It is winter. Most of the leaves have fallen to the ground, the trees look haggard and thin without their summer garment. The light has become softer, fugitive and darkness engulfs mornings and evenings.
Many of us struggle with winter – with its long nights, cold temperatures and grey skies. We mourn the abundance of light and color which spring and summer offered so generously. If only it could be May all year long!
Our relationship to seasons in the outer resembles our relationship to our inner life. Aren’t we desirous for an internal never ending summer day? Full of happiness, abundance and creative energies. More often than not, we watch the dark nights of our soul – the confusion, the sadness and the fear – with aversion and a sense of impatience.
It is a very tenacious and almost cruel urban myth – this myth which tells us that our purpose in life is to be continuously happy. This assumption that there is something wrong with us, when we do not feel well. We expect ourselves to work and function on a linear level: same performance, same kindness, same creativity and same comprehension day in and day out. And not only do we expect ourselves to have no fluctuation in energies and moods, but our outer world confronts us with the same expectations. The performance measurements of the business world are not merciful when it comes to integrate turbulence in the inner.
Fighting the seasons is a futile battle. We can not stop the year at May, or press fast forward to ignore the dark and cold days. Instead get out of the way and as a first step surrender to the fact that some days are just like this: grey, cold, wet.
Surrender is accompanied by another capacity, which helps us to transit the night: the human capacity of creative engagement. We are blessed with the capability to explore and gain insights even in the midst of confusion and anguish. It was Alanis Morisette, herself familiar with the ups and downs of the inner life, who sang so beautifully: „You live, you learn“. When we learn to embrace and cherish our capacity to grow, we might draw some understanding, out of each situation.
And as we bring light into dark winter days with hand lantern festivals, candles and Christmas decoration (and other cultures have found other inspirational ways to tend to light in the darkest of days), we can bring light into our inner darkness as well.
A first step is acknowledgement and surrender to the given:
yes, I am confused,
yes I am exhausted,
yes, I have no clue how to get out of this situation any time soon.
You might ask – what keeps me from getting caught in this frightening, uncomfortable state for good? How will I be sure that I come out of it again?
An important question! And without an answer, without some structure or something to hold on to, surrender simply might not be possible.
Luckily, we are not supposed to go through difficulties all on our own. In fact, it might be plainly impossible to do so. Our lives are interwoven in thousandfold ways with others – can we acknowledge independence as just another of these urban myths? There are supposed to be others to help us through, give a hand from time to time, a shoulder to lean on, a friendly word. Some refreshment, some nourishment on the way. We take a break, take a cup of tea and learn to appreciate and cherish those, who accompany us. So we deliberately search for friends, mentors, counselors and professional helpers. And we listen (!) carefully to them, ponder on what they say, integrate it in our very own ways into our very own path.
And yet, the responsibility remains all ours: we are the keepers of the candle flame, the light. It is our own process of questioning, being challenged and grow:
What can I learn about myself, about my habits, my wishes, my understanding of purpose and meaning in these days?
What wants to be heard, what haven’t I given enough attention to?
What are the stories, the hopes, the views, the ideas that keep running through the mind?
Those times of withdrawal and retreat are times of deep listening. Of asking and questioning, what seemed so obvious and clear under summer’s blazing sun. We hand ourselves over to the rhythm of action and contemplation, of doing and being, of brightness and darkness. Like the seasons in the outer, our inner life runs in circles as well. Recovery and renewal are a necessary part of growth, from time to time we are challenged to take inventory. We must peel of the old in order to invite fresh views and more wisdom to arise. And like trees, we grow in circles – each new year an invitation to explore and learn.
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?
Book of Hours, I 2
R.M. Rilke (translated by Joanna Macy)