It's spring! Thoughts on the hope of the season.

Spring is here!

After a late snow the warm sun is melting the ice away, and for those of us who love the milder weather, we know that the days of wearing shorts into the night, going barefoot, and chasing fireflies are not far away. 

I am always struck by the transformation I go through when the weather breaks at this time of year.   My mood lifts and I find myself lingering outside and talking to the neighbors, or poking around the yard and contemplating our garden for the upcoming year.  I slow down and engage with the outdoor space rather than hunching my shoulders and rushing from my car through the front door to where I feel protected from the elements. 

While I can't fault myself for enjoying the milder days, I know that my attachment to warm weather has a down side, which relates to resisting the time when once again the weather will turn.  I know and appreciate the importance of the cycle of nature intellectually, but in practice, I often falter and face disappointment when the inevitable occurs.  Every November, the trees go through a short burst of piercing beauty, and then lose their leaves and become a barren part of the winter landscape. We set our clocks back an hour and it is suddenly dark by 5 pm. Thanksgiving comes and goes, we have a cluster of festive holidays, and then arrives January, when we are dropped into snow and ice.

Cued by the feeling of loss that comes whenever I consider the colder months I must ask myself: if in my mind the onset of warm weather represents opening up of possibilities and hopefulness, am I in danger of always seeing the late fall and winter as a time when opportunities contract and when bad things are more likely to happen?

Some might see this as a stretch, but I have learned through the practice of mindfulness to become an observer of how the mind works.  I encourage the people I help to imagine holding a mirror up to their minds and watching the way thoughts and emotions swirl together and lead to decisions and actions.  I ask that they try to do this with compassion and curiosity, and as a way to develop a better sense of self-empowerment and personal choice. 

For example I can see through my own use of mindfulness that my changed attitude in the warmer weather in turn impacts my behavior.  I exercise more, I am outside in the fresh air more, and I am definitely more social.   I thus have more actual opportunities to interact with people and experience myself in a positive way, and that reinforces a sense of hopefulness and optimism about my life.  I could allow myself to become convinced that something magical happens when the weather changes, but my wise mind lets me know that actually there is no magic at all.  My life starts to feel more hopeful at this time of year simply because I am behaving differently and the energy I put out starts to create change and open up possibilities in my life.

Stepping back and examining one's mind--and how you are thinking and feeling about things--can be a first step in terms of making sure that you are not impeding your progress toward achieving the goals your have set for yourself.  While some people are constrained by difficult and even oppressive circumstances, often people forget that they have the ability to determine their own path through personal actions.  I find that this is a very hopeful message and come back to it again and again.

When people ask me "will I ever feel better?" I often assure them that I believe they will, not because I have a crystal ball, but because they are in my office and taking responsibility for trying to feel better.  That in itself is an action that says to me "I am ready to work on myself" and "I want help in figuring this out."  While we can't control the weather, we can control our words and behaviors. 

I respect that this is often very hard work, but my faith in the change process comes from my belief that people are fundamentally wired to heal and thrive.  And for that reason, even at their hopeless and despairing, or most depressed, or most anxious, people often still seek to get better, and ask "why?", and persist in resolving the conflicts in their life.

As for me, I will continue to enjoy the warm weather, but I will also work hard to find ways to enjoy what each season has to offer us. In the words of 13th century Zen Poet Dogen,  "Without the bitterest cold that penetrates to the very bone, how can plum blossoms send forth their fragrance all over the universe?"

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