Inside: Mindful living means choosing to live grateful for the gifts in every season. It means consciously and stubbornly mining for these gifts. This is a reflection about what mindful living taught me as I walked with grief through the seasons.
It’s human to experience ebb and flow in life: seasons of transition and even uncertainty; tilting between self-confidence and self-doubt; shifting levels of energy or productivity; changes in what you need or want. Death and new life.
Mindful living means choosing to live grateful for the gifts in every season. It means consciously and stubbornly mining for these gifts.
The Wisdom of Winter
We had gathered once again to lay a small box of my dad’s ashes atop my mom. He wanted to be buried with her, his childhood sweetheart, even though he had found new love. We reopened the same grave into which 11 years earlier we had lowered her. It was a cold day.
The floodgates opened as I climbed into our frozen car, my kids bundled up in the back. I groaned and travailed like I was giving birth – that’s what it felt like. Like giving birth to all the pent-up sorrow and loss and anger and love that I had denied for years.
Even as he was dying vulnerability was painful. I didn’t tell him the truth about how I felt – I didn’t feel I had permission to talk about my grief and how I didn’t want him to leave. Just like I hadn’t had permission with my mom. We were a family who had to have faith, be brave, believe for the best. Until they were gone. Then all gloves came off.
Grief does something to you. It tears down the defences you’ve carefully built up over the years; it violently rips off your mask and your efforts at being stoic and self-composed. It lays you bare. It’s ugly. It makes sense that it makes people uncomfortable and that they want to rush you through it. You’re given three months, if you’re lucky, to be sad but then buck up! Life goes on.
I felt bad for my kids – that must have felt hard for them to hear their mama’s pain. My husband in his wisdom didn’t try to make it OK. As we drove through the town of my childhood, something irrevocably shifted; a season of my life had come to its natural end. There was a breaking and release. A sacred softening and knowing born of pain.
Mindful living tells me that winter needs to do its work in us.
The Wisdom of Spring
Springtime feels magical. Wet earth, an awakening. Blustery Chinook winds make quick work of drying up soccer fields, knee-high in snow. Glorious sunshine filters through rough branches just beginning to bud. An explosion of apple blossoms permeates the town with the fragrance of new love and new life and call us to dry our tears and trust and venture out into the open once more.
It is a season of hope. Neighbours come out of hiding and stop to chat as they shovel the last bits of snow onto the road, willing their yards to green up faster. Impatient for the last vestiges of winter to vanish so that the fun can begin. Rains come heavy and wash away dirt and salt. Kids pull out their bikes hopefully. We open windows, wash our quilts, shake off the heaviness and welcome the new.
After the intense season of grieving had passed, I too began to awaken. I woke up changed and not only in lovely ways. I bore the scars of one who fought for life and wholeness, but I was hardier too. I learned in winter the power of surrender, self-acceptance, and scanning for beauty like my life depended upon it.
But spring is also a season of mud. Plenty of mud. It is a season of exhale. Of getting honest after the dark and reflection of winter about what we need to release and cut so that we can live freer. Lighter. This is an important season of transition and messy work.
It is a season of hard choices and joyful possibility but if we’re not living awake we’ll try to run from the discomfort of it. We must learn to sit in the muck and allow ourselves to feel, tell the truth and just be here in this season. To practice undistracted awareness. To be still instead of running or numbing or rushing ahead to get to the good stuff.
It was here that I asked for help and told the truth about what I wanted and needed and began to formulate a plan of action. I moved carefully, patiently, tentatively and allowed healing and creativity to blossom slowly.
Mindful living tells me that new life unfolds in its own time.
The Wisdom of Summer
When you’ve lost people you love or someone you love is hurting, it doesn’t matter that the sun shines brightly and people are laughing and you’re on holiday. You carry around with you a deep ache or longing wherever you go. But the longer days of summer, the warmth, the vivid color and the fact that I can run out of the house in flip flops, it all makes life feel easier.
I always feel a little unanchored in summer – unmoored from the structure and rhythm which provide me a sense of safety. In summer I practice. I practice happiness and taking responsibility for my thoughts. I practice deepening roots of self-awareness and self-compassion. I practice loving other people well and showing up when I don’t feel like it, taking risks, flexibility, doing hard things, loosening my grip. It’s a season of outward energy that I find challenging.
I am more comfortable hidden, in reflection or contemplation. But I’ve needed to learn to build, use my voice, get my hands dirty. Interestingly, summer also invites me into rest. Into the juxtaposition of activity and rest. Both/and. Into leisurely walks and reading by the lake and taking naps. It reminds me that I’m allowed to rest and play, to be mindful and present. That I can let down my guard and belly laugh and have fun each step of the way.
My favorite part of summer are the birds that visit the apple tree in front of my living room window. They make me laugh and invite me to taste joy. To feel pleasure. To live with intense gratitude – for the easier days of course but also for the hard stuff. For every time I fell and got up again. For the people I’ve had the privilege of loving and burying. The birds beckon me out into the yard, feet bare, to ground myself in the pleasure of what is.
It was in summer years ago as my mom was dying and the Waxwings visited my mountain Ash tree that a tiny seed was planted. The first inkling that joy and pain can coexist. But it was in winter, after I had helped bury my dad and my whole life felt hard, after years of watering, that this seed sprouted and put out tendrils that snaked their way into my aching chest and helped me breathe again.
Mindful living tells me that each simple day is an extraordinary gift.
The Wisdom of Autumn
The changes come, slow and subtle, but my body feels them all the same. A little less light, a daub more grey. My right-hand aches with cold some days though the temperature shift is slight. Since its replacement, my hip no longer plays the barometer as it has since childhood, but my body feels cold to the bone and shivers in anticipation.
Autumn is on its way. I love the flitting beauty of fall: the crunchy leaves and hand-knit scarves; happy gourds and the first frosty glitter. Who can resist the lure of homemade pumpkin-cashew lattes and long-simmered soups?
But there is an inevitable melancholy that revisits each year at this time. A remembering. The Loon’s mournful call foreshadows what is to come. It is a time of preparation and storing up. It requires determination and stubbornness and my serious nature falls easily back in step. Gather, nourish, light the candles, shore up.
It’s interesting that even if I’m unaware of the date of my parent’s deaths, my spirit (or soul) begins to grieve. It remembers. There is an ebb and flow to life and autumn invites me to dance. Grief is part of the cycle of things and I think it is only when we resist it or deem it bad or unhealthy that it causes a real problem. Separation is hard, and it is just as integral a part of life as celebrating joyful anniversaries or new life.
And so, we remember. We shed tears if they come and swap stories with those we love. I write. Part of how I honor those who came before me is to speak about them. As the years pass, the sharpness of pain subsides but the hole remains, and I use this awareness to offer encouragement to others. I offer back that which I have needed.
I glean from the seasons that have gone before and try to make sense of them and spin them with love into a gift that tells a story of light and hope. This is all that I have to give. And as the golden and red leaves fall and night comes quicker with each turn of the moon, I settle in.
Mindful living tells me that to everything there is a season and I will be OK.
I am grateful for the wisdom in every season.
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