When I read physical books, I have a tendency to rip off pieces of whatever I’m using as a bookmark to mark interesting sections. The trouble is, I rarely actually return to them, so even my favourite books feature lots of little bits of paper sticking out of the top.
I recently finished Wintering by Katherine May, which I enjoyed immensely. Reading it at the right time of the year certainly helped. I’ve already shared a quotation from it about the liminal space between Christmas and New Year. I thought I’d share a couple more from towards the end of the book.
The first involves May’s reflections on beehives and how they’ve been used as a metaphor for human society:
[B]efore we’re too enchanted by the machine-like efficiency of the utopian human beehive, we must remember the true lives of bees. They are certainly astonishing. Their specialisation — and their sheer will to survive — is miraculous. But their lives are also full of stark efficiencies. In the middle of winter, the area around my favourite beehive is littered with the corpses of the bees that were no longer useful…
Let us not aspire to be like ants and bees. We can draw enough wonder from their intricate systems of survival without modelling ourselves on them wholesale. Humans are not eusocial; we are not nameless units in a superorganism, mere cells that are expendable when we have reached the end of our useful lives.Katherine May, Wintering, p.235
Writing pre-pandemic, May couldn’t have had our society’s COVID-19 response in mind. However, I can’t help but think of that when reading this.
The second quotation references Alan Watts, someone who pops up time as an influence on people who influence me:
As I walk, I remind myself of the words of Alan Watts: ‘To hold your breath is to lose your breath.’ In The Wisdom of Insecurity, Watts makes a case that always convinces me, but which I always seem to forget: that life is, by nature, uncontrollable. That we should stop trying to finalise our comfort and security somehow and instead find a radical acceptance of the endless, unpredictable change that is the very essence of this life.Katherine May, Wintering, p.263
This chimes well with my two biggest insights from last year, and reminds me of one of my favourite ideas from pre-Socratic philosophy:
This is often rendered as something like, “You cannot step into the same river twice” but I prefer the simpler, and more widely-applicable two word version. It is only when we try to stop things flowing that we run into difficulties.