Wintering and Springing – or so I hope

By Emma Pearson

June 22, 2024

Photo by Bernd 📷 Dittrich on Unsplash

6th February 2024

We are now into February. There’s barely any snow on the Jura. The hills look like they typically look in April-, or even May-time. It’s sunny, and, standing in the sunshine, it feels warm (though I still scrape ice off my car windscreen on the days I go swimming at 6h00. I am grateful to scrape, because at least that means it’s still properly cold. Even if the snow and usual Winter humidity are woefully lacking). Calendar-wise, it’s still Winter in the northern hemisphere – indeed, we are only half-way through. Technically. I suspect that by 21st March, we’ll have been having Spring-like temperatures for a while.

While not much of a practising gardener, I do understand the notion and importance of “Wintering”. The need for the earth, the soil, to rest. To lie fallow. To reinvigorate. To allow new growth, in the way of seedlings and more, to burst forth into the light, into life. I was still at Medtronic – so around 2010 – when I first heard someone talk about the need for “fallow time” in one’s career – either sabbaticals, or, even better, annually. I liked the idea, but having full-time work, considerable travel, and three young kids at the time, didn’t mean there was much scope for fallow time. And, in truth, I was happy enough powering on. I had the energy, I had the capacity, I had the support structures, and most of all, I enjoyed my work. Truly. I told myself it all gave me energy – which might well have been true. There wasn’t a burnout on the horizon, at least that I could see, and I might well have been able to keep it going for a long time – perhaps because I ensured I had down time, did leisurely sports, had walks with the dog, and deliciously nurturing relationships. “Mini Winterings”, if not full-on sabbaticals.

Fast forward a fat decade, there’s now much talk about the benefits of “Wintering”, and not just in agricultural and ecological circles. Even the business-y Financial Times ran an article called “‘Wintering’ is the work trend to watch” just a couple of weeks ago, extolling the importance and virtues of slowing down, even hibernating, for a while.

I realise I have become quite skilled at it. These last years have “forced” Wintering on me – from a professional perspective of course – there’s no way I could have been doing competent professional work while in a care-giving role. Taking hours out each day, or almost every day, to visit Edward; then later accompanying Mike to hospital check-ups, biopsy and chemo appointments; then later still, spending 12 hours a day with him at the hospice; then after all of that, keeping my days and weeks fluid and free from commitments as I tried to keep Julia safe, getting her to hospital, psychiatric and therapeutic appointments, multiple times in the middle of the night. Without even going into ongoing Wintering post-losses. Lasting weeks and months and years and years.

Nope – not a lot of capacity – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, to do quality work alongside all of that.

And then of course, COVID hit. Though for me, that barely registered on the radar of life. A mere blip. Even something of a comfort. That others were experiencing massive life-changes was somehow normalising. I felt less alone in my alternate universe.

Wintering spanned well beyond my professional activities into the personal realm too – inevitably. Relationships wilted, withered, and fully dropped off the structures of my life. Composted into fodder for – one hopes – new relationships, new beginnings.

Eventually shoots of new life emerged. Life goes on, after all. The forces of nature preside. Growth occurs. Living systems turn towards life and what gives life.

I wish it would be this simple. That Wintering would end and I could just move on. I wish I could leave it at that. But Wintering happens over and over. Regularly. Cyclically. Not always when wanted. Not always on the Calendar Clock. At inopportune times. Like death, really.

And so it is that, after my “first good year” of work since I was at Medtronic (I left in 2012), I am now back in a Wintering spell, professionally-speaking. It’s common enough in January – throughout my consulting years, whether employed or freelance, that pattern was there. But February too? Hmm. Feels like it’s going on a little long. In contrast with the Wintering in the Natural World, at least where I live.

But so be it.

I long ago made an intentional choice (rechosen over and over and over) to trust the Universe. To presume that, should I be lucky enough to be able to reflect on my life when on my deathbed, that, with hindsight, it will all make sense.

And I do trust that. On a good day, at least. And today is a good day.

Trust that interesting work will come my way.

Trust that I have the skills and wherewithal to be able to do good and interesting work, of value to the world.

Trust that I will stay healthy enough long enough to make up for some of the shortfall in terms of contribution to the world these past years.

Trust that eventually a longer Spring will come around, that it will last long enough for new life to take hold, for blossom to beautify landscapes, and impact to be felt.

I am not enough of a gardener or ecologist to fully understand what goes on in the ground during fallow times, but in my actual life, I can truly sense the tingly excitement in my legs and feet (aka roots) as I reflect on and craft and shape new projects – programmes I am developing and want to offer to the world, a book I want to write, work I feel capable of doing for more impact in these times. It’s exciting. I know that if my diary was full to bursting I wouldn’t be having so many ideas. Or, they wouldn’t be nurtured to the extent that they are.

So I am choosing to be at peace with Wintering. Brushing off people’s projections/questions like, “Aren’t you worried when you don’t have much (paid) work?” with the truth of my answer. “For now, I am choosing not to be. I am enjoying noodling new ideas”.

It’s a practice to practise, for sure, but I have to trust that Nature knows what she’s doing when she lies fallow for a while, and takes a little time out to breathe, to quietly renew. I am sure I can do it for a while too.

And who knows what will Spring forth from all of this Wintering?

The question makes me smile smile smile deep inside, in every one of my cells.

About Emma Pearson

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