The Wintering of the Heart

Last week we talked of the need for solitude, quiet time by oneself, in which we approach ourselves with kindness and compassion, that may then extend outwardly. The weather in Southern Ontario in the last several days has called to mind the poem and song, In the Bleak Midwinter. The poem speaks of a time in which the mystery of life is found in simple realities that touch and call forth a response from the heart.

This reflection in turn reminded me of an interview with author Katherine May on her book, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. She speaks of wintering as a time of slowing down, resting, retreating. She recalls that plants and animals do not fight the winter, but prepare and adapt for it. For us, she says, it is a time for withdrawing from the usual busyness, even frantic pace, of so much of life. “It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting you house in order. Doing these deeply unfashionable things—slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting—is a radical act now, but it’s essential.”

She goes on to say that life has a cyclical quality about it, that it has seasons, and that sadness is also and inseparable part of life. It is not a matter of wallowing in misery, but recognizing that sorrow is part of life, and becoming comfortable with it. Rather than trying to escape from sorrow or talk others out of it, we may be most helpful by making space in ourselves for others’ sadness as well as our own.

She concludes: “When I started to feel the drag of winter, I began to treat myself … 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 I made sure I was getting enough sleep. I took myself for walks in the fresh air and spent time doing things that soothed me.”

One way of expressing wintering, is to ask ourselves what constitutes a warm blanket for us in chilly times– whether eating a favourite snack, listening to a piece of beautiful music, going for a walk, taking a nap, reading a novel, calling a friend–activities in which we are not simply doing, but being.

Wayne Muller has a wonderful book called Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest and Delight. He says that in the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between work and rest, and because we do not rest, we lose our way, often in frantic overactivity. Conversely: “When we consecrate a time to listen to the still, small voices, we remember the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. We remember from where we are most deeply nourished, and see more clearly the shape and texture of the people and things before us.”

He then adds: “These are the useless things that grow in time: to walk without purpose to no place in particular, where we are astonished by the textured bark of an oak. To notice the colour red showing itself for the first time in the maple in the fall. To see animals in the shape of clouds, to walk in clover. To fall into an unexpected conversation with a stranger, and find something delicious and unbidden take shape. To taste the orange we eat, the juice on the chin, the pulp between teeth. To take a deep sigh, an exhale followed by a listening silence. To allow a recollection of a moment with a loved one, a feeling of how our life has evolved. To give thanks for a single step upon the earth. To give thanks for any blessing, previously unnoticed; the gentle brush of a hand on a lover’s body, the sweet surrender of sleep in the afternoon.”

May you find a time for restfulness and kindness in your life, time for things that are for their own sake and that nourish your soul. And may the gentle caring for yourself overflow into compassion for one another.

Norman King, January 23, 2023.