The Wisdom of Spring
For folks in most of North America, this is a time of stretching, opening, and awakening. In colder states, it might mean finally putting away those winter coats. In warmer states, it might mean the return of beach weather. Wherever you are, it’s an opportunity to notice how what we think of as “I, me, and mine” is actually… not us at all.
Here’s what I mean.
Speaking for myself, my mood shifts dramatically from season to season – as readers of this publication know. When I was younger, I really suffered when the days got shorter and the nights colder and darker. It seemed like the ‘November depression’ was unavoidable, no matter how hard I tried to avoid it.
As I got a little older, and a little more into meditation, I gradually learned that the trying to avoid the blues was, in fact, the primary cause of the blues. Yes, the change of the season causes physical and physiological changes in the body, and those carry psychological effects. But the worst part by far was desperately fighting the inevitable – literally, in this case, trying to turn back the Earth’s revolution around the sun.
In the springtime, of course, the reverse is true. I feel my mood lighten as soon as we change our clocks to daylight savings time. I get more exercise, do some spring cleaning, and soon the winter blues are forgotten!
These changes are worth a moment or two of reflection, either as part of a regular mindfulness practice or simply as part of waking up to your life.
First, springtime is an opportunity for gratitude. You can amplify your enjoyment of the warmer weather just by being mindful of the changes that are happening, and grateful for the precious opportunity to be alive, to feel the sun on your face.
This kind of gratitude isn’t “oughta” gratitude. As in, “you oughta feel grateful, and if you’re not feeling grateful, you’re a bad person.” It’s what I like to call “awesome” gratitude. As in, “Wow, you know what would make this even more awesome? Gratitude!”
See if the simple joys of springtime give you some occasions to experience gratitude, less “oughta” and more “awesome.”
Second, it can be really interesting (to put it mildly) to notice how much of what we consider to be “our” personality isn’t really ours at all. When the seasons change, I literally become a different person. My body changes, my personality changes; how I talk to people, the kinds of things I enjoy doing, my general mood, what foods and drinks I like.
In one sense, there’s nothing earth-shattering here. Of course, human beings like hot soup in the wintertime and cool lemonade in the summer. (Though speaking for myself, I like ice cream anytime.) Here in New York, where I live, fashionistas change their wardrobes every season. One never wears white after Labor Day, you know.
But there’s also something profoundly liberating in seeing that how I think and feel (including unconsciously) and look and act… all of this is contingent on circumstances. What is it, really, that’s My Property about myself? What is it that isn’t determined by Non-Me factors – if not the weather, then my genetic heritage, my privilege, my education, how I was brought up, and a thousand other factors? Even the words I’m thinking of right now, and how you’re reading them – all that was learned, over time, from toddlerhood to yesterday.
Imagine if we all took an attitude of play – or at least one of lightness – toward these attributes of the self that sometimes get filed under very serious labels like “identity” and “soul.” Imagine if the boundaries that we all draw around those things – I do this, but not that; I’ll try this, but not that – were just a little more fluid.
After all, as RuPaul has said, we’re all born naked – everything else is drag.
And I mean everything, honey. Nothing is more obvious a drag performance than dressing up for work, right? Let alone the drag we wear as parents, children, friends, or colleagues. It’s not that the drag is inauthentic, or that you’re not unique – on the contrary, you’re unique precisely in the way you play these shifting roles and shifting selves. You are your drag -- or at least, the sum total of all the costumes you wear over the course of your one, precious life.
In my life, I’ve been a corporate lawyer, garage rock frontman, rabbi, LGBT activist, massage therapist, journalist, author of ‘spiritual’ books, professor – in fact, I’m still three or four of those right now. So I can speak from some experience that professional personae are personalities, looks, behaviors, and attitudes that we all put on and take off, all the time. We all perform what’s sometimes called “code-switching” – acting prim and proper one moment, fierce and earthy the next.
And while many people find it important to identify some aspect of themselves that transcends all of these performances, I find it more truthful and more liberating to see them all as performances. Brief, flickering roles that we are lucky enough to play for a tiny speck of time here on this planet.
Is that all too much for a springtime walk in the park? Maybe, but the more I deepen into the appreciation of the ever-changing, always-shifting not-me-ness of my life, the more it merges with the kind of “awesome” gratitude I was talking about earlier. What a gift! To be able to be so many selves, changing with the seasons and the fashions. I love springtime, and I love it precisely because it comes and goes in an instant, changing “me” along with it.
Dr. Jay Michaelson has been teaching meditation for fifteen years in secular, Buddhist, and Jewish communities. Jay is a journalist on CNN Tonight and at Rolling Stone, having been a weekly columnist for the Daily Beast for eight years. Jay was also an editor and podcast host for Ten Percent Happier for four years. He's an affiliated professor at Chicago Theological Seminary. Jay’s eight books include "The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path" and the brand new "Enlightenment by Trial and Error".