"A New Season"
-At the Desert Retreat House-
As the season of Autumn is about to dawn in the Northern hemisphere, I am struck by how different my experience of Fall is here in the desert as compared to when I lived on the East coast.
Growing up as a boy, and for most of my adult life, Autumn was a season of "shutting down." It was a season when leaves on the trees turned color, then fell to earth and died. It was a harvest season; the crops were all picked and only pumpkins remained. Backyard vegetable gardens and beds of flowers had all withered away, the earth was "shutting down," preparing for the coming of the winter snows.
I experience the Autumn season here in the desert in a very different way.
This is a season for new life and for planting seeds - our second growing season of the year. It seems so odd to me to walk into a nursery and find they are selling seeds and seedlings for planting in the earth - tomatoes, peppers, berries and herbs. The intense summer heat has given way to more moderate temperatures and so now we can plant flowers once again in our garden pots.
It's cool enough to resume our daily hikes again, even in the afternoon; and as we walk in the neighborhood and along the wilderness trails, I notice that many of the trees, desert bushes and cacti are putting forth brightly colored blossoms and buds - imagine that, the blossoms of Autumn.
Many times I have said that the desert is the best teacher I have ever had, and the lessons that the desert teaches in this new Fall season are powerful and wise. It seems to me that all the earth cries out, "Don't ever shut down, don't give up, every day is a day for planting seeds of new life."
I know plenty of people who feel as if they have come to a "dead end" place in life. Many are bored with their jobs or they feel as if their "same old, same old" routine of life has left them stuck in a rut. Perhaps their hopes and plans never quite "panned out," and so they have become cynical about what life may have to offer.
I know others who have come to the end of their careers and now in their later years have resigned themselves to believe they are no longer useful; and so as they come to the Autumn of their lives, they begin the process of shutting down - the death of winter on its way.
That's why the lesson of the desert in Autumn is so vital and so refreshing. There is no season for "shutting down." Each and every life is filled with blossoms that have not yet bloomed, and every day is an opportunity for planting seeds.
Last evening I had a wonderful occasion to engage in a lively conversation with some friends who had gathered together to plant some seeds as we explored the possibilities of forming a contemplative prayer group here in the desert. Each of us were in our later years, in our "second half of life," (one participant was almost 90); but there wasn't even a hint of "shutting down" among any single one of us.
I remember one comment that particularly struck me, "There is so much life yet to be lived, so many possibilities, so many surprises yet to be experienced." I thought afterwards, what this man said was spoken like a true "desert person" who has learned the lessons Autumn has to teach.
As I sit in my garden on this first day of the week, at the dawn of this new day, I can smell the fresh fragrance of Autumn in the air, and I am reminded of a wisdom saying attributed to the Buddha:
There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth,
one is not going all the way, the other is not starting
Every single day offers a new opportunity to start anew - it's always a season for planting.