Resilience, the Wisdom of Sadness, and How the Science of Trees Illuminates the Art of Self-Renewal Through Difficult Times – Brain Pickings

by Jeremy

Rilke reverenced winter as the season for tending to the inner garden of the soul: “Suddenly to be healed again and aware that the very ground of my being — my mind and spirit — was given time and space in which to go on growing,” he wrote to a grief-stricken young woman who had reached out to him for consolation. “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer,” Albert Camus wrote a generation later in his stunning essays about travel, which are meditations on homecoming to our strength. Camus was soon to become the second-youngest Nobel laureate of all time and soon to die in a car crash with an unused train ticket to the same destination in his pocket. We are not invincible. But in how we garden the winters of the soul, we find the summer of our strength and the bloom of our fragile aliveness.

Wintering: Resilience, the Wisdom of Sadness, and How the Science of Trees Illuminates the Art of Self-Renewal Through Difficult Times

That is what Katherine May explores in Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (public library) — a gorgeous book, a great book, a layered book of uncommon sensitivity and substance, drawn from May’s own experience of living through a profound and disquieting winter of life. She writes:

[Since childhood] 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.

shadowelepant10
Art by Valerio Vidali from The Shadow Elephant by Nadine Robert — a subtle children’s book about honoring sadness.

Like happiness — which, as George Eliot well knew, is a skill we incrementally master as we grow older — sadness, May reminds us, is also a skill: There are self-punishing ways to be sad and self-salving ways be painful. In skillful wintering, we learn the difference between the two. Rilke, who wintered amply and wisely, knew that great sadnesses clarify us to ourselves — winters of the spirit come in various sizes and cycles, each meaningful, all cumulative in their soul-sculpting beneficence. May writes:

When you start tuning in to winter, you realise that we live through a thousand winters in our lives — some big, some small… Some winters creep up on us so slowly that they have infiltrated every part of our lives before we truly feel them.

[…]

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.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment