Where I live in Wisconsin, the winters are long and draining for nearly everyone who endures them. Each year, we experience the feelings of stagnation, fatigue, lack of motivation, and depression as the long dark months seem to drag on, with sometimes little to no signs of spring to spark a bit of hope within. However, even as the snow still falls and the night outweighs the day, there are signs of spring beginning to subtly show.
As I sit and write this now, it is these small signs of spring that give life - not only to the world, but to my soul. Birds singing to each other from treetops; the sound of melting snow, almost like a small waterfall or gentle creek; the warm sun that heats up my home, bringing warmth to the skin and the heart. Even the simple act of opening the windows - as I am prone to do anytime the temperature rises above freezing - opens me up to the freshness of the changing of the seasons.
This time feels sacred - a time in the year when the world begins to reemerge and pour forth the color, fragrance, and beauty of life. It is a time to lay the foundation for the growth that will come - both externally in the world and as we prepare to go within our own souls, as well as back out into the world as the sun returns.
The Balance of Spring
Finding balance between the internal and the external can often be an intricate dance between two seemingly opposites. Just as with light and dark, good and evil, feminine and masculine - we find that we cannot have one without the other. And when that balance is in play - when we learn how to dance allowing both parts to be present and shine, we begin to find harmony in the truest place of our being.
Spring is a time of the year that emphasizes the importance of this balance. Not only do we begin the official spring with the vernal equinox - the perfect balance of light and dark, day and night in our physical world, but we also see the importance of the balance of the internal and external.
Externally, the world begins to come alive again - animals emerge from their hibernation, trees begin to bring forth their leaves, and flowers begin to peek their heads out from the cold and wet soil. For humans, we begin preparations for the coming planting and growing season - carefully choosing the plants that will give us the greatest amount of nourishment, healing, and joy. It is this stage in the cycle of the year - the rebirth - that lays the foundation for the year to come, ultimately leading to the growth, harvest, and eventual death of all have been labored over.
Meanwhile, our internal world reflects the themes of the external. Just as the world around us begins to come alive again - with the sowing of seeds and the bringing forth of new life - so we must prepare ourselves within our souls for rebirth, growth, new life, and connection. We, too, have been through the hibernation of winter - the quieting of our hearts and souls during the long nights; and now as the spring is nearly upon us, we plant the seeds that we would like to see grow in the spring and summer months ahead.
Spiritual Foundations & Growth
Today - March 2nd - not only marks the last new moon of winter - a time to reflect inward, set intentions, and pause to reflect before taking action - but also the beginning of the Christian Lenten season. While I grew up within the Christian faith, celebrating Lent was not part of my family’s tradition. Additionally, my personal spiritual and faith journey in recent years has extended beyond these strictly Christian perspectives. However, there is something about the Lenten season that pulls at me - something that speaks to my soul and my spirit. There is something about this spiritual preparation for the Christian Holy Week that resonates beyond the Christian traditions alone.
No matter what faith or spiritual tradition you may originate from or connect with, there is often a time or a season of preparing the mind, body, and spirit for what is to come. These preparations may look different - many times it includes fasting, contemplation, prayer, or ritual. There may be spiritual requests for protection, cleansing, purifying and sometimes forgiveness. However, no matter the tradition or the specific season, these preparations are always made for the same purpose - connection. We prepare our mind, body, and spirit to connect at the deepest level available to us.
This intention of connection is for many multi-fold - we aim for connection with the Divine, with others, with the natural world and with ourselves. During this springtime season, we have emerged from an external and internal season of darkness, discovery, struggle, and pain, and are preparing for a season of personal rebirth and connection with all that is around us. It is within this preparation that we are able to get our ego out of the way and open ourselves up to the relationships that our soul most desires.
Cleansing of the Mind, Body & Spirit
Perhaps the most common form of preparation of any type, including spiritually, is that of cleansing. When we pursue a season of spiritual preparation, this must always include the spiritual cleansing of the mind, the body, and the spirit.
Many faith tradition’s beliefs are rooted in this spiritual cleansing, and typically include various forms of fasting. The belief remains that self-deprivation through physical and mental fasts rids the self of dependance on anything other than the Divine (God/Allah/YHWH/Brahman/fill in any name here), leads to a place of self-examination and repentance, and ultimately prepares the mind, body, and spirit for a renewal of the soul. In some cases, this is viewed as a requirement for a connection with the Divine. This form of spiritual preparation is intended to help us break away from our human egos that often get in the way of our connection with others and Divine - to break free from our addictions, our wounds, our limiting beliefs, our need for approval and praise. However, this is a difficult task to accomplish, particularly when the focus is simply on going through the motions without the willingness to do the deeper work in healing the deepest pain points within our souls.
When we approach fasting or self deprecation from a place of feeling as if we “should” - as an external motivation rather than one from within - we are inevitably going to face struggle, failure, and shame. However, when we are coming from a place of desire for personal introspection, understanding and development, it is here that we will find that connection with our true selves and the Divine.
Rather than viewing this act of spiritual preparation as a season of self deprecation - as a time in which we need to give something up - perhaps it is truer to view it as a season of including the art of presence into our lives.
The art of being present requires us to focus our attention on what is true within the current moment. Even if it is just for a minute, we no longer regret what has happened in the past, worry about the future, or wonder what others are thinking of us. Being present demands that we show up simply as we currently are for what is a part of our current reality. When we practice presence, we learn to feel our emotions without numbing them, to listen to the messages that are being given to us, and to show up in our lives from a place of alignment with our most authentic selves.
When we are fully present for ourselves - providing space for our wounds, pains, and greatest shames to be without judgment or condemnation - our egos disappear. We are able to finally view ourselves for who we truly are, developing the relationship with the parts of ourselves that often are hidden or overlooked. We are able to approach our relationship with the Divine from a place of openness, truth, and love. In this space of unconditional love, there is no need to attempt to fix or change who we are, but rather the opportunity to simply be - to be our true, imperfect and beautiful selves. Our connections become deeper as we approach our relationships with authenticity - free from fear of rejection. It is here that we are able to find our profound healing. It is this which we are preparing for - the fullness of joy, love and connection.
Practicing the Art of Presence
As is the case with any discipline - spiritual or otherwise - the art of presence is one that requires practice. We live hectic and busy lives within a world that is often chaotic, particularly in recent days and months. This act of living within the present moment may not always come naturally, and it is important to give ourselves grace and loving kindness within this practice.
When we come to a place of full presence - whether that be during meditation, prayer, breathing, or even a quick moment of mindfulness, we take that opportunity to connect. This may be an hour or it may be a few seconds; but no matter the length of time, this connection is what gives us life and joy. As we enter this season of spiritual preparation - whether that be tied to religious traditions or simply as part of the natural rhythm of nature - there are numerous ways that we can begin to practice this art of presence.
Meditation & Prayer - One of the most profound ways that you can become more present is by practicing meditation, including prayer if you are led to it. Also a part of many spiritual paths and religious traditions, meditation is the practice of drawing your awareness away from the environment around you and focusing it on your internal world, where you will inevitably come face to face with your true self.
Breathwork - We are fully dependent on our breath to sustain our life, and it is one of the greatest constants within our life. Yet, it is something that we often take for granted. By drawing our focus and attention to our breath, we will automatically be focusing on the present moment; and when this focus is maintained for a longer period of time, it opens a doorway to deeper understanding of our being.
Journaling - Our thoughts, beliefs, and stories that we tell ourselves have a tendency to occupy our head space, leaving little room for our deeper insights to surface. Journaling provides a way to release those thoughts from the mind, freeing up the space for personal growth and insights to emerge.
Gratitude - When we take the time - whether it be a moment or an hour - to practice gratitude, we are focusing our attention on what is within our current physical, emotional, and mental spaces. Take time each day to acknowledge the things that you are grateful for in that moment - grounding yourself in all that has been provided and given to you today.
Observing - Take time to observe the natural world around you. Nature, plants, and animals do not struggle with staying in the present moment - they do not worry or regret. Notice how the birds, squirrels, deer or other animals live their lives during this spring season, or watch your pets as they move throughout their day, learning lessons of presence from them.
Turn Off The Noise - Often we fill our physical spaces with noise. We turn on our televisions, put on a podcast, listen to music, or feel the need to always be talking to someone in order to fill any opportunity for silence. However, it is in this silence that we open ourselves up to being present in the moment. Silence enables us to feel, to receive messages, and to find that connection to ourselves, others, and the Divine.
Gentle Movement - Engaging in mindful and gentle movement forces us to draw our attention to our body - effectively drawing us into deeper balance of our mind, body, and spirit. Our bodies hold our emotions, beliefs, wounds, and pains; and ultimately they can be the key to unlocking a deeper understanding of our truth.
As part of being human, we are gifted with the deep desire and need for connection. However, our egos often stand in our way - separating us from being able to truly connect at all. We act out of self preservation and fear, hiding away our true selves from others, and even our own conscious minds. However, just as the seasons change and spring brings with it the planting of new seeds, so we can prepare ourselves for deeper forms of connection. By tending to the seeds of presence, meditation, breath, and mindfulness in our lives, the weeds of the ego fall away and we watch as true knowing, love, joy, and authenticity grow. And as they grow, we may even find that our connection has been there all along.