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Lessons of Winter

Bare trees against a partially blue sky
Photos by Sara DeHoff

How do we weather society’s storms?

Winter is tough. There is no pretense when the cold weather hits. There can’t be. When the leaves are stripped from the branches, nothing is hidden. It’s all laid out for us to see. Winter shows us what is broken. It shows us what is strong and sturdy. And it shows us what is new and emerging. The world is in winter right now, and there is much to learn.

Seeing What Doesn’t Work

broken branches in a forest

Winter storms are fierce and cold. High winds shake loose dead branches and knock down trees that have lost their footing. Freezing ice lays waste to plants whose energy is spent. All the storms we’ve endured during the past year—the pandemic, the brutality, the protests, the wildfires, the inequities of the healthcare system, the economic chaos—all of this is showing us what no longer works.

This is the time to clear out old beliefs of division and separateness. We’ve fooled ourselves into thinking we can act as if some people are better or more deserving than others and get away with it. It won’t work. Sooner or later this distortion causes disruption, which leads to destruction. We cannot create a peaceful life when some of us are deprived.

Seeing What Does Work

leafless trees in winter

Winter also shows us what’s strong and vibrant, the trees that weather the storms. How many times this past year have we seen ordinary people extend themselves to aid others? Our impulse to give is strong. As is our impulse to care, to share and to serve. Now is the time to harness this core of who we are and expand the circle. Now is the time to open up the hearth and make sure everyone is warm and fed.

And it’s not just food to eat that we need, but food for the soul as well. This is the time to listen. Whatever the stories are and whoever is telling them, this is the time to hear. To hear and heal. (Have you ever noticed how similar these words are? And how they are related to heart?)

These broken systems and power structures create suffering in all directions. Even those who seem to have the most power are suffering—trying to hold a distorted system in place.

Seeing What Is New

leafless tree with new growth on its branches

Winter shows us what is new and emerging as well. If you look closely, you can see buds starting to form and the greens and reds and purples of new growth on the trees and bushes. And we’re seeing that here too. New awarenesses, new alliances, new connections, new possibilities. Who knew we could crisscross the earth with Zoom calls, connecting people in all parts of the globe? Who knew it was possible to see clear skies and clean water in such a short time? Who knew we could begin to think of ourselves as a global community? These are the faintest signs of what we are capable of, like tiny shoots poking up through the snow.

Winter is hard. And it’s essential. If we wish it to be summer, we lose this necessary opportunity to learn and grow. This is the time to reflect, examine and restore. To gather and heal. To clear out what’s not working and make room for new life and new connections. This is the time to prepare the soil so spring can come. Ready? Let’s get to work!

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