The Work before the work
The Work before the work
Its fall again, that season when so much I adore seems to disappear and die. It’s that season when all plants formerly green and colorful, now shrivel or mold; when all creatures that scamper and skitter across my path now curl up in their hidey-holes and sleep. It is a dispassionate season for my aging bones and weary gardening muscles, as I race against the clock to cut back foliage, dig up corms, and stack tender tropical roots in pots below the freeze-line of winter.
My new Tanzanian friend marvels at this crazy edge of humanity that borders on outright frenzy. Still below the surface, there is a deep knowing that this work is essential to building my garden of delight for next year and the years to come. Like squirrels, this work of digging, weeding, raking, and storing away provides a treasure trove of abundance when winter descends. Our modern culture is mostly unaware of the urgency of this natural call to store and harvest, to prepare for the season ahead. When year-round, you can buy avocados from Ecuador and pomegranates from Australia, who needs to worry about storing a bushel of warty squash in your basement? It may seem like nightmarish drudgery for many to yank out those last tenacious weeds full of seeds, or to haul in pounds of dahlia bulbs, but over the seasons I have learned that this long term planning and diligent work surely leads to long-term rewards. Work works!
So it is with the journey of mindful humanity. The garden of our inner lives is constantly in flux. What season of inner life are you in? Sadly our species lives cut off from our core nature as human mammals. We need the rhythm and flux of seasons to curb our fierce drive for mastery and power. Learning to do the deboning, delaminating inner work that comes before a release of outer work is a developmental milestone for maturing humans. This is the work I never grow tired of, that which I relish more genuinely as the years go by. It is the gift and responsibility of being an elder.
As I busy myself these weeks I have become deeply aware of still working very hard, (my fingernails are embedded with dirt as I type,) but I am learning to work more gently, more joyfully. This year I find that as I pay more attention to this process of kindness and tenderness, that the fall clean-up is less like a ragged endurance test, and more of a joyful ‘putting-to-bed-time.’ As a young parent I remember being frayed and exhausted at the end of the day and urgently attempting at times to – “stuff my children into bed!” It never worked – for any of us!
Rituals of gratitude, remembering, and preparing to rest, are all essential delivery systems for soulful life. We each need slowing-down, resting time; finding creative ways to do this in our families and in our communal groups seems an essential traditional legacy that we pass on at dinner-time, at the end of a season, at the end of a life. ‘Entering into rest,’ is not a quaint religious aphorism, nor a Pollyanna wish. Rest is the juicy, fertile marrow from which fresh Spirit emerges. Did you know that a caterpillar turns into a gooey blob of “imaginal cells” before morphing into a butterfly?
Winter is the season to dream again of new growth possibilities. This is the time to slow down by cutting back, weeding out, and easing tenderly into the reflective depths of winter. May we let ourselves rediscover all that hidden wholeness of our earthy beings-in-relationship and be prepared to listen as winter comes again with ice and fire. Swirling within darkness, there is without doubt, a deep wildness hidden in the shadows of night.
Starting in the New Year, I am once again offering here at Stonehaven, a 2015 cohort series especially for women. Check out this link for details.
Consider if you are ready to heed the call and discover your own answers to Mary Oliver’s provocative question: “What are you going to do with your one Wild and Precious Life?”