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Living in Rhythm With Nature
There is something absolutely magical about the natural rhythm of the changing of the seasons. I grew up in Michigan, where we joked that there are two seasons: winter and road construction. But the truth is the seasons in Michigan march with reassuring regularity. There are so many subtle clues that herald the changing of each season. For most of my life I wasn’t even aware of them. But looking back I notice how the way the breeze smelled as winter began to give way the spring, or the softening of the air, and the damp earthy smell of thawing ground.
It wasn’t until I moved into a climate that has very little in the way of real seasons (hot, hotter, still hot, 9th circle of hell describes it well) that I realized just how important those season had been to the rhythm of my life. I found myself out of step with the calendar. In January when the temperatures finally fell to a “fall like” level and it sometimes got chilly at night I found myself with this crazy desire to decorate for Halloween and start researching recipes for Thanksgiving. It was utterly disorienting and disconcerting nearly a month after Christmas.
The Spiritual Need for Seasons
The seasonal changes in nature resonate so deeply with us because they mirror the movement of our own lives. We aren’t always aware of it, but our lives experience seasons of growth, abundance, and also of decreasing and death on a regular basis. It’s a natural part of life that it seems no creature can escape, not even modern humans. But too often we aren’t even aware of this natural movement. And so we think that the seasons of decline or death we experience will last forever, we cannot see an end because we don’t recognize them as a season that will give way to the next as surely as the sun rises in the morning.
And that is why our spirits need the seasons. The gentle, and unchangeable movements of the natural world through the wheel of the year are our teachers, our signposts, our training ground for the ways we must navigate the turning of our own lives.
There was a time when the seasons ruled the lives of those who lived outside the tropics. It was simply a matter of survival. Before we had fast transport to bring food in from all parts of the globe what we ate was seasonal, before central heating and air conditioning our lives were circumscribed by the weather. We couldn’t help but be aware of the seasons. In the winter the long dark nights forced us to slow down, to do less work (there wasn’t much to do anyway with all that snow out there). The long light of summer kept us up and busy as bees trying to get enough food grown, and harvested, and stored to get us through the long darkness that would come around again.
Our religions were just as tied to the seasons. Nearly every religion of any age has festivals whose roots are in the changing of the seasons. Today while the ancient British pagan religions have been long dead and gone, their modern restorers still have the names of their festivals that marked the changing of light and season. Nearly everyone has heard of Samhain, Yule, and Beltane.
Agricultural people tend to live very closely with the seasons. Their activities and work were intimately tied to the turning of the year. Modern people are far more removed. For most of us, our work continues unchanged no matter what the weather is like outside. Our homes are heated and cooled to a consistent temperature. It is mostly just our leisure activities and maybe some everyday inconveniences that feel the effect of winter coming, or summer ending.
It’s hard to argue with thousands of years of history though. Our culture is still steeped in the seasons, and our bodies are as well. When days grow shorter and colder we naturally want to slow down, rest, sleep more. The health of our whole lives can benefit by embracing the changing of the seasons as an intimate part of our daily lives. Change after all, is perhaps the only real constant.
No matter how much we might try to control our lives and environment we will never really get there. Our lives move through seasons as surely as nature. We grow and we flourish, we produce fruit in abundance, and we fade and wither and eventually die in the grand sweep of our lives. But there are smaller seasons as well. Times of wild growth and excitement, and long fallow periods where we might feel hopeless and lost, or at least frozen in place.
We can fight these changes, or try to ignore them. Or we can take wisdom and guidance from Mother Nature and lean into these changes. There is wisdom is accepting our seasons, knowing that they are not forever, that our lives will move into a new season.
Modern Mystics & the Seasons
Nothing is forever, though it can seem that way. Modern mystics are moving ever so surely back into a relationship with the natural world. No matter our religious background or belief system there is a steady march to understanding that we are indeed part of the natural world, not above or separate from it. And that it’s rhythms are part of our very souls. We modern mystics can transform our own lives, lightning our burdens and living more freely by reconnecting the shape of our lives to the natural world. We can learn to work with our inner and outer seasons instead of fighting them. And that can be a gift to those around us as well.
One of the greatest gifts of religious traditions is their marking of time. Almost all religious traditions have a calendar that marks the changes in seasons and the seasons of our lives in a meaningful way. For thousands of years this kept us connected to the movement of time, and reminded of our part of it.
There is no way for someone who is Jewish and active in their faith community to miss that life has a beginning, a middle, and an end as they move through the calendar of the religious year. Just about every other religion does similar. With festivals, holy days, and somber reminders of the seasons of our lives. Usually these seasons reflect the seasons of the year as well, further tying us into the truths of life.
If you have a connection to a religious tradition spend some time with the festival of holy days, see where they connect to the movement of the seasons, research their history and consider marking them more deeply in your daily family life.
If you aren’t connected to a religious tradition you can still reap the benefits of a life that is lived in rhythm with the seasons. You have the opportunity to build traditions that are meaningful to you and your family. These will almost certainly look different than the traditions of others, and there is no right or wrong answer. What matters is what works for you. Below you’ll find my tips and tricks for building meaningful traditions to connect your life more closely to the changes of the natural world, and to honor the changes and seasons in your own life.
What are the seasons like where you live? If you are in Northern Michigan this will look quite a bit different to coastal Texas! Be faithful to the world in which you live. Importing seasons into your life just because they happen elsewhere isn’t a faithful or authentic practice. Yes, the world around you will be going nuts with pumpkins in October no matter where you are, but you don’t have to.
As you delve into this you’ll probably have to face some uncomfortable truths. Be honest with yourself and with your family. As you begin to think about fall and winter you might find yourself wanting to skip over the truth of age and death. Don’t. You might find that literal death isn’t the issue, but that there are dead or dying relationships or other significant parts of your life that need to be tended to. It’s hard work, but it is worth doing.
Mark Important Moments.
Every culture, family, and person will vary when it comes to what we consider the most important. In my particular family of origin birthdays weren’t really important, but holidays and traditions that celebrated family or community were very important. What is it that you and your family value most? Mark the important moments of your life, and mark the important moments of the year. Aligning traditions that match your values with the changing of the year is a great way to add weight and meaning to those times. So pay attention to the solstices and how the change in light, and weather, marks phases of our lives.
Think back on your life, I’d be willing to bet that some of the most meaningful memories you have around around traditions that were important to your family or culture. They might not be the expected ones, either. Growing up my family’s annual trip to a local Scottish festival was the start of summer, and our yearly reminder of our roots. I can mark the changes of my childhood by the changes in that festival. And when I began going as an adult it was a major transition in my life. Building those sorts of family traditions is easier and more important than you might think, I show you how in this post.
Often we do things just because everyone else is doing them. Halloween (and a variety of festivals at that time of year) used to have deep religious significance to a number of traditions. These days your family might take part without even thinking about it. Christmas, which once marked the coming of light back into the world (religiously) and the lengthening of days after the winter solstice is probably just a habit for most of us. Take a look at the parts of your life that are already present and be intentional about why and how you practice them to bringing meaning back into your everyday and seasonal life.