The heat has been vicious here over the past few days. Having been a teenage sun worshipper, I have now become a version of Patsy; floating around the house in my beach kaftan, sighing, “I like it hot, but not this hot.”
To make matters a little hotter, we are having an extension built.
The back out of our house is boarded up, blocking any form of breeze able to drift through. And with both front and back gardens full of cement boards, diggers and skips, there is no chance of finding a shady corner outside, either.
So this weekend, I found myself dragging a chair into our hallway to sit in front of the open front door, and gave myself permission to do nothing but read for two days.
The book I found myself immersed in for the whole weekend was Wintering; a story of how the author, Katherine May, learned to flourish when, as she calls it, life becomes frozen.
And yes, the irony of reading Wintering in the middle of a heatwave was not lost in me.
As it turned out, it was the perfect book to read.
A client recommended it to me after we spent time together working through how she could build a business, without having to jeopardise her health. Our discussion took a deep dive into how important rest was. Together, we worked out how to develop a work rhythm that would allow her to sell enough to meet her money goals while avoiding the need to fight hard to keep up with it.
It seems to be me that rest is something that very few people feel good about taking.
Over the past decade, our society has sped up to allow us to buy anything, chat to anyone, post online anywhere, 24 hours a day. Our patience to wait for things is no longer needed, which has no doubt impacted on the fact that patience with ourselves has been pushed aside, too.
I live in a country that not only has vast changes to our daylight hours throughout the year, from 16 hours in the summer to less than 8 hours in the winter but is also buffetted from our island’s ever-changing weather patterns.
In a matter of days, we can go from clicking on our central heating system in the middle of June to wondering how much it would cost to run air conditioning for the few nights of the year that seem to cook us from the inside out. (Nothing like a slow roast when you are going through the menopause!)
And yet it seems that us Brits do our best to homogenise our work patterns so that we can still go at it hard no matter how many hours of daylight we get in a day; no matter what the season is; no matter how tired we feel or what in life we are dealing with.
We are conditioned to keep working at a pace because going slow would be wrong, yes?
I fought rest for a long time.
I had images of laying on the sofa, watching TV and eating wotsits. What a waste of my time! I couldn’t possibly allow myself to do nothing. That would be so unproductive.
Rest was for sick people; people who were signed off by their doctor and needed to recover from a severe illness. Rest wasn’t for someone like me, who had things to achieve and goals to reach.
But over the years of learning how to slow down and let go of my over-achiever self, I have realised how powerful rest is. So when I got my hands on my Katherine May’s book, Wintering, I couldn’t put it down. I read it from cover to cover.
Not only does she tell her own story of recovery, but she also interlaces it with interviews and research of the power of winter; that point in your year where you shift down a few gears, rest and sleep more.
She writes “Transformation is the business of winter… a cyclical metaphor for life, one in which the energies of spring can arrive again and again and again, nurtured by the deep retreat of winter. We are no longer accustomed to thinking in this way. We are instead in the habit of imagining our lives to be linear; a long march from birth to death in which we mass our powers, only to surrender them again, all while slowly losing our youthful beauty. This is a brutal untruth. Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.”
Let’s face it. You’ve had your from-hell-and-back moments, haven’t you?
The older and wiser we get, the more travelled our paths become. Whether you’ve lost a parent or a child; recovered from illness or an accident; dealt with bully bosses or redundancy; closed down a business or declared bankruptcy; had a divorce or broken heart; everyone has one, if not several, periods of life where you are put under extreme stress.
And as you grow older and you experience changes in your hormones and body, stress is often harder to deal with. Without real rest and recovery time, it layers upon previous stressful times until you find that you can no longer cope.
And yes, your body has a way of making you stop if it needs you to!
How many of us have allowed us to truly winter?
To believe that resting and taking time out will allow your creativity and impact to form? Because, after all, Wintering doesn’t just happen in the winter season. Resting can happen at any time you need it. And often resting needs to occur BEFORE you think you need it.
In Katherine’s concluding chapter, she writes “To get better at wintering, we need to address our very notion of time. We tend to imagine that our lives are linear, but they are in fact, cyclical. I would not, of course, seek to deny that we grow gradually older, but while doing so, we pass through phases of good health and ill, or optimism and deep doubt, or freedom and constraint.”
This is my hope for us all at this crucial point of 2020.
As I write this, it is the middle of August, traditionally the month of holidays before we gear back up for the back-to-school busy-ness of September. Whether you have school-age children or not, we were all school-age children once upon a time so this energy of a new academic year is often inbuilt into many of us.
But the danger is that we, as a society, haven’t really and truly rested. Yes, we’ve had enforced lockdown and haven’t been allowed to go anywhere for weeks and weeks. But very few people seem to have really and truly found the time and space to process what has happened over the past few months.
And let’s be clear, we have all been through catalytic changes to the way that we live and work. The levels of anxiety bubbling through our communities are running high, with many on alert, waiting for the latest breaking news to ping through on their phones. Not one person has been unaffected by what has happened this year.
It feels to me that the more we can allow ourselves time for a good wintering, the more chance we have to flourish and become our potential, rather than chase a version of ourselves born out of busy-ness.
Rest is not just for people who need to recover from an illness. Rest is a critical stage of our cycle of growth, both for ourselves as people and for our businesses.
Rest doesn’t have to be sitting on a sofa, binge-watching the latest box set (although it could be). It doesn’t have to be sleeping all day (although it could be). Rest doesn’t have to be isolated time to yourself (although it often is).
Rest can be your version of how you shift down your gears and take the time and space to breathe; to review and reflect; to ignore your phone and forget about what time it is.
Rest can be for an hour, for a day, even a whole month or longer.
Rest can be the opportunity to feel into your power; to ground your energy; to connect with who you are, where you can impact and what is it you desire.
Whatever version your rest becomes, one thing I know for sure is that rest has got to happen BEFORE you think you need it.
Who’s up for a bit of wintering in a heatwave?
Until next time, do less, be more and play bigger.
About the author
Karen Skidmore is a midlife leadership & business coach for entrepreneurs scaling their purpose & profit. Business Books Awards finalist 2020 & podcaster, Karen uniquely combines the being-ness and doing-ness of business to help you grow, without burning out.
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