I loved living in a state whose climate included all four seasons. Something about the changing seasons and the attendant ebb and flow of energy suits my nature perfectly. That’s why the coming of winter is always a welcome event. Even though we don’t experience greatly fore-shortened days and frigid temperatures here in Florida, we can enjoy the shorter days, longer nights, and much cooler temperatures that come to us at this time of year!
For me, wintering is a time to burrow deeply within. I am self-reflective by nature, and the vocation that chose me – ministry – not only allows me the opportunity to turn within, but it mandates that I do so. To spend one’s life trying to comprehend the unknowable, utter the unspeakable and live the impossible, it is necessary to have times of solitude and deep reflection upon life’s most enthralling and enduring mystery.
As an American of the Baby Boomer Generation, I have often felt out of step with my contemporaries. Perhaps because times were easy when I was growing up, I have never set my sights on material prosperity. I seemed to know from a young age that all things in this world pass away. What I have wanted was something eternal and priceless. I read the following passages more than forty years ago. They have never ceased to inspire me.
It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price…. One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms, one has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to the total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying. – Morris L. West, The Shoes of the Fishman (1963)
The next one is rarely quoted in full. I have found that the slightest omission or addition of one word changes the power of the feeling expressed. I have copied the entire paragraph here to give you the full effect.
I got into this relaxed habit of living in spite of very real tendencies in my nature towards discipline. I’ve never been in love with self-indulgence. That philosophy of the loose lip and the lax paunch is one for which I’ve always had an instinctive distrust. I like bare things, stripped things, plain, austere and continent things, fine lines and cold colours. But in these plethoric times when there is too much coarse stuff for everybody and the struggle for life takes the form of competitive advertisement and the effort to fill your neighbour’s eye, when there is no urgent demand either for personal courage, sound nerves or stark beauty, we find ourselves by accident. Always before these times the bulk of the people did not over-eat themselves, because they couldn’t, whether they wanted to do so or not, and all but a very few were kept “fit” by unavoidable exercise and personal danger. Now, if only he pitch his standard low enough and keep free from pride, almost any one can achieve a sort of excess. You can go through contemporary life fudging and evading, indulging and slacking, never really hungry nor frightened nor passionately stirred, your highest moment a mere sentimental orgasm, and your first real contact with primary and elemental necessities, the sweat of your death-bed. So I think it was with my uncle; so, very nearly, it was with me. – H.G. Wells, Tono Bungay (1909)
And one more, which has probably sparked many an adventure into the wild.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. – Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond (1854)
Instead of going outward to seek a fuller experience of life, I have ventured inward. Perhaps having been named for St. Joan of Arc, I realized at a young age that trying to save the world or even my beloved country was futile. This world changes and our lives eventually cease. I have wanted to experience a more permanent sort of change, I still do.
Changing my own consciousness is the most meaningful change I can make, for my own sake and for humanity. It’s not as lofty as it sounds. My playing field is small and familiar: it’s my everyday life.
Take, for example, the everyday commute to and from work. I once heard that there are two kinds of dangerous people are the road: Idiots and maniacs. Idiots are the ones who drive at 50 mph on the Interstate. Maniacs are the ones who go 50 mph through a school zone. It’s possible to meet both idiots and maniacs on the road every single day. My natural inclination is to react to both of these kinds of drivers. My reaction might include a range of gestures and words that I’ll leave up to your imagination. This might seem like a natural and normal reaction to what my lizard brain perceives as a threatening situation.
To some extent, it is just that. But I want to live at a higher level than that. I want to live peacefully within myself., I no longer want my blood pressure to shoot up and my respiration to soar just by driving to and from work! I can choose much more rewarding activities to achieve that level of excitement. What I want is to override the programming of that lizard brain.
I want to be a “full human being,” not half-alive, running a program for sixty years that was created during the first twenty. That’s what people do the world over, though, unless we enter into a process of transformation so radical that there are very few who stick with it. Saints and sages have done it, and I count myself among neither of those. Contemporary spiritual teachers, such as Michael Singer and Eckhart Tolle, seem to have found a way of living at a higher level. Their teachings are accessible to anyone, thanks to technology. They can be vastly over-simplified as follows:
- Observe yourself.
- Notice your programming.
- Become aware of all the things “out there” upon which you have cast your sense of identity.
- Come to know that who you really are has nothing to do with the physical world of shapes and forms. You are not your body, mind, emotions, labels, achievements, and failures. You are energy and space, more than anything else. Ultimately, you are consciousness Itself.
- Notice your new response to people and situations.
See, ridiculously over-simplified and so very difficult to do. The ego, the mini-me that thinks it’s you, doesn’t take lightly to giving up control over you. It is very, very afraid. That’s why this last quote might be the most important one:
Always do what you are afraid to do. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Wintertime is my favorite time to burrow deeply within to take note of even the slightest progress I’ve made on my spiritual journey of transformation. Sitting in my armchair enjoying the warmth of the fire, I can re-center my internal map just like my GPS does in my car. Here, as I recommit to the journey even though there are “miles to go before I sleep,” I once again find contentment in knowing that it is a journey without end.