The two months after the Midwinter Solstice always seem to be the coldest and wettest time.
Having passed the shortest day, I start to long for warmth and sun and blue skies. I am tired of all the layers I need to wear. After my daily cold water dip in the ocean, I yank my singlet and merino layers on over damp wet skin. I balance, somewhat precariously on a rock, pulling on socks and leggings, trying not to get them wet. Good for my vestibular system I tell myself. Such an effort, compared to the ease and simplicity of summer swimming.
This is the time of the year I need to draw deep on my inner reserves of trust and patience. Patience isn't a virtue that is common in our frenetic future focused society, where we rush from one thing to the next. This year I need to draw extra deep because I have had the flu. The most difficult time has been in the days after the worst of the symptoms had abated. So frustrating not to bounce back into my usual energetic life again ....
My maternal grandmother, Florence who was a nurse, had strong views on the importance of convalescence. She believed that a period of rest, after an illness, was crucially important. I have had to accept that I really do need that afternoon rest. I have felt wrung out, lacking in motivation, creativity and spark.
This time of the year reminds me of my mythological ally of life, Inanna. This most courageous of ancient queens, Inanna was left to hang on a meathook in the underworld, to wait for wisdom and knowing to come to her. She was learning about patience and trust, for sure. Like her I have needed to trust that I will get my energy back, that spring, the season of creativity and new beginnings, will come. A time of waiting can be many things - whatever I choose to make it, often its ennui or frustration. This year I've chose instead to see this time of late winter / convalescence as an opportunity to deepen my understanding and appreciation of trust and meaning making.
I have been reflecting on the question: "When I look back on my life, what are the relationships or situations that need to be cleaned up, resolved or laid to rest?"
These last few weeks, I have been thinking about this a lot. And then serendipitously my friend, Roger, shared Stanley Kunitz's poem The Layers which speaks deeply of this kind of reflection.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.” You can find the full poem here
Taking a good honest look backwards hasn't been comfortable. Yes, there are times when I haven't been the best version of myself. What I was surprised to realise was that the inner work of letting go of shame about those times, forgiving and accepting myself was the more difficult and important part of the process. I realised quickly that reconnecting with the people involved wasn't necessary. What was powerful was my own inner work.
Kunitz's words again:
|I see the milestones dwindling|
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Those words 'abandoned campfires' and 'friends who fell along the way'. Hmmm ... powerful images ....
What is the process I've used? I have been writing letters - with no intention of sending them. Writing my thoughts and feelings, especially owning the shame and lack of integrity has been freeing. Being honest with myself has allowed me to come to a place where I can lay the relationship or situation to rest within myself. What I notice is that on completing the letters I felt calm and humble.
This kind of process can only happen when we give ourselves time to sink deeply into reflection. It requires trust that we can find a way through. We wait til we find wisdom in the darkness.
The next step is being witnessed in owning my shame and symbolically letting it go in a small simple ceremony involving fire.
Slowly, my energy has begun to lift, a little more each day. Starting to walk everyday again ... and then today I incorporated a swim in the ocean on my early walk.
Suddenly, seemingly from one day to the next, I notice the buds are fattening and swelling and the spring bulbs are flowering. Forget-me-nots, symbolising love, respect and faithfulness, have popped up everywhere. They certainly feel like faithful old friends when I see them every spring...
How amazing nature is ... my garden knows nothing of internal angst or any of the troubles of the world. It does what it has always done ... respond to the great cycle of the year. The seeds in the earth from last year germinate, grow, flower and make more seeds ... over and over again.
What a relief. I feel a sense of joy bubbling up in me and a deep sense of gratitude for my body and its healing powers as well as profound gratitude to the unseen earth rhythms.
The days lengthen, it is not so dark when I set out for my early morning walk and swim ... the evenings are longer too .... the sun warmer on my face as I sit in the garden and marvel at the small, delicate signs of spring.
I am filled with a softness, a sense of awe for the wisdom of nature. The peach tree buds that have burst into blossom shining against the first blue sky day we have had for what seems like weeks moves me deeply. What courage those delicate blooms have - as do I.
Once again the natural world shows me the way.
My garden invites me to dance once more in this dance of life - to plant seeds with hope and optimism, to nurture growth within myself and in my garden, to trust in life ....
To quote Kath Irvine, a true gardener:
Growing the food to feed my family brought me home. I drifted like a seed on the breeze until I found gardening and the belonging that is the web of life.
Doing less is where I head these days, as I put my trust more and more in natural processes. It's a golden word, trust. It's the opposite of worry and brings you the very best of life. Trust yourself. You have an awesomely accurate guidance system and it pivots from feeling good to not feeling good. Do what feels good. In and garden and beyond...
And when you're not sure, leave it be. Nature doesn't relate to fatal, bad, pest or disease ... And it's never complicated. Smooth your brow, my friend, the most obvious thing is usually the answer.
Be still and watch life unfold. This is where you'll find the answers to your questions and along the way see the most amazing things.... a tiny seed that rises up and provides kilos of sweet peppers, a pile of organic matter transformed into food for the next lot of crops. Round you go. There is no end. The old shelter the new, then fall to earth to feed them up for their journey towards the light.
Quote from The Edible Backyard, 2021, p 335
What is stirring in you as winter gives way to spring?
What is your response to Stanley Kunitz's poem, The Layers?
What relationships or situations may be unfinished or unresolved for you? How might you release your feelings about those situations?
Kia kaha - stand strong