Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Season for Planting

"A Winter's Day"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

At the same time as we were taking down the Christmas tree I also found myself reading about how to prepare the ground for planting in my new backyard “raised garden bed” (a Christmas gift from my wife). Having grown up in the harsh New York winters, I found it quite incongruous that I should be packing away holiday ornaments and preparing soil to plant seeds both at the same time.

Throughout most of my life, when Christmas ended you knew that the ice and snow had finally taken hold and that the earth had now settled in for a long winter’s nap. The next time we would even “think” about gardens or planting would be late May - if we were lucky. But not so out here in the desert - this is a season for getting ready to plant once again. In fact, out here in the desert we are always either getting the soil ready or planting new seeds, and every season is a “growing season.”

Oddly enough, at first glance the desert looks like a place where nothing could ever grow at any time of year – it seems like it would be too hot out here or too dry or too rocky for anything to grow in the soil of this barren land.  And yet, this is a region where the most beautiful and exotic flowers grow year-round and fruits and vegetables are harvested regularly.

I have said it before and I say it again, the desert has been my best teacher - it is a perfect icon of the spiritual journey. The desert serves as a constant reminder that every season in life is a time to plant and and a time to grow and oftentimes the most beautiful flowers and luscious fruit grow in the most barren and desolate places of our lives.

Each and every one of us knows what it means to experience barren patches and dead-end places in life. Just recently I heard some people talk about how depressed they are now that the holidays are over and visiting family members have returned home. I also know of lots of people who feel stuck in a rut, perhaps bored with their jobs or sick of the same old routine. Still others may have come to the end of their careers and feel as if their hopes and dreams just never panned out or maybe they have suffered loss or been afflicted with sickness.

Very often when people feel as if they have come to a dry and empty place in life they resign themselves to their fate, pulling up the covers and settling in for a long winter’s nap, giving up all hope of gardens and growing.

But today as I look to the desert and the lesson it teaches us all, I realize that every season is a season of hope.

Buddhist teacher and nun, Pema Chodron, wisely observes:

Instead of being bad news,
feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment,
anger, jealousy, fear,
are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we are holding back.
They teach us perk up and lean in
when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away.
They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity,
exactly where we’re stuck, and lucky for us,
they are with us wherever we go.

The Christmas ornaments are all put away in boxes and now it’s time to get the ground ready for planting once again. There’s no time for a long winter’s nap out here, no time to give up hope that nothing will grow again.

It’s winter in the wilderness - time to begin again.

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.


  1. The tough times are the greatest teachers. And when I reviewed my 2015 I was surprised to find that my best times and my hardest times were the same things...when I had faced what was going on with a degree of presence and courage. Thanks Paul for your words, and for the beautiful bright flowers that made me smile xx

    1. Your beautiful bright comments made me smile.