Mud Season of the Soul

“I will wax romantic about spring and its splendors in a moment, but first there is a hard truth to be told: before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created.” — Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

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Spring, that season of greeting card sweetness and abundance, starts out with some real ick. I wish I were speaking in metaphors here. When the snowbanks melt, there is sand, sticks, dirty old plastic bags. And those are the sightly bits. All of our garbage is suddenly visible.

It is the season we in New England call: Mud.

And so, when the detritus appears, we rake, clear, cut. We regard what’s been underneath the whole time. And because we know that the chaos of growth is coming, this is the season to survey the bones. To look out and ask, What do I have here? What are the shapes of the structures underneath, revealed now in their nakedness?

For me, this is a ripe time for looking at old habits and patterns.

– Where and how do I move through my days?
– What space have I created for being creative?
– What are the dry wells that need to be capped, those toxic thoughts (and connections) that send me spinning?
– How do I serve the people and places I love, up to and including myself?

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Early spring feels like the season for these stark questions. It offers a kind of invitation to burn the bracken in the early bonfire, to set out the seed trays, empty the shelves. The act of tending to what is here – even when it’s muck-covered and colorless – sends out a kind of secret faith that growth is coming. Despite the evidence, despite the pace.

I try (as much as possible, which sometimes is not at all) to honor this dank and ugly place that always precedes the season of becoming.  Because in mud season, everything we see is unformed, embryonic in its potentiality. Just, you know, not much to look at.

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Right-Sized Bites

Down on Broadway – South Portland, not New York – is an electronic sign with a running countdown. “Only 15 Days to Spring!” it says in green digital letters. Technically, we know this is true. But it is 20 degrees and snowing.  An icy crust covers all surfaces.  And we haven’t even gotten to the part where the snow melts, and months of detritus begin to emerge from the banks.IMG_2707

This is a season that can really test our trust.  Also our patience, our senses of humor, and our desire for fresh produce not trucked in from 3,000 miles away.

Last month, my family and I trucked ourselves 3,000 miles away, to Southern Mexico. Cloudless days, hot afternoons – we went outside without coats and ate roasted corn from pushcarts. I love (love!) being in warm places, and I’ve learned not to expect immediate arrival; it takes me at least a few days to stop squinting and start breathing, to actually land.  Coming back, I had a keen sense of how many time zones and latitude degrees we crossed in order to get from there to here. 

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Back in Maine, it is still winter. The season feels like a not-subtle metaphor for body discomfort: Like the pile of snow at the end of the drive, the aches in our bodies don’t go away at the pace we want them to. We want springtime, blossoms, and t-shirt days just as we want easy backs and unhindered shoulders. We are not accustomed to waiting, and it’s hard to trust the pace that gets us from here to there.

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Seeing the coming change at the level of tissue is a little easier. Tissue really does change; muscles unwind and let go, shoulders open.  But for that change to unfold, we have to pace carefully. We want just the right amount of work to invite something new.  Too little, and we feel unmet, too much, and we can react like seedlings in hot sun, over-taxed and overwhelmed.  When I work with clients, I think about what it means to take the right-sized bite; how to exercise patience and long-sightness so that they can  integrate change. 

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So I’m thinking this very long-in-coming spring is its own right-sized bite. Perhaps, with this much time to let winter run its course, we will really occupy spring when it comes. We won’t need automated signs to tell us when the season is here, because we’ll know it from the inside.

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