God, she said is an untangling a moment to feel the true ache of desire, a gentle wash of self-compassion, a heart swell of things, a tick, tick of existence. It is a moment when alone I am at my most connected with others. I can feel entirely separate in a crowd of people. But when I close my eyes, it’s as though I have waded into a river of all consciousness bathed in common humanity.
And I just think the way and again, like as I went, I could understand her writing and see the beauty in her writing and be able to visualize like this flow of consciousness that exists with all of us where we can be so connected. And she goes on to say that the year will move on no matter what, but paying attention to it, feeling its beat and noticing the moments of transition.
Perhaps even taking time to think about what we want from the next phase of the year; we can get the measure of it. And then she goes on to say that we live through thousands of winters in our lives, some big, some small. That’s exactly what I feel like that is what, you know, my, what I am going through.
But she goes on to talk about happiness as we move, you know, deeper into winter and soon into January, so she said that as she said, happiness is the greatest skill will ever learn. Happiness is our potential and that. If happiness is a skill, then sadness is too, but we’re taught to ignore sadness and we often have to hear, as adults, we often have to learn to hear the clarity of its call.
This is wintering, the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare 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 feel keenly, it felt keenly as a knife and gosh, is that like any better explanation of processing emotions, entering that wintering.
Now, I know for me, when I first started learning about processing emotions, and this is something I see in my clients. And even now, after many years, there have been times where I think, oh my gosh, something bad’s going to happen. I’m going to be stuck in sadness forever. That is a very common fear that so many of us have as we Learn this active acceptance of sadness, but what I keep learning because some of us have to learn lessons over and over is that the more I resist it, the longer and harder it becomes.
That’s where the true suffering starts and keeps going. But this active acceptance feels like, like such an honoring of the seasons of a movement, it still feels like progress and that’s okay. Like that is what sadness can be. Like you can still be moving through that. Sadness, even if it doesn’t look like it or your brain doesn’t cognitively think that you are, so she goes on to say that we change our focus away from pushing through the normal life and towards making new ones when everything is broken.
Everything is also up for grabs. This is the gift of winter. So, this is wintering. The gift of winter is when everything is broken, you have an option, you have a choice, you have a decision to make on what you want to keep. So, she goes on to say that oftentimes you’ll find wisdom in your winter and It’s your responsibility to pass it on.
It’s our responsibility to also listen to those who have wintered before us. It’s an exchange of gifts. I love that, especially as we’re moving into the holidays and we’re thinking about exchanging gifts, is that we can seek out wisdom of others that have wintered before us. And so, she then goes on to say that.
She says this may involve the breaking of a lifelong habit, one passed down carefully through generations, that of looking at other people’s misfortunes and feeling certain that they brought them upon themselves in a way that you never would. And I wanted to just pause for just a brief moment to mention, like, really call this out, is that Within the culture, within the Christian culture, this often is a phrase that I hear that has been very painful for me in my life, where the Christian ideal is that if you are righteous and obedient, then therefore you are blessed and blessed means everything goes right.
But then if there’s trials or hard things that come up, then therefore you have been unrighteous, and you need to fix those things. And so, for a long time, as I was going through the difficulties I was needing to winter, there were trials that I was being faced with. It was very challenging thinking, okay, I must, like God is, you know, bringing down his wrath on me.
Like I need to have more faith. I need to be more obedient. I need to be more righteous and being able to understand that I was not being punished, but that there is this wintering process, just like the trees are not being punished, they are going through a very different experience. And that’s not a bad thing.
That’s a very healthy thing. Same thing with like experiences and trials that we go through. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re being punished or we’re not being righteous enough. It means that there is some kind of wintering process that we are to go through and to work through. And we can seek out the wisdom and exchange our gifts of our wintering processes.
She said, when we look kindly at other people’s crises, we are often able to have more compassion on our own. She says, as we go into January, this is where she goes into like, I once met a man who tracked down wolves. It was a very odd thing. But what she talks about with the wolves is actually really interesting because she said that.
Wolves are always villainized. Wolves are like, there’s always this desire to kill. And there’s so many rituals around killing wolves. And she met this man that really started to step back. He was a shepherd and in order to save his flock, he started to then study the wolves. And because. He really started to study them.
He began to start finding evidence and started to research their patterns and their behaviors, and then became like a wolf consultant, being able to travel all over Europe and to help other shepherds and communities. Know how to better work with these wolves, which I think is so cool. So, he said for him, he started to become more wolf like in the sense that he was quiet.
He was watchful. He was intent. She said, I was a domesticated pet. He, a wild animal, a certain raw edge that had been bred out of me. And then she goes on to say that wolves are such. sensitive animals. They’re amazing parents, they’re devoted children. The only time that they attack livestock is an extreme desperation.
She said, you know, going through all of this, we have to remember that there is, she said, whenever we want to denote the hunger of the cold season, we turn to wolves. They’re the enemy we love to hate. They’re the feral intelligence we most fear. And so, she talks about how We like villainize all of these wolves, but what we’re actually doing is there’s this want that exists.
It’s like this survival, like a very basic instinct level that when we go into hunger, we become wolf like, like there’s this want, and we start to lack something. And this is where people start to absorb things and start to go into this feast or famine like wolves, where we’ll start. Eating so much, or she said, you know, this is where people start having drugs and alcohol.
They’re in relationships with people that don’t make us safe. We’re buying objects that we don’t need or can’t afford. So, what’s happening is it’s like this rally cry for survival. when we go into this wintering process. And we have to adapt our bodies in order to experience this wintering process and be okay with it.
So that’s just kind of an introduction into the second half, which we’ll go through, you know, very briefly. But as we go into this second half, it’s important to start looking at this, you know, feast or famine. You know, this true cold that she talks about, not as the enemy, but looking at it as the thing that our body is actually craving.
So, she goes on in February where she starts talking about, I love the phrase she used. She calls it porridge brain, where she feels like everything is falling out of her brain and she’s English. And I was like, oh my gosh, that perfectly describes postpartum for me. But I think every mom, regardless of the phase that they’re in, feels porridge brain at some point.
So, she goes on to explain her meeting this woman who does year, so Catherine May, the author, she lives near the coast in England, and she met this woman who swims the water year-round, regardless of how cold it is outside. And she said that at this point, you know, meeting this woman. After a time, what she started doing when she was healing, this woman was healing her bipolar and not fixing it, but learning to work within the parameters of her bipolar and going swimming in the cold was actually helping her.
She said it became so hard in the beginning. But what happened over time is that her body started to brave the cold. Like there was some kind of sensation that happened. And so, she said that at this point, you know, she wanted to really spend some time trying to do this for herself. So, she shares her experience.
Becoming a winter swimmer, which I think is really funny because so many people, at least in Utah, like ice baths are all the rage. And I was so against it, but reading her experience was actually kind of cool. So, she said that this is just, you know, the science behind it. Immersion in cold water has been shown to increase levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s reward and pleasure centers by 250%.
She said a recent study found that regular winter swimming significantly decreases tension and fatigue as well as negative states associated with memory and mood and improves swimmer’s sense of general well-being. So then as we go through this experience, you know, she dives into this about how, like, she gets into the water, her brain is telling her that she’s miserable, she’s going to die, and she says, as soon as I get out of the water, I realize it makes me feel alive and I can’t wait to get back in.
And she said, it’s so interesting to watch, like her body’s warming up process and being able to feel alive and the shiver that comes after it and how her body is able to move into that true cold. And she invites us. And for her, that was, you know, moving into that true cold. It was very. physical, she started entering the cold water in order to fully immerse herself in that experience and see what happens to her body as she does that and embraces that true wintering process.
So, then she goes on to tell the difference again, these stories are like, so discombobulated, but then they all come together. She goes on to talk about the difference between ants and grasshoppers, where the ants are the ones that are planned all year long and the grasshoppers, because they’re not ones that survive the winter.
They’re never saving for anything and they’re living and partying all summer long. And she said, we always like talk about how we should be more like the ants, but she said, the truth is we all have ant years and grasshopper years in which we’re able to prepare and save and years where we need a little extra help.
Our true flaw lies not in failing to store up enough resources to cope with our quote unquote grasshopper years, but in believing that each grasshopper year is an anonymity, visited only on us due to our unique human failings. And so, I appreciate that she brought up the difference there between the ants.
And the grasshoppers were oftentimes when we start entering in these winters, we are saying it’s because of our own human failing again. This is, you know, the Christian culture that exists within us. Like, we’ve offended God and therefore we are in a winter, and we are instead seeing this as this is just a common thing.
This is not an anonymity. And Nana, you know what word I’m trying to say, but that there are just years where we will be able to save and be able to preserve more and years where we are going to start entering the winter months and we need a little extra help. Again, she goes back to being connected with other people.
So, then she goes on, you know, to talk about in we’re into March now. And she says, don’t treat bees like individuals. This, she’s talking to a beekeeper. She said, a colony of bees is a single super organism. They act as one. And although it’s easy to think of bees as summer beings adapted to drifting around flowers, their whole year is oriented in the opposite direction.
Most of the bees activity is directed towards as colonies surviving the winter. And so, then she goes on to talk about now that like you’ve entered the true cold and been able to be part of that. Now you get to start understanding. Okay. What does it look like? What does it look like to always be preparing for winter and being able to make sure your quote unquote hive stays alive through it all?
So, she goes on to say that bees have achieved a very carefully balanced social order that behave like our bodies, so we don’t have to think about keeping ourselves alive. That’s what the body does. It everything is working together in order to keep yourself alive. So, this is a gargantuan effort. The collective work of an unfathomable number of bees is pointed towards the winter.
They have evolved in an ingenious way to keep warm. And then she talks about, you know, the body, like if your finger is cut off, the right cells are automatically deployed in order to heal that part of your body in order to keep it alive. She said, when we get to this point, it’s important for us when we’re like consumed by our home life, you feel like you can no longer.
You know, it feels like winter is starting to infinitely swallow you up. This is the point where we truly are not to aspire like ants or grasshoppers. She said, we are not nameless units of super organisms like a bee or like an ant. She said, we are not expendable. We are not dependent on how useful we are in our lives.
She said, usefulness. Is a useless concept when it comes to humans, I don’t think we are ever meant to think of others in terms of their use to us. She said, it’s amazing that we all spend time trying to help the most helpless members of our families and communities, like our babies and our children and our elderly.
She said, it’s the, it’s how we thrive. Our winters become our social glue where we have to depend on one another. during these times of winter. And that is one of the most beautiful things that we can do. That is another gift of winter is it allows us to stick together. And I will say, you know, on a very personal level, this has been an intense winter for me where this winter has called me to go inside of myself on a very deep level.
It’s required me to open up to total strangers, to family members. It has been one of those, like those depths of darkness that she says, you know, within the book. And I love how she talks about this. She says, as I labor through my own winter, I may not have time for the big work that I yearn to undertake, but I can at least keep my hands moving.
And so, as I think about that, and as I’ve had to depend on other people being able to help me within my life, within, you know, within my children, all of these things, there’s so much that my heart yearns to do. And my body keeps. Reminding me that I am still wintering. And so, as we enter this physical winter season for all of us, you know, we’re going into December, we’re going into the holidays, we’re going into the long and dreary months.
That’s what I want you to remember from this book is that our winters are not something to push against. They’re truly a gift that. Connects every human person together where we tap into that level of consciousness, that beauty that exists and that becomes how we’re able to all survive each other’s winters, because we’re all sharing gifts with one another gifts of our own winter.
And then there comes a time when, like she, like we talked about at the very beginning of the book where. Action after action, and suddenly those actions will feel joyful again. That is when you know you are entering those spring months. And I’m very grateful for this book. I’m very grateful for the people that are helping me winter right now.
And it seems so impossibly hard. But again, I’m just going to reiterate what she says. Because I feel like this really resonates with me as well. And she says, I am here and here it is. The only difference, the only reason I have finished this is experience. I recognize winter. I saw it coming and I looked it in the eye.
I greeted it and let it in. And I had some tricks up my sleeve. I’ve learned them the hard way. And that I feel like is the biggest thing. And the thing that I have learned the most is kindness and love. And she mentions that in the book is that. I have been going through this process over and over again, and as hard as it is, I recognize it.
I see it coming. I’ve prepared for it. And now I can go into that true cold and really see the gifts that are awaiting me here. All right. Have a wonderful holiday. We’ll start back up again in January. See you then.
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