Introspection: The Invisible Tasks of Winter
Gardening metaphor: Presume we are the garden, the gardener and the plant in the garden. Each season requires a different task of the gardener. Spring is about planning, preparation and gathering resources. Summer is about establishing a routine, working in the garden every day; essentially being a servant to the garden. In the fall, we harvest the fruit of our labor but it requires us to go out every day, decide which fruit is ripe and then what to do with it.
Winter is the time of evaluation, renewal and rebirth. Symbolically it is the season and process of death and rebirth. WHAT? What are the tasks of death and rebirth? Often, winter seems to be a crisis, a person often feels lonely, depressed, confused, anxious and overwhelmed…not knowing what to do nor who they are. The re-orientation or re-framing these winter feelings as part of the natural process of change is enlightening. A person can move toward an understanding of winter as an opportunity for hope and meaning. Re-framing these feelings and experience as a natural part of winter, invites the individual to participate in the seemingly invisible processes of change and growth. In winter, the private or unseen task involves introspection. Introspection is merely the process of examining one’s own thoughts, feelings, mental states, etc. to gain insight. Introspection has a long tradition in the pondering of the human condition. It is used in religious practices, therapy, psychology, meditation, philosophy, art, etc. One of the basic techniques is to ask questions. Its like tossing a pebble into a still and quiet pond; then watching the ripples move across the pond’s surface.
Early Winter: Evaluation
The first task involves self-reflective evaluation and figuring out lessons learned. What went well in our garden; what did not go well and what might we do differently next season? If we do not do this evaluation, we are doomed to planting the same darn garden. A definition of insanity; is to continue to do the same thing but expect different results. So, the main questions are: What worked, what didn’t work and what do I want to do about it (change)?
Forgiveness and Letting Go:
The second task is forgiving and letting go. If we have learned the lesson that the past has held for us, why continue to hold on to the past any longer? If we have learned the lesson, isn’t it more useful to then turn around and figure out where we want to go? If, we are unable to forgive and let go, we remain attached and facing back towards the past. We essentially become a “pillar of salt or stone,” unable to move. The forgiving and letting go, unchains us from the past. Letting go can be a difficult task. It is because we have become attached or identified with our perception and interpretation of our self/ego. The perception and interpretation are basically in the form of the “ego.” I am, I have been wronged, I am a victim, I am, I am this, I am that…etc. At first, the letting go or the surrendering is very unfamiliar. It’s scary because it is unknown and can’t be fathomed by the ego. It is unknown as to what will happen; the ego fears the unknown. Perhaps it will the ego’s own death and thus the ego will not relinquish without a fight. Often, we have been taught that letting go, means falling. Falling to our death. As we lessen our grip because we can no longer hold on, in exhaustion we let go. The idea and sensation of falling into the unknown is frightening and anxiety producing. Surely it is death! It is death, but it is also not death. The real question is “what dies?” It’s only the old no longer useful sense of self that sluffs off. The weight of this old self falls to its death. The basic question is why: Is the old worn-out self really worth the burden?
Imagine the old self is a set of ragged clothes that are no longer useful nor appropriate. First, we must take these worn-out clothes off. Secondly, briefly we are naked. Being naked may be a bit awkward. But then we put on a new set of clothes. This new set of clothes may be stiff, itchy, a bit uncomfortable until they get broken or worn in. Then, this new set of clothes feels great, looks bright and works well. As one becomes familiar with the process of changing from rags to new spiffy clothes it becomes rather fun. And being naked is seen as an opportunity to take a bath, to get refreshed, to run around being naked and having a bit of fun. Remember its winter, its dark, you are inside your own SOUL. Nobody can see you but maybe your self (if you look in a mirror). And what do you see?
Side notes: The old sense of self is still around and we can easily pick it back up and wear it around as a ragged set of old clothes. In times of overwhelming crisis or stress, it is not unusual to see a person revert or regress to a former or lower level of functioning. The other note; is that the ego death is a difficult process, but it gets easier. If we are unfamiliar with this process of sluffing off the worn-out self, the first few times are quite the struggle. But as we come to understand and appreciate the process, it becomes an opportunity more along the lines of a graceful surrender and an experience to briefly fly, unburdened and naked.
Dark Night of Winter: Death, Renewal, Rebirth
Miraculously the old self has died but we are still here, conscious and aware. Then we notice that we are just floating. For folks that are not used to “floating” it is a new experience, rather ambiguous with residual anxiety we still might fall. Thus, it is difficult to merely relax into the experience. Recognizing that we’ve become unburdened and weightless is our chance to fly. If we keep our wits, we learn we can fly. But how does this flight work? Initially by our thoughts of where and what does one wants to do. So we flit here, there and everywhere. This experience is perhaps similar to lucid dreaming or self-guided hypnosis. As one becomes accustom to this new experience, we figure out other means in which to direct our flight.
Eventually, after the novelty of flitting about we can surrender and relax even more. This deeper relaxing allows us to further drop or float down until we are quietly resting in our SELF. We “come to rest in the hands of God.” This is the re-discovery of the “SELF.” Some refer to this as the soul, the transpersonal witness, the universal source, meeting “God” inside of us etc. An effective mediative method of attaining a quiet comfortable familiar sacred space is to merely ask the simple question of: Who am I? By repeatedly asking this question, we begin to peel off the layers of the onion of our perceived and assumed ego self. As we drop the old senses of the self, one layer at a time we come to the point of “being naked.” We exist beyond name, place, the accoutrements our time, place, status, culture, environment, race and sex/gender. We exist beyond the things that our ego had held so dear. Such as I am Tim, I live in North America, I speak English, I am an orphan, a counselor, a husband, father, dog parent etc. We drop into and rediscover our SELF. “Oh here I am!” This is the process of death, re-discovery and renewal of our self. “Oh joy, I surrender and rest in the merciful hands of God.”
Late Winter: Seeds and Germination
“Ok, “I AM,”…now what?” Now that we have found our SELF, “now what?” If one subscribes to the notion of “karma,” then due to our accumulated propensities and dispositions we are propelled or pushed to our next karmic life lesson or in which we are to learn and make resolve. However, if we subscribe to notion that we can chose to chase our love, dreams, passions and joys. Then love draws us to our next life lesson. Thus, with choice and resolve we begin to imagine/dream and move toward our next life (garden). Perhaps for a while, we continue to stumble around in the dark (remember its winter; dark and cold). But we look and feel around in the dark for something warm or a spark of light. Eventually we discover a little spark…and we start to wonder about it, to dream about it, to imagine it. This little spark is a seed that has germinated in the loving, warm, moist soil of our dreams and imagination. This germinated seed remains unseen and is protected while it continues to grow; further setting roots into our consciousness. Then as it begins to consume our consciousness and we realize that the sprouted seed is now growing a green shoot upwards towards the light. When the tiny green shoot breaks through the surface of the soil and reaching for sunlight, is that not a signal? This small tiny plant is announcing itself to the world. Now the gardener acknowledges and proclaims “this is what I am growing in my garden this season.” The gardener scurries about making plans, gather resources, protecting the growing seedling and getting the garden prepared for an explosion of life in the spring garden.
The search and re-discovery our of soul; results in a renewed sense of self with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning. The winter season is the natural time to withdraw, hibernate and introspect. It is the time for the introspective process of evaluation and lessons learned, touching our soul and becoming renewed, followed by discovering and imagining something new. Winter, reframed becomes a time of resting, introspection and dreaming. In a sense it becomes a time to revisit our roots. Resting in the knowledge that it is an important part of renewal and therefore perineal growth. A time for dreaming the next wonder filled garden. (seed catalogues get sent out in the winter…have you checked your mail?)
The gardening metaphor simply an intuitive framework and process of Imagining, Preparing, Doing, Harvesting and Introspecting. Discovering and chasing our love/passions/dreams/joy inspires and motivates us to make space in which to plant gardens filled with love. The garden metaphor represents a fractal or universal archetypical pattern of change. The gardening metaphor can help make sense and guides us in applying “change” to different situations, projects and activities for living life well. It is a simple, intuitive framework and process for growing our “Gardens of the Soul.”
Peace love and light!