"Flowers in the Wilderness"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
Yesterday as we were taking down our Christmas tree I also found myself reading about how to prepare the ground for the upcoming “planting” in my backyard garden. 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 I more or less reigned myself to the reality that the ice and snow had finally taken hold. It was now time to hibernate, to “settle in” for a long winter’s nap. The next time I would even “think” about gardens or planting would be late May. 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 new life to flourish in the dry 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.
Just yesterday I noticed that many of the desert cacti, trees and bushes around our home and on the nearby trails had begun to sprout little buds, soon to blossom into exotically beautiful flowers even in the “dead of winter.” It’s no wonder that the desert is such a perfect icon for the spiritual life. The desert in wintertime serves as a constant reminder to me 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 our most barren and desolate places.
The winter season is often a time a time when people may feel stuck in a rut, perhaps depressed or bored with their jobs, maybe sick of the same old routine, bogged down by persistent addictions or anxieties. Still others may 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, empty or icy-cold 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 lesson I learn from wintertime in the wilderness I realize that every season of life 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.
Psychiatrist and author, M. Scott Peck once said something very similar:
The truth us that our finest moments are likely to occur
when our life seems dry,
when we are feeling unhappy or unfulfilled.
For it is only in such moments, prompted by our discontent,
that we are able to step out of our ruts and look for truer answers.
The Christmas ornaments are all put away in boxes and now it’s time to get the ground ready for planting once again, time for the winter blossoms to bloom. There’s no time for a long winter’s nap, it’s time to begin again.