enlightenment

Despite my love for all the seasons, Winter sits at the bottom of that list.

Christmas is my favorite holiday and now it’s over. My brothers and sisters (all of whom have been filtering in and out since Thanksgiving) have gone back to their respective corners of the country leaving me with a little bit of the melancholy “missing you” syndrome.  Since I’m an introvert, time spent with the extended family borders on “almost too long” coupled with post-departure feelings of “not long enough.”

But don’t worry. I’m not going to bring you down with a sad, sappy post about missing people. We all do. It’s part of life and we get through.

In my typical do-something-about-it fashion, I attacked this most recent funk head-on with physical activity and distracting OCD tasks. Off goes the Facebook, out comes Yoga Mama as I embraced the mantra from my favorite Zen proverb:

Before Enlightenment…chop wood, carry water.
After Enlightmenment…chop wood, carry water.

I know what the proverb is supposed to mean, but it not match what I want it to mean.  Nonetheless, I’ve adopted it and applied to my situation.

When the winter blues engulf me in a white suffocating blanket, I try to burst out from inside my flannel fetal position and do the most basic cavewoman tasks to get me through to another day.

Chop Wood. Carry Water.

Relying on simple, primitive habits and functions that force me to focus on the task at hand. The motion, wood and work takes me away from mourning about the past. The stretch, the muscle extension and catching a breath in the cold air diverts my worry from the future.

Before you think I’m drowning you in metaphors, let me assure you that I take this quote literally. The woods behind our house are beautiful, but the sycamore trees have been swallowed up by invasive grapevine, wild honeysuckle and trees my husband affectionately calls “piss elms.” After my brother and his family went back home to Minnesota for another year, something had to be done to ward off the dread that had wrapped its tendrils around me.  For me, trimming trees, stacking logs and burning brush would be the best remedy.

With each pass of the axe, I destroyed a spindly honeysuckle and felt an emergence of purpose, gratitude and hope. I was only aware of the earthy smell of the wood, the sweet sting in my muscles and the complete blank page that my mind had become.

Before I knew it, five hours had passed. Lunch had been forgotten, hands were bleeding, arms were covered in scratches and a weary, but a happy smile was sitting in the place where a scowl had been earlier.

A student once asked his teacher, “Master, what is enlightenment?”
The master replied, “When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep.”

Destroy the garbage, carry the wood to the pile and clean up the mess. Open up the trail and reveal the emerging beauty springing forth with each new section of cleared forest.

Many of our friends have made fun of the lithium battery-powered chainsaw my husband got me for Christmas. It was exactly what I wanted and one of the most sincere and thoughtful presents I’ve ever received. He knows how messy my brain gets and that the well-worn hand saw and clippers weren’t going to provide enough manpower to handle the challenges the upcoming year would be throwing at us. The saw battery lasted just one tick longer than I did, and I walked away from the woods at dusk with a happy heart, exhausted body and a huge ready-to-be-burned brush pile.

But ugh.

Imagine my dismay when I woke up with similar melancholia on Sunday. I couldn’t chop wood again–the wind chill was below zero and this old gal wasn’t up to the bundling that would be required.

Going to Plan B, I organized every little nook and cranny in the house only to quickly discover that labeling and boxing up items was not going to give me the satisfaction provided by a wooden axe and water pail. My mind was racing and regrets about the past and uncertainty about the future started to weave its way into my brain.

It wasn’t long before I was snapping at unsuspecting (and undeserving) victims. I hate being grumpy. It’s not me, it’s not who I am, but it’s who I’ve been for the last couple of days.  My funk doesn’t usually last two days, so I was reaching for something, anything to get me out.

That’s when I saw the catalog pile.

Hope!

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
–Audrey Hepburn

I promptly retrieved my 2013 garden journal and reread the play by-play on the dirt covered pages. I looked at the haphazardly inserted photos and fondly remembered the best gardening season ever. Once the lingering memories of dinner plate dahlias, juicy tomatoes and busy little hummingbirds subsided, I tucked my journal away and looked toward the future. I made a huge wish list from the seed catalog and then plotted the planned architecture of Spring on graph paper.

I charted my course, sketched out the design, strategized the perfect companion plants and dreamed about building more raised beds. Before I knew it, my future vegetable garden was brimming with colorful peppers, heirloom tomatoes and kaleidoscope carrots. I filled the cutting garden with new variety zinnias and “prairie star bloomers” proven to outlast late frosts and harsh Kansas summers.

After being in a dark cocoon all day, life popped back into my body and a smile teased the corners of my lips as I re-engaged with the forgiving people who love me no matter what my mood.

Even though Day 1 was purposefully spent “in the moment, ” I learned on Day 2 that it’s also important to acknowledge and remember the past in order to have hope for the future. So often, I’d bury and avoid the past only to have it sneak up on me at my most vulnerable and public moments. An unpleasant surprise that would leave me feeling paralyzed and weak. On the flip side, I often avoided thinking about the future because it was overwhelming and sad as I imagined getting older, seeing kids leave and friendships end. Instead of embracing the past and hoping for the future, I’d get stuck in the present and unable to move backward or forward.

As important as it is to “be here now,” the last two days have taught me that all three time zones serve a purpose.

 “Happy is the person who knows what to remember of the past, what to enjoy in the present, and what to plan for in the future”  —Arnold H. Glascow

How does a person know what to pick when given the choice to focus on the past, present or future? For me, I grab the chainsaw and axe and work away until I figure it out.

 

 

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