A friend recently shared that she was reading “Wintering”, the beautifully written memoir by Katherine May. Every now and then it just so happens that the planets align, the skies open, and you are convinced that a book was written specifically for you. “Wintering” is one such book. I rarely recommend books, but go get this book!
In what the NY Times calls a “melancholy memoir”, Katherine May uses winter as a metaphor for the dark and challenging times in our lives. May suggests that just as one prepares for winter by pulling out the wool and canning vegetables, there are things things we can do to prepare for our personal winter.
The first step is to accept that difficult moments are part of life. May explains: “Wintering…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.” Gone is toxic positivity. Gone is the perfectionist inner critic saying we should just get on with it. Instead, we get on with self-love and self-acceptance. And healing.
Why is this such a struggle for so many of us? Why do we beat ourselves up for being sad? Some of this is due to the explosion of Social Media where everyone shows their best, so if we aren’t posting photos of our new thin body or new amazing vacation we feel like a total loser. And for many of us who experienced trauma in our childhoods, feelings are scary! As Bessel Van der Kolk, author of “The Body Keeps Score” has written, “Traumatized people are terrified to feel deeply. They are afraid to experience their emotions, because emotions lead to loss of control.” So we hold it in, don our stiff upper lip, and push down all those scary feelings.
Does this ever work? Be honest…
I can speak for myself, the Queen of Denial and Big Smiles, it has never worked for me. Maybe because the anxiety of trying not to be anxious and the fear of feeling fear and the sadness of an impending sad situation was always worse than actually feeling the feeling. Yes, I’ll be the first to admit, loneliness sucks! Fear is scary! Sadness is so painful. But worse is denying what you are feeling.
In the film, “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” the central characters have the opportunity to clear their memories of a traumatic relationship. One decides to, while the other decides that if getting rid of the bad memories means he’ll also have to get rid of the good memories, he decides to keep all his memories; getting rid of the good memories is too high a price. And that is the choice we face when we experience our periods of “Wintering”. Do I feel my feelings or do I pretend it’s all ok?
This reminds me of a quote by Henry David Thoreau, where he explains why he went into the woods. He writes: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” All the marrow of life means the highs and and the lows, the births and the deaths, the bliss and the pain. I’m not advocating dwelling in victimhood! I am advocating for truth. I am saying–if you are having a bad day, bad moment, it’s ok. We should get off the perfectionist train, and get on the self-love train. Maybe we should stop beating ourselves up and ask ourselves–“What can I do today to give myself more compassion, care, and tenderness?” We all know, because we have experienced many highs and lows in our lives, that no moment lasts forever, and if we ride the wave of our experience, we actually will have an easier time of it. As my favorite poet Ranier Maria Rilke states, “Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going. Nothing is final.”
Your pain is not final. Your sadness is not final. It may really really really hurt right now, and you may be doing everything you can not to feel. But you keep going. And maybe you can take a deep breath, soften the facial muscles, let the judgy brain relax, and lovingly explore specific steps you can take to wrap yourself in compassion during your period of wintering. For me, I up my dose of Vitamin D either by taking supplements or getting out more in the sun. I surround myself as much as I can with positive people who love me and with whom I can be real. I watch happy movies or listen to happy music. I put affirmations on my fridge reminding me what I know but don’t feel. And I do yoga. Ah, love yoga…bringing it into the body, releasing it from the body always works for me.
What works for you?