“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.” ~ Yoko Ono
When you live in a cold climate much of the year, a warm day can feel as if the totality of summer’s arrival and impending departure are taking place simultaneously. It got up to 27 degrees today and the chill of winter’s stoicism and spring’s wet anticipation seemed like distant memories. Bare-skinned beings made pilgrimages to the ocean’s altar with offerings of golden grins and gleaming coats of sunscreen.
I lived most of my life in California where summer could stretch from April to October, a place where I often took warmth and its gifts for granted. In my new home north of the 49th parallel, the temperature has been rising all this past week and a gleaming row of sun icons stand like shining heralds for the next seven days of weather forecasts.
I relished putting on sandals today for the first time in eight months. I basked in the joy of sitting outside with a friend this morning, sipping our coffees and our conversation without an indentured servitude to wind and rain and wool escarpments hindering our access to each other’s presence. All that said, I must admit to what might seem like a treasonous leaning on such a magnificent day.
I miss winter.
Not so much the sharp-toothed cold and relentless parchment skies, but the not doing. What I adore about winter is that it gives its whole-hearted permission for us not to do or become anything. It’s a time to turn inwards, for solitary explorations with the silent companionship of night’s extended hand. Summer and the gleam of daylight’s exuberance stretching deep into night’s former territory can feel like a solar dance card, urging us to fill every minute of the sun’s shining moments with doing. Barbecues, gardening, swimming, camping. Anything that will take us outside and give us a reason to naturally replenish our supplies of Vitamin D3 can feel like a White Rabbit existence, hurrying from one activity to the next in the precious short time we have before summer truly packs up and heads south.
When I stop and really look into the nature of my tug-of-war between summer’s energy and winter’s solace, I see so clearly the three characteristics of existence expounded by the Buddha: dukkha (suffering or unsatisfactoriness), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (non-self). In both the yearnings for winter’s cocoon and the frenzy of summer’s Dionysian verve are the tenements of dukkha, craving what we don’t have and tethering ourselves to what we do have in the hopes it will never leave us. In all of dukkha is anicca, an inherent impermanence because, like the seasons, everything that arises will pass away. The desires to not do and to do everything we possibly can are the trappings of anatta, a belief in a self that hangs its assurances of existence on a illusory shadow. All my sense experiences, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness arise and pass and do not make up anything of substance. The “me” that misses winter is merely sticky residue of a past memory, something as ephemeral as the winds of December and the clear, blue skies of this May day.
It may sound odd to most people, but I take comfort in the knowledge that everything is impermanent, self-delusional suffering; not because those tenets exist, but because I know they can end. In the moments when I truly grasp that truth, I experience a profound freedom, a loosening of the noose that can otherwise drag me from one roller coaster emotion or judgement or sense longing to the next. At the end of the day I’ll take that lightness over any season, over any craving, over sun-drenched sandals and soft woollen socks. Even the memory of dear cats, their ears unknowingly cocked, turned inside out, perhaps listening for the smallest whisper of love on the edge of a sunbeam.
by Robyn Sarah
Make much of something small.
The pouring-out of tea,
a drying flower’s shadow on the wall
from last week’s sad bouquet.
A fact: it isn’t summer any more.
Say that December sun
is pitiless, but crystalline
and strikes like a bell.
Say it plays colours like a glockenspiel.
It shows the dust as well,
the elemental sediment
your broom has missed,
and lights each grain of sugar spilled
upon the tabletop, beside
pistachio shells, peel of a clementine.
Slippers and morning papers on the floor,
and wafts of iron heat from rumbling radiators,
can this be all? No, look — here comes the cat,
with one ear inside out.
Make much of something small.
“Bounty” by Robyn Sarah, from A Day’s Grace. © The Porcupine’s Quill, 2002.