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Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
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Wintering Quotes Showing 1-30 of 268
“We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“If happiness is a skill, then sadness is, too. Perhaps through all those years at school, or perhaps through other terrors, we are taught to ignore sadness, to stuff it down into our satchels and pretend it isn’t there. As adults, we often have to learn to hear the clarity of its call. That is wintering. It is 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 felt keenly as a knife.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“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.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
“Here is another truth about wintering: you’ll find wisdom in your winter, and once it’s over, it’s your responsibility to pass it on. And in return, it’s our responsibility to listen to those who have wintered before us. It’s an exchange of gifts in which nobody loses out. 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. This isn’t just an unkind attitude. It does us harm, because it keeps us from learning that disasters do indeed happen and how we can adapt when they do. It stops us from reaching out to those who are suffering. And when our own disaster comes, it forces us into a humiliated retreat, as we try to hunt down mistakes that we never made in the first place or wrongheaded attitudes that we never held. Either that, or we become certain that there must be someone out there we can blame. Watching winter and really listening to its messages, we learn that effect is often disproportionate to cause; that tiny mistakes can lead to huge disasters; that life is often bloody unfair, but it carries on happening with or without our consent. We learn to look more kindly on other people’s crises, because they are so often portents of our own future.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
“Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider. Perhaps it results from an illness or a life event such as a bereavement or the birth of a child; perhaps it comes from a humiliation or failure. Perhaps you’re in a period of transition and have temporarily fallen between two worlds. Some wintering creep upon us more slowly, accompanying the protracted death of a relationship, the gradual ratcheting up of caring responsibilities as our parents age, the drip-drip-drip of lost confidence. Some are appallingly sudden, like discovering one day that your skills are considered obsolete, the company you worked for has gone bankrupt, or your partner is in love with someone new. However, it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“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.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
“Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“Nobody had ever said to me before, "You need to live a life that you can cope with, not the one that other people want. Start saying no. Just do one thing a day. No more than two social events in a week." I owe my life to him.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“Doing those deeply unfashionable things—slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting—is a radical act now, but it is essential. This is a crossroads we all know, a moment when you need to shed a skin. If you do, you’ll expose all those painful nerve endings and feel so raw that you’ll need to take care of yourself for a while. If you don’t, then that skin will harden around you.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
“If we don’t allow ourselves the fundamental honesty of our own sadness, then we miss an important cue to adapt. We seem to be living in an age when we’re bombarded with entreaties to be happy, but we’re suffering from an avalanche of depression. We’re urged to stop sweating the small stuff, yet we’re chronically anxious. I often wonder if these are just normal feelings that become monstrous when they’re denied. A great deal of life will always suck. There will be moments when we’re riding high and moments when we can’t bear to get out of bed. Both are normal. Both in fact require a little perspective.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“I recognized winter. I saw it coming (a mile off, since you ask), 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. When I started feeling the drag of winter, I began to treat myself like a favored child: with kindness and love. I assumed my needs were reasonable and that my feelings were signals of something important. I kept myself well fed and made sure I was getting enough sleep. I took myself for walks in the fresh air and spent time doing things that soothed me. I asked myself: What is this winter all about? I asked myself: What change is coming?”
Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
“Sleep is not a dead space, but a doorway to a different kind of consciousness—one that is reflective and restorative, full of tangential thought and unexpected insights. In winter, we are invited into a particular mode of sleep: not a regimented eight hours, but a slow, ambulatory process in which waking thoughts merge with dreams, and space is made in the blackest hours to repair the fragmented narratives of our days.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“I love the inconvenience the same way that I sneakingly love a bad cold: the irresistible disruption to mundane life, forcing you to stop for a while and step outside your normal habits. I love the visual transformation it brings about, that recolouring of the world into sparkling white, the way that the rules change so that everybody says hello as they pass. I love what it does to the light, the purplish clouds that loom before it descends, and the way it announces itself from behind your curtains in the morning, glowing a diffuse whiteness that can only mean snow. Heading out in a snowstorm to catch the flakes on my gloves, I love the feeling of it fresh underfoot. I am rarely childlike and playful except in snow. It swings me into reverse gear.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“Snow creates that quality of awe in the face of a power greater than ours. It epitomises the aesthetic notion of the sublime, in which greatness and beauty couple to overcome you—a small, frail human—entirely.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“To get better at wintering, we need to address our very notion of time. We tend to imagine that our lives are linear, but they are in fact cyclical. I would not, of course, seek to deny that we gradually grow older, but while doing so, we pass through phases of good health and ill, of optimism and deep doubt, of freedom and constraint. There are times when everything seems easy, and times when it all seems impossibly hard. To make that manageable, we just have to remember that our present will one day become a past, and our future will be our present. We know that because it’s happened before. The things we put behind us will often come around again. The things that trouble us now will often come around again. Each time we endure the cycle, we ratchet up a notch. We learn from the last time around, and we do a few things better this time; we develop tricks of the mind to see us through. This is how progress is made. In the meantime, we can deal only with what’s in front of us at this moment in time. We take the next necessary action, and the next. At some point along the line, that next action will feel joyful again.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“In The Wisdom of Insecurity, Watts makes a case that always convinces me, but which I always seem to forget: that life is, by its very nature, uncontrollable. That we should stop trying to finalise our comfort and security, and instead find a radical acceptance of the endless, unpredictable change that is the very essence of this life. Our suffering, he says, comes from the fight we put up against this fundamental truth.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“Winter is when I reorganise my bookshelves and read all the books I acquired in the previous year and failed to actually read. It is also the time when I reread beloved novels, for the pleasure of reacquainting myself with old friends. In summer, I want big, splashy ideas and trashy page-turners, devoured while lounging in a garden chair or perching on one of the breakwaters on the beach. In winter, I want concepts to chew over in a pool of lamplight—slow, spiritual reading, a reinforcement of the soul. Winter is a time for libraries, the muffled quiet of bookstacks and the scent of old pages and dust. In winter, I can spend hours in silent pursuit of a half-understood concept or a detail of history. There is nowhere else to be, after all.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“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. An occasional sharp wintering would do us good. We must stop believing that these times in our lives 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. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
“That’s the gift of winter: it’s irresistible. Change will happen in its wake, whether we like it or not. We can come out of it wearing a different coat.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
“When it’s really cold, the snow makes a lovely noise underfoot, and it’s like the air is full of stars.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“I often turn to children’s books at times like these, when I’m yearning to escape into a world that is beautifully rendered and complex, yet soothingly familiar.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“When I started feeling the drag of winter, I began to treat myself like a favoured child: with kindness and love. I assumed my needs were reasonable and that my feelings were signals of something important. I kept myself well fed and made sure I was getting enough sleep. I took myself for walks in the fresh air and spent time doing things that soothed me. I asked myself: What is this winter all about? I asked myself: What change is coming?”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“There are gaps in the mesh of the everyday world, and sometimes they open up and you fall through them into somewhere else. Somewhere Else runs at a different pace to the here and now, where everyone else carries on. Somewhere Else is where ghosts live, concealed from view and only glimpsed by people in the real world. Somewhere Else exists at a delay, so that you can't quite keep pace. Perhaps I was already teetering on the brink of Somewhere Else anyway; but now I fell through, as simply and discreetly as dust sifting between the floorboards. I was surprised to find that I felt at home there.
Winter had begun.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
“Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“I’m tired, inevitably. But it’s more than that. I’m hollowed out. I’m tetchy and irritable, constantly feeling like prey, believing that everything is urgent and that I can never do enough. And my house—my beloved home—has suffered a kind of entropy in which everything has slowly collapsed and broken and worn out, with detritus collecting on every surface and corner, and I have been helpless in the face of it.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“I am aware that I fly in the face of polite convention in doing this. The times when we fall out of sync with everyday life remain taboo. We’re not raised to recognise wintering or to acknowledge its inevitability. Instead, we tend to see it as a humiliation, something that should be hidden from view lest we shock the world too greatly. We put on a brave public face and grieve privately; we pretend not to see other people’s pain. We treat each wintering as an embarrassing anomaly that should be hidden or ignored. This means we’ve made a secret of an entirely ordinary process and have thereby given those who endure it a pariah status, forcing them to drop out of everyday life in order to conceal their failure. Yet we do this at a great cost. Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
“We enter that strange period between Christmas and New Year, when time seems to muddle, and we find ourselves asking again and again, What day is it? What date? I always mean to work on these days, or at least to write, but this year, like every other, I find myself unable to gather up the necessary intent. I used to think that these were wasted days, but I now realise that’s the point. I am doing nothing very much, not even actively being on holiday. I clear out my cupboards, ready for another year’s onslaught of cooking and eating. I take Bert out to play with friends. I go for cold walks that make my ears ache. I am not being lazy. I’m not slacking. I’m just letting my attention shift for a while, away from the direct ambitions of the rest of my year. It’s like revving my engines.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“The problem with “everything” is that it ends up looking an awful lot like nothing: just one long haze of frantic activity, with all the meaning sheared away. Time has passed so quickly while I have been raising a child and writing books, and working a full-time job that often sprawls into my weekends, that I can’t quite account for it. The preceding years are not a blank exactly, but they’re certainly a blur, and one that’s strangely devoid of meaning, except for a clawing sense of survival.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“Mostly I read at this hour, perusing the pile of books that live by my favourite chair, waiting to offer up fragments of learning, rather than inviting cover-to-cover pursuits. I browse a chapter here, a segment there, or hunt through an index for a matter that’s on my mind. I love such loose, exploratory reading. For once, I am not reading to escape; instead, having already made my getaway, I am able to roam through the extra space I’ve found, as restless and impatient as I like, revelling in the play of my own absorption. They say that we should dance like no one is watching. I think that applies to reading, too.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times
“I want to disappear. I’m almost desperate to find a way to absent myself easily from the situation, like cutting around my outline with a craft knife and cleanly excising myself from the record.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times

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