Thursday, December 21, 2017

Darkness, Darkness

Winter Solstice 2017

Darkness, darkness, be my pillow;
take my head and let me sleep.
In the coolness of your shadow;
in the silence of your deep.

Jesse Colin Young wrote those lyrics in 1969. Wikipedia says that during the Vietnam War, the song was considered an anthem to the soldiers, for it described what they felt while in the jungles.

I propose that it now be considered an anthem for December that instructs us in surrendering to the nonnegotiable tilt of the planet. It does seem like the urge to put little lights on everything is the life thing in us, and I do find a certain cheer in seeing the displays. But what if instead of trying to resist what nature is asking us to accept, instead of seeing darkness as something to conquer, we went with seeing darkness as a pillow or a blanket?

What if we saw darkness as part of the full spectrum of life’s colors and experiences, and honored it accordingly?

What if we saw the increasing hours of darkness as an invitation to lower our voices, dim our lights, and slow our pace? To stay home and reflect on the harvest of the year past and our hopes for the year to come? And to strengthen our faith in the return of the light even in the face of clear physical evidence that everything is going the other way?

At this dark hour not only in nature but also in our country, what if we noticed that darkness has never in the history of the world increased without end, that the turning point always comes? We might double our resolve to take action for what we believe in and trust that it will eventually turn the tide. We might learn to trust in the darkness and even take comfort in it.

Darkness, darkness, be my blanket;
cover me with endless night.
Take away the pain of knowing;
fill the emptiness so bright.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Coming to Our Senses

Spring Equinox 2017

Springtime is when color returns to Oregon. First, the bright yellow of forsythia and daffodils. Soon after, the soft pinks and whites of the flowering plums and pears. The lavender-blues of woods violet and hyacinth. Later, the magenta of the eastern redbuds. The neon blue of lithodora. The salmon orange of crabapples and the rusty orange of sunrose.

After a winter of flat gray skies and bare branches, of despondent and despairing thoughts about the future of democracy and environmental protection, we need more than anything else to come to our senses. We need to turn off the news and all other distractions and completely give over our attention to what nature is offering, one gift at a time. When I stop on my walk and stare up through the branches of a plum tree laden with frothy blossoms of deep pink, and when I bring full presence to the sight and the sound and the scent, I can feel something shift inside me.

Rick Hanson in Hardwiring Happiness writes about how to overcome the brain’s negativity bias—its tendency to focus and dwell on what’s wrong—by fully taking in those fleeting moments of happiness and satisfaction that present themselves during our day. We can amplify those moments if we slow down just a little bit and let the wonderful in. All it takes is a conscious intention.

I’m doing it—slowing down and breathing in the beauty of the natural world. I’m letting it tutor me in joy.

This winter I read a book called The Moth Snowstorm by British author Michael McCarthy. The book proposes that although we may have left nature, nature has not left us, and the joy we spontaneously feel at, say, the sight of a field of red tulips is hardwired into us. More than that, in this time when the laying waste of the biosphere by humans is only accelerating, the joy we find in nature is the best defense—an even better defense, argues McCarthy, than the failed idea of “sustainable development” and the current ploy of putting a price on ecosystem services.

If enough of us slow down and come to our senses, if we linger in the presence of nature’s everyday miracles long enough to feel the joy kick in, surely we will protect every patch of daffodils and every blossoming orchard still left. Deep joy in the good earth could become a force more formidable than all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. Let’s give it a try.