A spring ritual for gardeners is to plant seeds indoors to transplant later once spring is fully here. It’s so exciting to watch the first few leaves pop up through the soil.
The activity of gardening teaches me a lot about how to live well. I’ve learned how both the earth’s soil and the soil of my own being, need regular nourishment to function well. A time of lying fallow, for rest and renewal, is part of that nourishment. The fallow season here in the north is winter, and while it looks like not much is going on, it is an essential part of nature’s birth, death and rebirth cycle of life.
Going into the Void
In the creative cycle, we call the winter phase - going into the void. The void is a space that holds paradox. It appears to be a space of emptiness. It can scare us with its barrenness, its spaciousness, its lack of structure and substance. By its very nature, it is the unformed, the yet unknown, but when we give ourselves over to it, it becomes the fertile void - a place of guidance, inspiration, and knowing - like my garden bouncing back to life in spring with renewed vigour.
For almost everyone, when we anticipate entering the empty spaces - whither beginning a creative project or the empty space in retreat for the spiritual seeker, who perhaps views her/his life as a creative act - we meet that fear of the emptiness and perhaps even outright resistance.
Working with Resistance
I know when I do retreat, almost always the first half-day or day is predictably difficult. Despite my physical and spiritual craving for the silence and stillness that has spurred me to create retreat, another part of me pulls out every trick in the book to convince me of the folly of my venture. I’ve come to understand that there is just an inherent fear of the thing we most need and really want - to be at one with ourselves, to nourish our being, to touch into the well of our creative source, to befriend ourselves in a very deep way - all rewards of a practice of silence and stillness.
Sitting with the Discomfort
It’s useful to think of retreat as just a microcosm of our regular life. We don’t suddenly show up as someone else in retreat, so our level of fear or resistance, or whatever else shows up, is only a mirror of the same forces at play in our day-to-day life. Yet, in the busyness of regular life, it’s often experienced as a subtle but omnipresent anxiety. But it’s no less innocuous for its subtlety!
So, retreat becomes the perfect practice to let the roots of this fear and anxiety come to the fore. We can use the spiritual strength and courage that is generated in retreat to befriend this part of ourselves. The task is to confront the fear, to learn about it, to work with it, and to move through it, to discover its illusionary nature, over and over again. Each time we reduce its power and reclaim the energy it holds for more fruitful living.
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