Winter: The Real Spring!

Winter: The Real Spring!


melting snow and green grass

In a way Winter is the real Spring - the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature. - Edna O'Brien


Poets liken our lives to 4 seasons. We celebrate spring in our youth, charge through summer in our childbearing years, enjoy the fruits of our labor in autumn, and warm ourselves by the fire as winter takes hold.

Yet in reality our lives are much more nuanced.

We pass through the seasons again and again experiencing light and darkness, growth and dormancy throughout our lives.

To see any single run of years as a season, with a defined beginning and end, is to miss the value of constant change.

Sister Mary Jane Wallace, OSB, a now-retired retreat director who specialized in programs on aging, says using a loose framework of seasons to examine our lives is both useful and poetic, but urges us not to get stuck there.

“Living is a lifelong process of becoming who we are,” Sr. Mary Jane begins. “Our goal is to learn something of value every day, no matter what our age. To live in the now.”

We begin learning as children in a season of growth, of spring.

daffodils in snow

Spring, when all is new

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? – Isaiah 43:19

As children, everything is new. We grow our minds, spirits and bodies. We learn how to please others. When we reach our majority, we move on to summer.

Yet, as Prevention columnist Thomas Crook, PhD, writes, “If you seek out new experiences throughout life, your brain will keep growing--sprouting new cells (neurons) and the branches between them (dendrites) -- no matter your age.”

That is, not only should we revisit the spring of our lives, we should keep it active within us. We should embrace change, newness, learning. This flexibility will - as new sprouts that bend in the spring breezes – keep us from growing brittle and rigid. It will keep us from breaking.

Is there anything from childhood that would be good to leave behind?

“Oh, yes,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “As children, we work to please others. We want to gain praise and acceptance. That’s natural. But it’s liberating to leave that behind as we mature.”

coneflowers

Summer’s song

In summer, the song sings itself. - William Carlos Williams

Early summer is a matter for great vigor, certainly. In our 20s and 30s, we are flowering – marrying, entering religious life, choosing careers – and finding success.

As spring, summer is a season to revisit throughout our lives.

“We are nourished during these years by our career successes, our social lives, our material acquisitions,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “Some of that will naturally take a back seat as we continue to grow. But some of it will evolve into questions of how to live. We come back to these matters after we retire. What will we do now?”

Late summer might represent our 40s and 50s. At the peak of our earning potential, we are enjoying prestige and influence in our community. The children – if we had them – are launched (although our parents may need assistance).

“Now it’s the balancing act,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “Our values are beginning to change. We no longer feel that youthful need to please. But while we are in command of ourselves, we are getting stretched too thin. It’s time to reevaluate what makes us happy and fulfilled.”

autumn trees and bench

Autumn’s exquisite beauty

How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days. John Burroughs

Now we are in our 60s and 70s, and, as Sr. Mary Jane chuckles, “maturity has hit”!

That is, we are retired or thinking about it, and we have fully moved into ourselves. With deadlines and professional ambitions largely gone, we can begin to harvest the fruits of all those years of working, striving and struggling.

In other words, we can take a giant step toward becoming.

“We’ve finally achieved balance, and it feels great,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “We have time to pursue what really matters to us. We’ve given up trying to please everyone else. We travel, spend time with family, pursue hobbies we’ve never had time for.”

She notes it’s not about changing who we are, but about growing into who we are.

“We don’t change as we get older – we just get to be more of what we’ve always been,” Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, writes in her book, The Gift of Years. “It is exactly the time to grow in new ways. It is the period in which we set out to make sense out of all the growing we have already done.”

So perhaps fall is the time to let the past go, and begin preparing for the rebirth of spring.

“Only one thing is necessary now: we must choose to begin a new kind of life, related to the past, of course, but free of the strictures that bind us to it,” Sr. Joan writes.

snow on trees

Winter’s quiet story

Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour. -  John Boswell

And in our 80s, 90s and above? That’s when we finish the job of becoming.

“The question we face now is, Who am I?” Sr. Mary Jane says. “When our jobs are finished and no one is clamoring for our attention, who are we? We live in a culture where we ask each other, What’s your name? What do you do? In this season, we’ve moved beyond that.”

The key is to let it go, and move fully into becoming who we are meant to be.

“All through our lives we’re trying to be someone or do something,” she continues. “Because we live in the Perfect 10 Society, we see the negative, the limits, the weaknesses. This is the time we must learn to be more gentle with ourselves.

“All we have is the now. We have the gift of life. This moment. We must realize we can always begin again. Have a fresh start.”

And the quiet of winter is the perfect time to do it.

“Winter reveals those things that summer conceals,” writes Kathleen Fischer in Winter Grace. “We can see farther and with clearer vision. … There is an inner life and awakening; beneath the shell of the bud is sap in gestation.”

Winter is the time, then, to prepare ourselves for spring.

gratitude image

Growing a practice of gratitude

Regardless of our age, we experience growth, vigor (of thought if not of body), balance and becoming throughout our lives. And if we don’t?

“We’re stuck,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “When we wake up in the morning, the word should be gratitude. We should be grateful for the gift we are to others, and the gift others are to us. The seasons of our lives help us grow gratitude, when we allow them to.”

How? Sr. Mary Jane suggests we develop a practice of gratitude.

“Every day, we can say: I am grateful to grow in my love and caring. I am grateful to enjoy flowering relationships and ideas. I’m grateful for the joy I feel living in my own skin. And I’m grateful for the quiet in which to reflect, to be.”

And how shall we grow our capacity – no matter the season – for a life of loving and thinking and feeling joy?

“Become a student again,” writes Richard A. Friedman, PhD in the July 20, 2013 edition of the New York Times. “Learn something that requires sustained effort; do something novel. Put down the thriller when you’re sitting on the beach and break out a book on evolutionary theory or Spanish for beginners or a how-to book on something you’ve always wanted to do. Take a new route to work; vacation at an unknown spot. And take your sweet time about it.”

Benedictine Catholic Sister Mary Jane Wallace

After all, what the heck!


Finally, Sr. Mary Jane urges us not to take ourselves too seriously. She says she learned this in her kindergarten classroom years ago.

“I was trying to get the kids to dance in a certain way,” she says. “I was playing the piano and having to jump up to put them back in form. I’m up and down, up and down. I think they could tell I was getting frustrated. Then Abby – a little blond girl with pigtails – said, ‘My mom just says, What the heck, it doesn’t really matter!’

“I went home for dinner and told the Sisters that night, ‘Well, I found out what’s wrong with us today. We don’t say What the heck enough.

“Laughter is a wonderful gift. Use it!”






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