Through the Waters

The Warmest Winter

Winter river in Yosemite
Photo Credit: Jim Werner's River in Yosemite National Park, CA CC BY 2.0

I thought I was staving off death. Little did I know that I was cooperating with life.

Many months ago, I decided to buy a few jasmine vines and place them in flower beds on the small patio where I live. Not knowing much at all about gardening, I was hesitant to believe that they would even grow beyond their original few-feet height when I bought them. I told myself that they looked fine with their dark green vines, lack of flowers notwithstanding. I kept watering them every now and then... every now and then for months, and months, and months, with no signs of new life. I thought I was staving off death; little did I know that I was cooperating with life. It's only been within the past few weeks that something started to happen that took me by complete surprise: they've started to multiply by growing bright green branches.

What has been my new fascination throughout this process? Seasons.

For those of us who have spent most of our lives in southern California, we may realize the reality of seasons... but not quite really grasp that reality. We can laugh at ourselves that a little rainfall is a "Stormwatch" major breaking news event here. Today's variation of sunshine - sunny, more sunny, less sunny, hot, hotter, and too hot - is a popular focus of our small talk. Certainly we have beautiful weather to be grateful for, but those of us accustomed to such relatively consistent weather may miss a bigger message about the profound nature of seasons.

Just as there are seasons in nature, so too there are seasons in human life. There is spring with its new life and invigorating hope; summer in its full sun and glory, with an intensity of heat; fall with the harvest and reward of seeds planted long ago; and winter... ah yes, there is winter. This is often the hardest season to contextualize in our lives and one of the most confusing and painful to endure. It's also the season of the soul that most clients are experiencing when they begin therapy. The winter of our discontent is usually marked by a loss - of a loved one, a relationship, a family role, a job, an opportunity, a responsibility, or a status quo of safety and predictability. We enter into our grief for this loss and usually find that, in the process, things in life seem to dry up or may even appear dead. It's as though life has frozen over and we find ourselves under a layer of impossible permafrost. The cold can be brutal, the silence deafening.

A careful observation of nature teaches us, however, that this is all part of the process: land must rest from its fruitfulness; animals must hibernate; trees and plants must endure painful pruning. None of it is without purpose; all of it enables the life cycle of nascent new growth, full fruitfulness, harvest time, life-giving sustenance - then rest and repeat. Have you noticed, by the way, that winter bears its own beauty? It boldly enshrines itself in a beauty that is unlike that of any other season. Think of the uniqueness of snowflakes, the extravagance of blanketed snow, the joy of ice skating on a mirror made from water. Consider that - in a way, if we stretch the metaphor - we actually walk on water during winter. Yes, it's frozen water, but winter certainly has a way of challenging our capacity for trust.

I'm hopeful that each of us can grow into a new way of embracing winter. To the extent that we can perceive and embrace our winters, we will be available to journey with people through the cold of their winter months without invalidating, obscuring, or rushing through what the season has to offer them. Indeed, winter often descends right before we enter into a season of new growth and expansion in life. It rests and prepares us for what comes next. It clarifies our motives and quiets us inwardly. It invites us into internal conversations we may have been avoiding. My hope is that we can perceive the winter season, cooperate with its work in us, and allow it to have its full effect.

Inspiration: In Season by Wayne Jacobsen

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