Wintering in my garden (Kimberly Barber, December 22, 2022)

As a solstice baby, I am a child of winter, though I must confess it is not my favourite season. I crave sunshine, light, warmth and the outdoors, blooming and sprouting things, birdsong, swimming in the open water. As the light dwindles each year, I often feel the melancholy settle in just a little. And this year on the eve of my birthday, it hit me heavier than usual. I’m normally a very upbeat and positive creature–one of my dear friends likes to call me an “Apocaloptimist”–so to feel despondent is deeply unnerving to me. My eldest daughter Jana, often the source of inspiration and wisdom, when I told her of my spell of the blues, made me aware of a term called “Wintering”, which was coined (I think) by the author Katherine May to describe the “seasonal nature of emotions”. She notes that the emotional seasons do not necessarily correspond to the seasons in nature, but they share elements in common.

For example, the “winter” emotional season is related to quiet, inward reflection and a sense of dormancy. In an emotional way, this season is a necessary time for us to, as she says, do “deeply unfashionable things: resting, retreating, slowing down”. I feel the deep need within myself to do just this. In fact, I recognize that on some level, I have been moving toward this for several weeks, even though my outward pace seemed relentless and overcharged. So perhaps it was the fact of actually slowing down (with many of the term’s and year’s to-do lists finally completed) that caused me to fall into a bit of a funk, almost as though my body was saying “it’s about time!”

Perhaps, too, it’s been the reason why I have felt uncompelled and unwilling to practice, to even sing at all. Katherine May says that wintering is a space in which we can experience a kind of nothingness where we are inwardly preparing for the new growth that will inevitably come. As I look out on my back garden, asleep under the snow, I recognize this truth. I’ve often reflected this teaching back to students who were struggling with the sense that they weren’t progressing: that sometimes when it feels like we aren’t growing, we are in fact waiting to be ready for the big change that is to come. We cannot rush this process and there’s a kind of poetry to the stillness of being willing to simply sit and not feel the urgency towards action.

So in this wintering time (and where here in southern Ontario we are bracing for the second major storm of the season, which threatens to upend everyone’s holiday plans), I wish you all these precious moments of silence, introspection and gathering wisdom. It can feel hard to be still, but maybe it’s exactly what we need.