“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible”
- extract from Katherine May’s book ‘Wintering’
My guiding words for 2022 were ‘returning home’. They were my North Star. Little did I think how uncomfortable that journey would be and how much I would resist it. And yet, here at the start of 2023 I am grateful for where I find myself and ready(ish) for where the adventure will continue this year.
I think I've been in a personal winter since the end of 2021, maybe before that. I could feel the gnaw of mess and discomfort knocking on my door – like the dark magic of fairytales. I could feel that the ‘everything in nature is beautiful’ narrative wasn’t serving me anymore, that I wanted to acknowledge the strange, underworld of the wild.
Winter sets in
My winter set in due to a layering of many different things – socio-political, climate related and personal. It wasn't until things came to a head around October 2022 with an episode of insomnia and anxiety-induced chest tightening that I finally surrendered to this winter season.
I clearly remember the day.
I had dropped off my little one at school and gone for a bike ride up to an old railway track. It was one of those typical southern English late autumn-early winter days with grey skies. The leaves were mostly gone from the trees. The wind was strong up on the fields where I was cycling down towards the track. It felt quite bleak. I remember the Blackthorn bushes on either side rattling in the wind like skeletons.
As I cycled down the track, surrounded on each side by bare hedgerow, I felt a need to lie on the earth. It’s a quiet track so I stopped my bike and lay down. I wanted to feel the rawness of the winter season reverberate through my body. As I lay there on the muddy path with Blackthorn bushes above me – a few berries still clinging on to the branches - and the grey sky and the wind howling and the scent of fungi in the soil, I felt as if my whole body spilled open.
"I felt as if my whole body spilled open."
I felt stripped back. My blood and my organs sinking into the earth. My bones left on the ground. It felt like a shedding. I surrendered and lay with my arms out by my side. I don't know how long I lay there - maybe 5-10 minutes - just breathing in the earth, watching the wind through the trees, raw, opened up.
It was strangely what I needed. I'd resisted staring into the abyss like that for a long time. But slowly over 2022 an unravelling had begun – and my constant pushing against the need to winter was making me ill with insomnia and anxiety.
The unravelling began in summer 2022, I think, with too hot days followed by an unseasonably warm autumn. Rather than pretending it was fine, I sat with the group who had gathered for the Joy Adventure (now part of the year-long Rewild Your Soul experience) and felt the discomfort in my body. For we are nature and part of a large ecosystem and when the ecosystem is suffering our bodies suffer too. It was the first time that I'd really allowed myself to acknowledge and feel the discomfort rather than push it away, distracting myself with the next item on the to do list.
"It was the first time that I'd really allowed myself to acknowledge and feel the discomfort rather than push it away"
Following that day lying on the earth I scaled back on everything I could. I did just what was necessary. And I began to intentionally nurture myself: I met up with friends for coffee, I spent time tending to and slowly renovating our house, I rested in the evenings. And I also got medical help.
Coming into 2023, I am still having to surrender to winter over, and over again. Rather than trying to resist the seasonal winter, surrendering to it is helping me to feel the sadness of what climate change is doing to our planet, to notice and the harm that has been done in the past through colonialism and fascism and classism and how that's affecting who I am today, and how it's affecting the land. It's all interlinked.
It isn’t easy and may not sound like an attractive place to be but as I surrender, something incredible is happening, something magical, a transformation; I am falling in love with myself again. It is as though another layer of what I "should" be like has been shed and I have indeed come closer to returning home to myself. This is not happening in isolation. I am telling people I trust about how I feel and in relationship, in community, I am growing in radical love and acceptance of who I am – the beautiful parts and those parts where I feel shame.
"As I surrender, something incredible is happening, something magical, a transformation"
By slowing down, trusting my body and allowing myself to explore these more difficult areas of who I am and how I fit into the landscape in which I find myself - all with the support of a loving community (and medication!) - is turning into an exciting, perhaps even magical, time of becoming.
How do you feel about winter? When was the last time you lay on the ground and felt yourself spill into the earth?
Image: Simon Berger from Unsplash
Nothing happens in isolation. We are all beings that exist in relationship. So I want to thank all who supported me – knowingly or not - in 2022.