Here on the tail-end of winter, before spring is more than a promise, I wanted to post this particular lesson from the Winter Sojourn Web Retreat that I’m leading right now. About 17 of us are exploring the mysteries of the dark moons of winter, and our current reflection is on Hope and Faith. We’ve covered some challenging terrain so far, and are ready to turn toward the coming light. Come turn with us:
Our journey has taken us halfway down the winter path. Here we pause, in mid-February, to take a look at our surroundings. Many of us have felt the cold of this winter, inside and out. Some of us are experiencing the essence of winter without much of the weather of winter. All of us have reflected on our deepening friendship with Nature, and have experienced moments of insight and reflection—and sometimes surprise!—in her company…
At this juncture, we find ourselves turning a corner. We are no longer heading more deeply into winter, but have taken the first steps toward spring. From here on, the light is rapidly quickening. From here on, we may begin to see the very first preparations Nature is making for her annual rebirth.
At this time, having courageously explored emptiness and resistance, having felt our own inner barriers in a new and perhaps more visceral way, we need to make room for the balancing balm of hope and faith. Wander too deeply into certain kinds of emptiness and resistance, and it can feel like you have lost the way out. For some of you, these lost moments may be just that—mere moments in a day or week. For others, the loss may be deeper, longer, and more numbing.
Many years ago, I attended a life-changing retreat on living with cancer. It was called Commonweal, and the program is still running with about four to six retreats yearly. One of the unforgettable things I was told during that retreat had to do with hope. Our teacher said to never to let go of hope, even when you are down to what appear to be your last few breaths. “There is always reason for hope, although the hope may change.”
At Commonweal, we explored the nature of hope and the look of hope, realizing that hope for a cure may transform to hope for a long remission and then to hope for some good and full months of life, to hope for the completion of a last wish, or hope for a meaningful passing, to hope for a really good bowel movement (It is good to temper profundity with humor or irreverence!).
This winter, I am exploring the nature of small hopes that give great joy. What I have seen so far is that certain birds seem to be pairing up at my feeders. This is a small hope of the promise of spring. And by spring, I mean not only the coming season of spring to the Earth, but the quality of sweet spring that can arrive suddenly in the heart in any season.
What do birds at the feeders have to do with a heart-spring? Simply this: I believe that images, tastes, touches, sounds of spring in the outer world transform by some mysterious alchemy into spring in the heart.
Nature is food. Remember this. Nature is food. She feeds every part of us in need of sustenance—hearts, bodies, souls, minds. We don’t need to think about Nature feeding us. We just need to eat her. It is like putting food into our mouths: we don’t need to think about the sweet potato providing us with nourishment. We just need to bite into it and the potato does what it needs to do without any conscious effort on our part except the chewing.
When we go out into nature for brief moments, our faith is our chewing mechanism: our faith that our intention to connect with nature is a power all unto itself, inexplicable and strong beyond our understanding. We say to nature, “I am here,” and by faith we chew on those simple words while Nature pours her abundant, sweet, juicy soul food into our mouths.
I’m thinking these days about hope-food. Signs of spring are soul-filling hope-food. Beauty is nutrient-dense hope-food. In nature, change and beauty are two qualities that can restore a hope-weakened immune system. The many deaths and constant rebirths of trees, flowers, seasonal color, light, and Nature’s elegant, loving recycling of expired life whisper to us that we can indeed hope for change in difficult circumstances.
After all, nature says, nothing stays the same, ever. Beauty touches the mystery within us in unfathomable ways. Just the visual impact of beauty infuses our hearts with the truth that beauty is inherent in life and living, and sometimes even in the process of sacred dying. Beauty can lift hope in us during those times when it falters.
Hope food is all around me out there, in the exquisite tendrils of moss poking out from the bark, to the intricate folds of rough maple bark. All I need to do is chew these images, smells, textures, and sounds in faith. It may take many bites out there to feed me with enough hope to sustain me through particularly dark challenges, but Nature has an inexhaustible pantry of food of all kinds. Look here: there are shelves and shelves just devoted to hope-foods!
Growing your faith that nature can feed and sustain any part of you that is needing nourishment is not an easy undertaking in this culture. Everything we have learned from a very young age has indoctrinated our tender minds with the notion that nature is really just an aesthetic backdrop and little more. With enough money, we can afford trips to places with really lovely backdrops.
Some of us can afford to buy a lovely backdrop called a “yard” and/or a “view” attached to a house we’ve purchased, but nice backdrops come at a price. Backdrops that include water are the most expensive. Trees are the next most expensive, and in the Jackson Hole area, a Teton view backdrop adds—and I kid you not—$100,000 to the value of a home.
Over these past weeks, we’ve been growing our faith through simple nature experiences, and through sharing our insights with each other. In our sharing process, we powerfully validate for each other the truth of our experiences and new knowings. We validate for each other our growing, well-founded faith. Once we have enough experiences that nature has fed us and deeply, our simple faith becomes a profound internal truth, and our chewing is improved. Perhaps you are feeling this transformative alchemy already. As faith in the power of nature to feed us—body and soul—grows, we get more nourishment out of every nibble of wild.
Become aware that you, too, are nature, and thus you, too, are food. Each of you has fed others with hope-food, joy-food, beauty-food through your words and through your encouragement. It is our nature to be food, because we are nature’s offspring, and nature is food for all. But here is the caveat: we have enough food to share only when we are eating well off of the table of our Earth mother. She has it all: burnout-food, patience-food, peace-food, strengthening food.
We have spent these weeks sampling her larder. This week, indulge in the hope-food of beauty and seasonal change. You have more than earned it, and it is a really delectable, decadent treat! This week, consciously seek out beauty and signs of seasonal change many times a day. Seek it in nature, and seek it in the nature of those around you, the nature of music, art, food, dance, wherever you are blessed to see it. Seek it and tell us all what you find and how it feels.