In the old Celtic/Gaelic calendar February 1st is the start of Spring, which, in the very mild winter we are having this year, seems right. It was the Celtic feast of Imbolc, falling midway between the winter and spring solstices, a celebration of fertility and growth involving the lighting of fires. In the Christian calendar this became Lá Fhéile Bríde, St Brigid’s Day, and maintained some of the same fertility themes in the folk traditions. Similarly today, the feast of Candlemas, saw the blessing of candles for use in the home. It would seem that there was a need for people to remind themselves of warmth and light at this halfway point, as a reminder that new growth will soon be here.
At different times, I too find myself at midway points, not quite sure where I am arriving, but too far away from where I started from to recognize it and go back. We have no overall map for this journey; we may not even have a candle, lose our sense of direction and easily get lost. As Dante found, it’s as if we are “midway in this way of life we’re bound upon …. in a dark wood, where the right road was wholly lost and gone”. The trick may be to work with the experience of being lost without believing the story that we actually are, not letting “how I feel” become the story of “who I am”. This keeps our energy joyful on the journey, not hooked by stories of where we should be.
Things are always in transition if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we would like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. The spiritual journey involves going beyond hope and fear, stepping into unknown territory, continually moving forward. The most important aspect of being on the spiritual path may be to just keep moving.
Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Hard times.
Very mild weather in Ireland these days. Even the daffodils are starting to bloom. Quiet signs of growth and hope everywhere. Better to listen to these than to the angry voices all round.
The silence of creation will speak louder
than the tongues of men or angels.
photo paul gilmore
The period between Christmas and New Year has a distinct tone and a change of rhythm. There is an intensity about the Christmas period which can stir us up; to add to this we will soon be bombarded by the messages of New Year resolutions and dramatically fixing our lives. So one or two posts about how to deal with this time, when the temptation is often to make abrupt changes in the face of the different parts of our lives.
There is a certain type of uncertainty which is just part of being human, and which we cannot control, such as that which comes from illness. This fundamental ambiguity – the unsatisfactory nature of life and of circumstances – is always there in the background. It can be accentuated at periods like Christmas, and we intensify our efforts to get solid ground. So the dilemma is how to live wholeheartedly as adults in the realization that some elements will always be displeasing and we are never fully going to get it all together. How can we hold different parts together – “manage the grey” – when we prefer things to be simply black or white:
Most of us are uncomfortable when things are undefined, when things are not clearly to or for, up or down, left or right, or right or wrong. But the deeper truths always take time to reach us, and it is our job to enter a practice of waiting openly – which involves enduring the tensions of not-knowing. The truths that matter require us not to form opinions or beliefs hastily. On the contrary, we are asked to allow time to surround us with the Wholeness of life, to take the time required for the paradox of truth to show itself. It seems that the practice of not-knowing begins with a trust in the unnameable space that holds us, in the mysterious atmosphere in which we all live. That seems to be the true space of listening and learning, where our brief experiences of life in its totality, whether harsh or calm, will not fit into our tidy little maps of perception.
Some days or weeks we work with limited vision. The true meaning is hidden. We rely on inner values and on the commitment we have made.
Bringing in a full harvest from human effort has always been difficult, because what is worth bringing in is almost always hidden from us: think of the hard, protected kernel of the wheat amidst a waving sea of gold, or the the walnut nestled in its dense, unyielding skin of green and white, think of how common a much-wanted, simple understanding is needed, hidden by our complex thoughts; or the attempt to fully forgive when even forgiving a little seems to be the last thing we want to do; and lastly, the wish to love and to be loved, when loving is what we are most afraid to do.
David Whyte, Letters from the House
With no mind, flowers lure the butterfly;
With no mind, the butterfly visits the blossoms.
Yet when flowers bloom, the butterfly comes;
When the butterfly comes, the flowers bloom.
Ryokan, 1758 – 1831, Buddhist monk, hermit and poet.
Things are changing all the time. This makes us seek who and what will anchor us in all of this change:
Life is precious. Not because it is unchangeable, like a diamond, but because it is vulnerable, like a little bird.
To love life means to love its vulnerability, asking for care, attention, guidance, and support.
Life and death are connected by vulnerability.
The newborn child and the dying elder both remind us of the preciousness of our lives.
Let’s not forget the preciousness and vulnerability of life during the times we are successful and popular.
Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey