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Wilderness Dharma: Living in Harmony With the Seasons April 19, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
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Here is another post to follow up my last post on seasonal food that is also on the theme of living in harmony with the seasons. In many ways, I live in direct contact with the living world, and by extension the changing seasons. I have had the opportunity to notice how the seasons influence me. I notice both the teachings of dualism, and—somewhat contradictory, perhaps—of dualism, as well as the teaching of impermanence. I can also recognize the seasons of my life as part of the greater rhythms of the living world of which I am a part.

Because I have such a strong need to be outdoors and spend so much of my time in the living world, my personal circumstances are directly affected by the seasons. The time of year determines how I get around because I lack a vehicle, whether this is walking, biking, or taking the bus. My leisure activities are determined by the seasons when it affects whether I’m able to be biking, canoeing, camping, fishing, and picking berries, or whether I can be skating, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. Finally, how I stay active depends on the type of year, or if I’m able to be running, biking, walking, or practicing yoga. As a result of my personal circumstances affected directly by changes in seasons, I have had opportunity to notice my reactions to changes in these natural rhythms.

When living closely with the seasons, I see the lesson of dualism: this is because that is. There is summer because there is winter. We define something in terms of its opposite. We know what summer is because we contrast it with winter. And I will love summer because I don’t love winter, or rather, the more I love summer, the more I hate winter.

However, I think that getting attached to one or another season can be problematic when we base our happiness on external conditions. In fact, buying a plane ticket to “escape” winter for two weeks in the Caribbean would make me hate winter to a more extreme! I would hate winter before I leave when I daydream and crave the warm tropical weather I expect to go to in the future. While I am there, because I just dropped hundreds of dollars just to be there, I would make darned sure I really enjoy the conditions: the exhausting heat and the hot blistering sun. I would hate winter when I got back when I would contrast my past memories of the paradise I was just at with being at home.

The trick is to love every season, or to at least love something or some aspects of every season. At any time of year, I can enjoy the lush green vitality of summer, the beautiful fall colours, gorgeous winter hoarfrost, or baby calves born in the spring.

Another dharma teaching I’ve noticed clearly in the seasons is nondualism. Nondualism states that we can’t draw a clear line to separate two objects or concepts when in fact they are both one. Both objects we try to label as separate are just two parts of a bigger whole, so “summer” and “winter” are two words used to describe the whole, which is “seasons.”

I notice nondualism in the changing seasons when I see that there isn’t a clear way to draw a line between the two seasons. It\s not the case that one day I wake up and one season is completely over, and the other season is completely here. They blend and blur into each other. Moving to another season isn’t like the way I would pull a new page open on a calendar to move from one month to the next.

Which leads me to my next observation, that living directly with the seasons teaches me the dharma teaching of impermanence. The seasons are always impermanent, changing, shifting, moving from one into the other. Each new day of one season is one step away from the past season, and one step closer to the next. We can never capture one season completely by stopping time, but instead they are always in constant flux. Also, when one season ends when we move into the next season, that past season isn’t permanently over. It will be back next year as the rhythms and cycles of the living world continue.

I also can apply my experience of the seasons to my own personal circumstances when I recognize the “seasons of my life.” I see that my personal circumstances and the situations in which I find myself are constantly and continually shifting, moving, and fluctuating. Over the few decades I’ve been alive, I’ve moved through the stages of “good” and “bad” of happiness and depression, of sickness and health, of success and failure, of doubt and faith, and of light and darkness. What’s more, I know that if I live long enough I will see the movement of this human life through more seasons of birth and death, of youth and old age, and of maturing and decaying.

I am able to see more and more each day Thay’s teaching that my joy and pain are one. I only know one side of these shifting seasons when I have already experienced the other. As just an example, I can only truly appreciate my health when I have directly experienced sickness. This gives me more confidence and encouragement to work with my suffering, to embrace it in order to transform it and be healed.

Living in direct contact with the living world allows me to notice very clearly and vividly both the teachings of dualism and nondualism, as well as the teaching of impermanence. I have also been able to notice the teachings of our Earth in my own personal circumstances of this human life when I reflect on the changing “seasons” I’ve lived. Hopefully by being able to accept the changing seasons of the living world as just the way things are, I can accept the changing seasons of my human life as gracefully and humbly.

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