Wintering and enchantment: A pathway to healing and happiness

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“I've always been very drawn to getting into the sea,” says writer Katherine May. “It's not about exercise, it's about entering this very different space … this very different sensory landscape, the sound is different, your skin is touching water all over and there's a sense of sort of spaciousness that I find in the sea, but also this contact with enormous energy and feeling small compared to it.” Photo of Katherine May swimming off the coast of England. Photo courtesy of Katherine May.

*This episode originally aired on March 4, 2023

Jonathan Bastian talks with Katherine May, British writer and author of  “Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times,” about her love of winter, cold weather, and what the dark months mean to her.

“Wintering is the idea that all of us have periods in our life that are downtimes — times when we feel forcibly cut off from the outside world,” says May. “It might come from a personal crisis, a divorce, a loss of a job, a mental or physical illness, a bereavement, God forbid a pandemic, and it takes us down for a while. Every one of us has had that experience of watching the outside world carry on as normal and feeling like we're uniquely cut off from it that everybody else is fine.”

As depressing as it may sometimes feel, “wintering" is something we all need, both physically and psychologically. Plants and creatures of the natural world lay fallow and hibernate, while for most of us the winter months give us a chance to retreat indoors, lay low, and slow down.

Amidst a growing trend to downplay hardships and be constantly upbeat and cheery, May suggests that “periods of sadness can be really helpful and satisfying in a way that isn't jolly or necessarily very presentable to the outside world. There's this purity to the emotion that feels sometimes right for us, we need to feel it.” The dark days of winter, she says, offer a place of stillness and a time to embrace solace, sadness, and our darker emotions. 

May’s new book, “Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age,”  evolved from her discoveries whilst writing “Wintering.” She wondered how, in times of solitude and sadness, beauty and wonder is reignited. As the pandemic lockdown lifted, May found that small moments of curiosity and fascination became sources of joy and magic — the moon, a hibernating dormouse, and plunging into the cold English waters.  

“It's something we very deliberately grow out of actually. We reach an age where that sense that the world has latent magic in it, that's there waiting for us to discover, becomes embarrassing and it's not the business of the rational, busy world, and it's not the business of an adult,” May says. “And yet, there also comes a point when we begin to miss that — we lose our skill for feeling that intense engagement with things that we find beautiful and utterly fascinating.”

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In “Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age,” author Katherine May says “whatever you've come to see is an intense engagement and a deep quality of attention that doesn't get replicated by accident. And so whatever you bring that quality of attention to, it will show you something, even if it's not Instagrammable.” “We’ve forgotten about the important work that happens in the darker months,” says author Katherine May. “Those months are about restoration, they're about repair, they're about reflection.”  Photo by Alexa Loy Dent 




Andrea Brody