For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1
It’s cold outside. My initial response to this kind of weather is—and has always been—to completely shut down and hibernate like a cave bear. I used to say, half-jokingly, that if it were an option I would assume burrow into the ground and sleep til spring. In retrospect, I was probably more than half-joking. Remembrance of the warm sun kissing my deprived skin is the only thing that keeps me going on this last stretch of cold.
I may have missed the point.
Perhaps winter has a role to play in the inner life of man, reflecting back to him immutable truths about his own nature. The frigid air tends to keep us indoors and eliminates the possibility, or at least comfort, of our most beloved outdoor affairs. It almost seems to be ordering us to a bit of solitude and introspection. Could it be that this is what actually spurs on what we call seasonal affective disorder? Maybe. I would argue that ‘disorder’ is a rather undeserved term for something so pervasive that one could practically rule it the norm. There may be a profound intelligence in this phenomenon, one that somewhere along the way we have forgotten how to work with and utilize. We are, after all, a species prone to the use of symbol and metaphor. It could very well be that the nature of the seasons direct us to attend the aspects of ourselves that reflect them. The cold, dead foliage of winter just might be asking me what ideas I might too allow to die. What phases of my life have expired?
What if winter were viewed as a call to self-examination, a call to inventory our inner lives, which are so easily neglected in warmer months due to increased external engagement? What if we consciously and deliberately took stock of ourselves in the same way a retailer takes stock of his merchandise? Perhaps the shorter days, which result in prolonged periods of waking darkness, are an invitation to go inward into our own darkness, the unconscious — that which is currently unknown to us.
Like the merchant, we may find that some of the items in our inventory are simply not fit for the sales floor. They could be broken. They may simply be outdated. What if we were to utilize this time of year to discover where former truths are now current lies, and vice-versa? If he has any awareness about himself, man is ever-changing, ever-growing. The constant transition of the seasons and the years document this transient nature symbolically. Maybe it is only when we have gone through and done away with expired ideas and useless self-images that we are in any way actually prepared to relate properly to the resurgence of life that is spring.
If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. – Anne Bradstreet
Yesterday, unable to continue ignoring the call to solitude that winter requests, I took a period of retreat. After months of complaining about the weather and holding steadfastly to my indignant refusal to enjoy myself in such conditions, I surrendered to the force over which I had no power to begin with. I took stock. I sat quietly in meditation. I studied not only the theories of great thinkers, but my own theories on things, some of which had to be discarded. What I found were a number of things that were true last October that are now utter falsehoods for me, for I am not the man I was even five months ago. I found empires of mental effort and fortitude left desolate and without a king, without any heart or soul, so I offered the ruins up to the winds of time so that nature might reclaim the dirt upon which I laid the first stones.
But it is not at all loss.
Things emerged out of this descent into darkness. They ascend out of the darkness in an act of perfect balance and harmony. I found within myself a man who knows now what he did not know before: a man with increased dignity and humility, a man wearing his own crown. This inner kingdom may fall next winter just as the previous one has fallen, but such is the nature of kings and empires, none are destined to last forever, and so it is within our own souls. New information, if we are paying attention, seeps into our hearts and the conditions change, setting into motion the same movement that the seasons have made from time immemorial. Reading this, you may find my imagery a bit hokey, but let us remember how often we use imagery by way of analogy and metaphor to make our points known. These ideas are nothing new and have been the subject of artists across time. Vivaldi clearly recognized that each season has its own autonomy of expression, hence his master work, The Four Seasons.
Spring is a pivotal season for me.
I don’t mean this in a way that suggests utter magic and loosely strewn idealism. Again, I refer back to the reflective nature of the mind. The new atmosphere of spring is almost always accompanied by significant changes in my life, usually a new set of ideals and perspectives to fill the void left once I’ve shed the previous year’s skins. Perhaps the Christian celebration of Easter serves as a widely known celebration of rebirth during this season, whereupon we can reflect our own reemergence into the world with the freshness of an inner spiritual or energetic resurrection. The old Pagan symbols such as the egg propose fertility, a time in which life is impregnated with still more life and is preparing to release it into the world anew.
As Mark Twain once said, “It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
This is not suggesting that we construct some fable to support my idea, but rather we look to determine if the words I type are true or not. I don’t mind being wrong if it brings me closer to the truth in some way, but I suspect you will find a wellspring (pun intended) of new life surging towards the surface of your inner life upon a sincere review.
“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” – William Shakespeare
In one sense, this article seeks to express a more contemplative aspect of man’s totality, but in another, a recognition of what I feel is accessible to the introvert and extrovert alike. Thus I refrained the best I could from strictly religious symbols so that the poets, painters, gardeners, and bakers alike might relate to their own lives through the transitional mythology of the seasons.