Because everyone has the right to be truly free and happy
Seeing a maple tree at the beginning of winter is a great source of joy for me. The sight of the trees abundant with radiant maroon, amber and yellow leaves truly warms my heart. But oh, the anxiety when the leaves begin to fall! I want to pick up each and every one and bring them home, just to keep them closer for a bit longer. And the more the leaves fall, and the more barren branches show, the sadder and more unsettled I feel.
I consider myself a somewhat intelligent person, and understand that the seasons must change. So, as I stood yesterday by a bare tree and stared despondently at the once lovely leaves squashed into the mud, I had to question why this scene disturbs me so much.
“Feeling irritated, restless, afraid and hopeless is a reminder to listen more carefully.” Pema Chodron
My traditional reaction to seeing the bleakness of winter has been either to hoard leaves (yes, literally) or to fill my days dreaming of spring. But both options, clinging to the past, or imagining the future are just convenient ways of avoiding some really uncomfortable feelings right here in the present.
And so, I did decide to listen more carefully. I stayed, quietly with the discomfort and began to realise that for me the leaves represent so much that is beautiful about life, and the barren tree is a stark reminder that these things all must pass. The truth of transience I was witnessing in nature was rousing deep and innate fears within me. Fears of loss – of family, friends, money, status, possessions, and my own life.
“Knowing life is short enjoy it day after day, moment after moment.” (Suzuki Roshi)
Enjoying each day is easy is easy in summer, when the sun is shining, the days are long and bright, and there are holidays by the beach. But how can we truly enjoy the winter moments when our days are spent battling so many uncomfortable and dark feelings such as fear, grief, loneliness, attachment, anger and uncertainty? The answer is simple – we can’t.
I have been so lucky to encounter the teachings of Pema Chodron on ‘learning to stay’. In these teachings she makes it clear that the only way we can truly enjoy every day, every moment, every season is if we have the courage to stop avoiding the pain and to take the time to stay with the uncomfortable feelings. When we stop wasting our energy suppressing or getting carried away by our emotions, or denigrating ourselves for feeling them, when we can just be present with whatever arises then we can be free to find out who we really are. Both the agreeable and the disagreeable moments can then be enjoyed as a source of understanding and wisdom.
The enjoyment comes from loving yourself enough to be honest with yourself about your feelings and actions. It comes from being awake to each precious moment. It comes from removing the judgement about whether what is happening is good or bad, and accepting it just as it is. It comes from releasing the grasping to our ideals about how things should be. It comes from seeing each moment as an opportunity to understand yourself and the world more fully. It comes from opening your heart completely.
And while the uncomfortable feelings may never go away, we can just let them live quietly in peace, being neither our master nor our slave.
So, my challenge for this winter is to stay with each cold and dreary day, and to enjoy it! So if you see a woman huddled next to an old bare tree, doing nothing much but looking at it, then it could be me. Feel free to say hello – I have all winter to be with my trees.
Here is a little reminder from He-He The Day Brightener to help us remember to stay with each season.
For more messages from He-He go to: Hello from He-He
Follow this link to download Pema Chodron’s audio book “Getting Unstuck” Getting Unstuck – I Tunes Store
For a story about another woman who likes collecting autumn leaves, go to the story called Chasing Butterflies