Wisdom of the North ❄️: Wintering by Katherine May 📖

January 2022, the Kochi airport departure terminal wears a deserted look. In keeping with the trying pandemic times, the theme seems to have shifted from aesthetics and comfortable experience to merely functional. Most of the eating joints have been shut. As a precautionary measure in the uncertain times I arrived at the airport well in advance of the scheduled departure time to avoid any delay due to unforeseen queues. It was a smooth sail to the boarding gates and now I have idle hours before take-off.

Browsing at the shops in the airport is a favourite timepass; I surveyed the Hidesign bag store, which has some great looking bags👜 (I have enough bags for now), the Popy umbrella mart☂️, I bought a plain black umbrella (a replacement for the faulty one I was planning to get rid of); the book shop is a big draw and the Mathrubhumi bookstore has an eclectic collection📚. And it is here that I saw this book – Wintering by Katherine May; only one copy was available that day and I bought it. I remember vaguely reading the title somewhere as a recommendation of a good read and the word itself had a soothing touch; a sort of calming effect emanated by things like candles🕯. I stop with just one book; finish this and then another one📖.

Wintering by Katherine May

“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.

However it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful.

Yet it’s also inevitable. We like to imagine that it’s possible for life to be one eternal summer, and that we have uniquely failed to achieve that for ourselves. We dream of an equatorial habitat, forever close to the sun; an endless, unvarying high season. But life’s not like that.”

Wintering by Katherine May

It’s a book of comfort and things that bring us succor. It’s a book that talks about the essentials we need while resting and recouping. It adds meaning to the sleep, the dark, the nights, the songs, the stories, the light, the food, the kindness we need to bestow on ourselves while we retreat into our shells and nourish ourselves back to being. It’s about taking things slow; an opposite to the usual self-help or healing books that aim at more productivity. The book tenderly elaborates on the process of preparing for and getting through the dark days.

“Doing those deeply unfashionably things – slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting – are radical acts these days, but they are essential.”

Wintering by Katherine May

The book is also part memoir and the author is forced to stop working and rest at home due to recurring pain in her abdomen. How does she kickstart the process of wintering? Taking a cue from nature, the preparation starts in Autumn. And Hygge – an antidote invented by the Danish against the cold and dark days of winter; cosying up with soothing candles and warm tea. But this process of bundling into a comfortable cocoon also heralds the uninvited gnawing feeling of guilt; it’s not part of our culture, maybe it’s just being lazy and looking for an escape from the everyday toil.

The Nordic countries have a whole set of rituals and means for coping with the winter and the author touches upon them with all her failings. The book focuses on the wintering wisdom of the North to which the author relates better.

“Perhaps then, it’s a mistake to adopt the practices of the North wholesale. Perhaps it takes a lifetime to acclimatise. Perhaps it just isn’t yet time.”

Wintering by Katherine May

But then every culture has their own processes of wintering; if we just associate the word with our fallow stages needing additional help, rest, fortifying food, positive thoughts, supportive environment and relaxing activities. An example would be the customary three months of rest women spent at their parents home; away from her in-laws, free from work and the daily chores, after giving birth. The maternity leave is spent not just bonding with the baby but also for strengthening the mother’s body with extra sleep, special food and rejuvenating oil baths administered by another. It allows for time and space to learn about how to handle the demands of a newborn and also to prepare for the busy times ahead.

I did not follow the sequential order of the chapters in the book. Each chapter can stand on it’s own and re-read; after the introduction, I jumped into Slumber 😴

” Maybe my sleeplessness isn’t only caused by anxiety about the future. In the twenty-first century we are awash with light, not just from the pendants and lamps that deliberately light up our homes in the evening, but also the ever-glowing legions of electronic devices that flicker and pulse and glow to tell us that they are doing something. Light, nowadays, can feel like an intruder, always seeming to carry with it a unit of information, or an obligation.

Our personal winters are so often accompanied by insomnia…

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 to a particular mode of sleep: not a regimented eight hours…..but a slow, ambulatory process in which waking thoughts merge with dreams…”

Wintering by Katherine May

The winters in the North is not complete without the magic of the northern lights, the Aurora Borealis. The author’s hunt for the experience sounds like a safari where the guides keep exchangings the latest sightings of the precious beings on mobile phones and the jeeps frequently change courses and dash off hopeful of a glimpse, chasing the latest tip-off.

The Light in the winter is celebrated with the story of St Lucy, again a Nordic tradition – a story of bravery and sacrifice and hope symbolized by light amidst the darkness and persecution. Each chapter elaborates on the practices perfected by people and nature to get by the winter safely and not fight or ignore it’s arrival; acceptance and preparation.

So how does the book end !? As with all endings, it involves acceptance of the way things are and making peace with the things we cannot change.

“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…

There are times when everything seems easy and times when it all seems impossibly hard. To make that manageable, we only have to remember that our present will one day become a past, and our future will be our present.

The things we put behind us 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…”

Wintering by Katherine May

Can we experience permanent winters? I don’t think so; we have a innate need to grow and we need the light. We reach out for light and progress makes us happy. The darkness is temporary, but inevitable and what is more important is that we be equipped on how to cope; whether in solitude or with company; it’s a skill we need to develop.

“…for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We do not belong to the night or to darkness.” 1 Thess 5:14

Till next post, take care !!

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