As wintertime deepens, one observes nature releasing what she will not require in the cold months ahead. Energy in plants moves inward, growth slows and finally stops. Leaves shed from deciduous trees and some evergreens’ needles turn to yellow. Frogs aestivate and other animals hibernate, mimicking something as close to death as to be mistaken by the uninformed as death, itself. And indeed, many life forms will and do die in the bitterest cold.
Ecclesiastes offers, To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven … including a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to cast away; a time to gather. Nature seems well informed and accepting of how and when to let go. It is a necessary step in the process of renewal. The Western world is far less accepting of this inevitable cycle of decline; in fact, physical death is something many fear, reject, and forestall at almost any cost.
Tibetan Buddhists suggest a practice of nonattachment, or the ability to release what is longer needed so that a person might differentiate between perceived and genuine needs. All of us require a roof over our heads, food to eat and clothes to wear. Yet knowing how and when to let go is difficult in a culture based on consumerism, a process whereby we are conditioned to endlessly gather and strive. Consumerism fuels the economy we have created, to the degree that many of us do not know when to stop gathering. Much of this amassing is focused on the material and monetary. Paradoxically, our currency is labeled with the epithet In God We Trust, suggesting surrender to the Divine and faith in its ability to provide for us, even as we are spending this money to assure self provision.
According to Webster, trust is synonymous with faith, the unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence. Yet even those of us who believe we practice faith are not always cultivating trust. We pray, ask, look for signs that our prayers have been answered and, failing this, we attempt to figure out and control the outcome of events and circumstances. I’m not saying this makes us good or bad as people. It’s simply the way we’ve been conditioned to operate in a stressful, competitive social climate.
We compete with others in the workplace; wrangle with Creation in providing what we perceive we need and need now. Even though we have been assured, time and again through scripture and sacred texts of all persuasions, that our prayers are absolutely answered and that Providence bestows all we seek, few of us have engendered the patience of Bear or the trust of Birch that food sources will be renewed and that leaves will bud again in the spring. Nature can be a great teacher and healer, if we observe her long enough. As the sun sets, it also rises.
Many of us are blessed to live close to nature. Our dwellings might even hug the forest or overlook expansive waters. We can easily learn to let go by observing nature’s cycles: the tides coming in, going out; the migration of waterfowl. Yet even in an urban environment, we can still sit and breathe while visualizing ourselves as part of the cycle of death as winter approaches, letting stressful thoughts and worries flow out on that same breath. Dying to stress is dying back into life. Embracing change rather than fighting against it facilitates the realization that we might not finish everything, but what we do complete will be enough. We, like Chipmunk and Frog, will survive. Like Pine, part of us will continue greening, while like Maple, part will flutter away. It is all in Creation’s plan. And we humans play an integral part.