The Winnowing Process

Winnowing begins with a mess.

It begins with a jumble of seeds and husks and dust particles, laying broken and haphazard in a sorry burlap sack. These plants have been threshed – gathered together in a sack and beaten with a stick or smacked against the ground until any semblance of order among the grains and husks is destroyed. Winnowing begins with destruction.

Sometimes we too have been threshed. We have been emotionally broken, beaten, defeated, smashed to pieces. The structure of our lives looks nothing like it once was. We have faced change, either intentional or not. Sometimes, before we realize it, our schedules, worldviews, families, homes, lifescapes look so different than what they were, they feel schismatic. Our little life on this planet has changed, and we are left holding fragments of a life in our hands. How do we make sense of the newness? How do we move on from the oldness? How do we find order after destruction?

In the process of agricultural seed saving, there are two ways to glean seeds from the mess: (1) You can pick out the seeds by hand, a time-consuming and ineffectual process in which your bleeding fingers pick through the abundant jumble of grainy skeletons or (2) You can shake the mess into the wind, letting the unnecessary components blow away as you let the seeds fall cleanly around you. Option (2) is called winnowing.

One of my favorite parts about the word winnowing is that is has the word “wing” right in its name, as if begging us to stretch out our arms and take off into the air. The o and w’s are soft, and harken to familiar, soothing words: willow, spring, sparrow. The name winnowing is inviting, and if we look at the etymology, it derives from the word wind. There is much to unpack in a word.

And too, there has been much to unpack about this year. It has been a year filled with constant change – career, home, family structure, romantic relationships, friendships, worldview, self. That last one’s the real kicker: self. I am changing – quietly, internally, constantly, more than ever.

Constantly, I feel myself tugged between change and familiarity. Like a burr stuck on soft denim jeans, I cling to the past, hooking myself into the fabric of my life and clinging until something rips me away. Logically, it makes no sense to hold to the past as we try to move forward. We cannot complete the monkeybars until we let go of the first wrung, no matter how far we stretch out our other arm. Emotionally, letting go is so much more than that. It is a deep undoing of our emotional selves, of our framework of being.

Winnowing is equally a process and more importantly, winnowing is a lifestyle. It is a practice we adopt, like hygge or vegetarianism or minimalism, a broad worldview made of many tiny choices. Winnowing is a way of being.

And so, The Winnowing Year is a space dedicated to that – the process of learning to letting go. Winnowing is a practice of honoring the things we hold in our hearts and of setting aside the rest. It is a space for change, but more importantly, it is a space for sorting – for learning what to keep and what to let go.

Winnow: “to separate the heavier and lighter with a current of air.” – Wiktionary


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nurse. writer. poet. (414) born & raised.

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