Thoughts for the Coming Winter

It sometimes seems it’s all that we can do to keep on going.  That fateful Thursday several weeks ago news poured down like the actual rain.  Quite apart from the sad passing away of the Queen, there were many other things that became apparent on that momentous day.  You can say a lot of things about our new government and its reaction to our pressing social and environmental crises.  Whatever our response, whatever the need to challenge proposals, we can only hope that, economically, we’ll see increasing sense or a least a hastening of the day till we get a government worthy of the name. 

As for the energy crisis, some kind of corrective has been on the cards for years, which makes it no less galling how relatively unprepared we are for it by the unambitious scale of action this last decade or two.  But it doesn’t seem a completely irrational hope that we can still emerge somehow stronger or in a sense a little more honest out of all of this; living more within our means while rising to the challenge to source our needs with greater concern for the climate.  As we know, if any of this is in any way medicinal, right now it doesn’t feel like a particularly palatable brew.  But there may be some consolation knowing that our trials are not in vain.

With all that said, it’s worth considering at times like these that we always have options.  While not everything may be as we like, we can still take steps to attend to our psychology.  We should do what we can to not let ourselves be dragged down by the sometimes obviously quite sobering prospects that appear to face us this coming winter; recently at least, any rational analysis of the news has threatened to become quite overwhelming.  Perhaps the best thing we can remember is that, despite the habits we may have regarding news and media, saturating ourselves with updates and bulletins and articles remains just that – a choice.  If that sounds indulgent or callous or reckless, consider the words of Howard C. Cutler in his writings based on conversations with the Dalai Lama on the practical ramifications of a positive state of mind; “it is unhappy people who tend to be the most self-focused and are often socially withdrawn, brooding, and even antagonistic.  Happy people, in contrast, are generally found to be more sociable, flexible, and creative and are able to tolerate life’s daily frustrations more easily.”  Crucially for any crisis, experiments show that those in a better state of mind are more likely to help out others in need. 

And therein lies another choice – developing a practical response.  That means we can focus on what we can do – not paralyse ourselves with concern or despair over those things that may be beyond our control.  A calmer mind is better placed to look at given options, to be inventive in any given circumstance, look for the ladder at the end of any allegorical alleys.  It can give us the strength to continue, drive for change and better circumstances, to be more kindly disposed to those all around us, bolster our capacity for patience and compassion.

Is it too much or too fanciful to believe there is a counterforce to all our woes, some spirit or will out in the ether or within each one of us that seeks and can serve to ameliorate all this?  A force that wishes us to continue, a will to carry on? Is it too lofty a notion to attempt to meet any hardship with grace, to bolster ourselves with silver linings, the things we still can be grateful about?  None of this is intended as a call for happy-clappy, Maoist sunshine state mentalities that justify sticking our heads in the sand.  But we can seek to respond to these times as effectively as we are able, even if that just means keeping our heads above water.  Anything that helps us get through each day, overcome the difficulties we can, helps give us the wind in our sails even in apparent adversity, is not as abstract or denialist as it may sound.

We know all too well what we’re faced with this winter.  Recent announcements regarding general help with our energy bills head off the worst of what we might immediately have faced.  But we shouldn’t pretend that it’s going to necessarily be easy.  It may offer some relief to reflect that if we can hold fast this coming winter, we may be in a much better place come the Spring.  Weaning ourselves off Russian energy was long overdue in any case and there should be no doubt that current events are certainly catalytic for greater energy security – it’s a question of how we respond, how we make the most of this as yet largely unnavigated opportunity, whether we shoot ourselves in the foot or look at it as a chance for benevolent change; encourage the take up of renewables with ever greater alacrity and, yes, first and foremost insulate our homes.  For all the need for better policy on high there are things that most of us can still do; if downsizing and cohabiting seem tall orders we can still seek every avenue for greater efficiency, make a shift to green power wherever we can, lobby for government grants – such steps at least would represent some progress despite the storm of the crisis we face.

While not negating what many may be going through or the blistering injustice regarding the attitudes of some of the cabal apparently running the show, the old things still count; fortitude and bloody mindedness, helping out our neighbours, keeping heart.  We live in changing times; some things must be laid to rest before we can bring in the new.  The kind of transition we face will be determined by our capacity to strive for every avenue of renewal, to think creatively, to seek to bare the world up as our culture transforms; with force of will, resolve and single-mindedness.  Perhaps it’s best to concentrate on that which lies immediately before us – to bolster and harbour and strive to endure in the knowledge that a brighter day may somehow lie in wait if we can just bring it to bare.


If you can say one thing about the last ten days it’s that much of the world has been united by attention towards the passing away of the late Queen.  Amid the grief and sadness there has been gratitude for and celebration of her life.  We’ve heard it said so many times and yet it still rings true; this was the knowledge and acknowledgement of what a life well lived is meant to look like. 

There’s fatigue undoubtably too, not least that lined in the face of Charles and not only in the miles trekked so studiously, with such care and unnegotiable precision from the Abbey, along the crowds and carnations of the Long Walk.  It’s been a kind of marathon for us all, and not just those queueing for the lying in of state – the saturated coverage in the news, so often strangely soothing, was an attempt at making sense of what had seemed unthinkable – the loss of such a constant servant, an intermediary between the people and the politicians, between us all and something instinctively higher; if nothing else a bastion of what old decency is meant to look like.  Anywhere else in the world it might all look archaic, here some sense of continuity seems settled in our blood.

We know this is the finest show of, if not an old guard, then something with an ancient precedent.  The degree to which its qualities are carried into this dawning era will perhaps be a reflection of how relevant the monarchy is to be seen to us all as we navigate the times ahead.  It is to be seen what lessons, what themes and instruction, can be drawn from a family, not to be envied, and everything they represent – not as some national distraction or soap opera if not always exactly an actual fairy tale but as ultimate servants to us all.  They must sacrifice opinions and overt leverage over issues they undoubtedly hold dear.  They represent us at our best, for the most part, but just as we may appreciate their quiet stewardship, the well-being of the nation rests in every one of us – to use our influence, our voice, to serve that which we value; aware that, at times, the meek may inherit very little and common good often has to be strived for.

The establishment, whatever that is, is only as good as its constituent parts – the public polity is the foundation on which everything must be built.  We can start with ourselves then as we seek to build a better world just as surely as we can hold those elected to account.  But some things, fortunately, are above such striving; service, even our own sovereignty as individuals, form part of the traffic on a two-way street.  It’s probably as good a time as ever to consider social contracts – that the state is there to guarantee the well-being of its citizens; a thing always wise to reflect on.

For now at least we can take comfort, if we wish, in the ancient rituals, the final gleam and glamour of a reign inaugurated in an age of empire as we face a new world we must strive to do right by, whose challenges need no rehearsal, proclamation or lament.  None of us need telling that the world today is utterly changed from seventy years ago and yet something of – or something borne out from – that older world in some respects can serve us.  The generation during and after the last world war sought to build a new society, where we sheltered the weak and vulnerable while the mighty paid their way.  We shouldn’t forget the then controversy of that, of that which had to be fought for or the clear realisation then of those who held the reins that this was our best defence against descent into a repeat of the domestic strife that had fuelled the conflagrations which had so pitted that century up to that point.

Such times as these call for forbearance as well as well as a greater sense of our responsibilities. We know the gifts we have inherited, the way in which, as Newton put it, we stand upon the shoulders of giants.  We can still avoid populism, factionalism while keeping our – and the – peace; joining a great effort to speak as with one voice for the things we should cherish – fraternity, our living earth, seeking to look after the poor while challenging the ones who’d do them down.

We can do so while still seeking unity, consensus, while honouring the power of debate.  But we should not forget we have agency too – that while we now have a new king, we all have it in us to serve our country, our very world, in ways that some of the apparently powerful, whatever their station, may not.  Right now, we have just this – the sombre reflection of what true service can look like; a great dedication to the people and the land, passing up and over, passing on, a gravitas reminding us that very little lasts forever, that we must all do all we can with what time – that fleeting agent, sometimes guarantor – can still potentially grant us.