I absolutely hate winter. I love the holiday season and all that, but come January 2, I pretty much want to hibernate away the next three or four months. I hate the snow. I hate the cold. I hate the dark nights that come in the middle of the afternoon. I hate all of it.
This winter is particularly challenging, for all of the obvious reasons. COVID is raging on and we can’t see our extended family and friends. Loneliness is setting in, hard. The country is on fire. Add to that the lack of sunlight and freezing temps and it’s all just too damn much.
Winter is the worst. The literal worst.
But even though I hate winter, I’m kind of in love with wintering.
WTF is wintering?, you might be asking. And how is it any different than winter?
Well, good question. The most basic way I can think of it is winter is a season and, depending on where you live, maybe even a climate. Wintering is a state of being.
Wintering is a term coined by Katherine May, who wrote the book “Wintering:The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times.”
These are, indeed, difficult times.
“Wintering,” May writes, “brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.”
Can I get an amen? And a yes, please. Because Lord knows that I – that we – could use some insightful moments and wisdom right about now. The pandemic has left me feeling untethered and exhausted. Even on those days when it feels like everything is “fine,” I feel an acute but indecipherable heaviness. I’ve struggled, a lot.
“I’m not going to simply endure winter like I do year after year; I’m going to use it as an excuse to rest, reflect, and rejuvenate,” Kolina Cicero wrote on Wit & Delight. “This winter I am going to heal.”
Heal. Yes, I want to heal. Physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Not only do we need to heal from the collective trauma of the past four years and the trauma of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but I also have a fair amount of personal healing to do. I’ve been fairly open both publicly and privately about my mental health struggles over the past few years. But I can honestly say that I feel better now than I have felt in five years or so. But I know that my mental and emotional wellness is still tenuous. It is like a fresh scab. The wound is covered, but the risk of damage is still there. And I am determined to maintain this mental wellness long enough so that I can build mental strength. I need to winter.
Wintering is similar to the Danish concept of hygge, but it’s so much more than that too. “[Hygge] is not a word so much as a concept or way of being,” wrote Cicero. “Not quite translatable into English, it is essentially a coziness that evokes a feeling of contentment or well-being. Hygge is a big leather chair, a weighted blanket, and a good book. It’s drinking hot cocoa by a crackling fire and cuddling with a pet or loved one.”
Wintering takes hygge – which has caught on here in the States in the past few years — and combines it with radical self-compassion, self-care, and self-reflection to facilitate the healing that is needed. Wintering is about being intentional with all that hygge coziness and using it to replenish, rejuvenate, and heal.
In the U.S., we’re so obsessed with self-reliance and independence and productivity that we don’t even realize how wounded we are because we’re so damn busy all the time. Wintering lets us hunker down and settle in so that we can recover.
In “Wintering,” May writes about the transformation that happens when everything is seemingly “shut down” in the winter. “The changes that take place in winter are a kind of alchemy, an enchantment performed by ordinary creatures to survive,” she writes. And when you put it that way, wintering does sound almost magical, like a secret potion or a magic elixir that mends our broken parts.
Sign. Me. Up.
So pull out a blanket and make a cuppa something. Sink into a good book. Take a nap. Or don’t. Wintering isn’t about doing more – even if those things you’re doing are cozy and hygge-ish. Wintering is about caring for yourself. It’s about giving your body and mind what they need, whether it’s a warm bowl of soup or ten minutes to stare out the window.
So no, my feelings about winter haven’t changed. I still am not a fan of winter. But I’m kind of in love with wintering.