Midwinter Thoughts

This morning, as every morning, I took our dog, Karma, for a walk just a few minutes before it was time to warm up the car for the drive to school. I am often tempted to abbreviate this walk, urged along by the cold air on my face and the sense of urgency that can accompany the last 15 minutes before departure. Today, however, I was glad to walk the whole loop. Something needed to be explored. Karma felt it too, pausing longer than usual to smell clumps of grass peeking out of the snowy patches. Coyotes, foxes, deer, and turkeys often come through the field, but the snow is so crusty and icy right now that they don’t leave footprints. Without the footprints, I don’t see evidence of their passing, but they leave behind a scent for Karma to discover. In one spot, she caught the scent of something buried below the icy snow. She stopped to scratch and sniff. Not finding it, she scratched and sniffed again, and again… She made it through the snow and to the dirt, but whatever she smelled remained elusive. Something enticing was there, just beyond her nose and invisible to me, but it was clearly there.

Later this morning, I gathered with a group from Renewal in the Wilderness to celebrate Imbolc, the midwinter observance between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. I thought of Karma as we acknowledged the Quickening, the returning light. The growing light awakens a subtle energy in all living beings. It had definitely stirred Karma and I sense it in myself as well. The lengthening days invite inspiration and the crisp, cold days invigorate while dark, cold nights nurture the dormancy which births creativity. I sense it in the Earth. Can we sense it in one another? Most importantly, can we give ourselves over to it and live into it even more fully?

Imbolc’s invitation to become aware of my own seasonal awakening feels like an invitation to affirm the natural rhythm of my life. I often experience my cycles of energy and fatigue as outcomes of my life and only occasionally remember that they also flow naturally with rhythms of days, seasons and years. This morning, I realized that stepping into those rhythms with greater intention honors my whole-hearted, whole bodied participation in the cycle of life. I want to dwell more fully in that participation.

I recently read that the Buddha’s life followed a very deliberate pattern of withdrawal and return.

The Buddha withdrew for six years, then returned for forty-five years. But each year was likewise divided: nine months in the world, followed by a three-month retreat with his monks during the rainy season. His daily cycle, too, was patterned to this mold. His public hours were long, but three times a day, he withdrew, to return his attention (through meditation) to its sacred source.                                         — from The World’s Religions by Huston Smith

This apparent seesaw between withdrawal and return (rest and exertion, struggle and acceptance…) creates a delicate balance. A harmony is achieved by making intentional space for both the effort and the retreat. This feels like a true and heartening counterbalance to the cultural message to continuously achieve, produce and consume. While I would not attempt to emulate the Buddha’s life practice specifically, it offers an aspirational example. Karma was also leading by example this morning. The hearty souls who joined Renewal in The Wilderness to nourish their spirits with a celebration and a walk in the woods also show the way.

There is balance in the dance between light and shadow, giving and receiving, waking and sleeping. At this mid-winter, I will embrace the always shifting cycles within and around me with renewed gratitude and appreciation for both the waxing and the waning. And, whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not tomorrow, I will be paying attention to the stirrings of the new day.

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