I had high hopes the new year. I was going to have a renewed sense of purpose and focus on establishing some new practices. Only, that's not what happened. I just couldn't seem to muster up the motivation or the discipline.
Instead of focusing on practices and purpose, I spent the better part of January binge-watching the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I had never seen before. I spent any time I had to myself watching Buffy save the world a lot. After spending most of 2015 hardly watching any television, this was... well... a change from that.
I'm not saying it's good or bad. It's just what happened.
I did manage to stay with a couple of my old daily practices. I continued Morning Prayer, and, thanks to an overly-energetic puppy who joined our family in June, I still took walks in the woods every day. I admit I probably would've foregone the walks if the dog would have let me get away with it.
Since I couldn't find my way to starting any new practices, I placated my conscience by trying to use the time in the woods to be present and notice what was going on around me as the seasons made their way through the woods. Even as I experienced a growing sense of general disconnection due to my lack of motivation and discipline, I determined to look for what was still beautiful as the green of Summer and the colors of Fall gave way to the short, cold, gray days of Winter.
I always try to take at least a minute in the woods to close my eyes and breathe deeply, to make myself aware of my connection to the earth beneath my feet and the trees surrounding me. Right now, most of the trees are empty. Just trunks, really, with bare branches sticking out in angles.
I've been feeling a lot like those trees.
I began 2015 with anticipation. I'd been told my career was about to be upended, so I thought it would be a year of big, exciting, scary change. But then it wasn't. And now it's 2016 and I'm in seemingly the same place with nothing temporal to show for the transformation I thought was inevitable. Like a tree in winter, whatever shelter or beauty I had in former seasons is gone, carried away in the biting, Autumn wind. I have nothing to offer.
But surely something happened or is happening. Trees don't cease to exist in winter. Things are happening under the ground, right? I tried to reassure myself with those thoughts. But I've since learned that trees are dormant in winter. Almost nothing is happening. They wait out the season, drawing on resources they saved in the other seasons, trying to stay alive. Not especially encouraging to my analogy. But then I found this:
"It is possible to force a tree to evade dormancy if you keep it inside and with a stable temperature and light pattern. However, this is usually bad for the tree. It's natural for trees to go through dormancy cycles, and the lifespan of the plant is dramatically decreased if the tree is not allowed to go dormant for a few months. Trees have winter dormancy for a reason, and it's best to just let them run their course as nature intended."
I know I'm not a tree, but something about those words is reassuring. Seasons of dormancy are natural and healthy. I remembered that Parker J. Palmer uses the seasons a metaphor for exploring selfhood and vocation in his book 'Let Your Life Speak.'
Palmer writes that winter is a reminder that "times of dormancy and deep rest are essential to all living things. Despite all appearances, of course, nature is not dead in winter-it has gone underground to renew itself and prepare for spring. Winter is a time when we are admonished, and even inclined, to do the same for ourselves....Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being."
Maybe I stumbled into this dormant season and maybe binge-watching an old TV series isn't the best way to renew myself and prepare for what's next. A part of me is a bit terrified that nothing is next. Terrified that the trees will soon be filled with leaves and new life and I'll still be dormant, with nothing to offer.
I guess that could happen.
But maybe recognizing the necessity of an occasional time of dormancy can bring me the perspective I need. I hope it will help me be more understanding of myself and others. And I pray I can now try to look clearly at the ground of my being and at least open myself to the possibility of a new season.