My husband and I did quite a bit of hiking this summer, and as we wound our way through old-growth forests, I was reminded yet again of the resurrection power inherent in death and decay. Old tree stumps and the rotting remnants of downed giants provide the mulch for burgeoning life. Ferns and young saplings feast on the crumbling marrow of trees brought down by wind, lightning, disease and age. This never-ending cycle of birth, death and rebirth is the rhythm of our lives. It is a rhythm that is echoed in the seasons and all other cycles of nature. It is, in fact, a necessary rhythm. Living in Arizona for so long, where the change of seasons is so much more subtle, I had lost the joy of spring, of the earth waking up from a long, cold winter. We have now been back in our native Washington for over a year, and as autumn approaches, I am relishing the chill in the air, the hint of changing leaves, the promise of a time of slowing and turning inward. I know that there will be times over the winter when I will curse the snow and darkness, but within me there will wait the kernel of spring’s hope, of a new thing waiting to burst forth. It is the same with life. Without the carving out of our souls by sorrow’s sharp knife, we remain shallow and without capacity for joy.
Throughout my years as a psychotherapist, I encountered many people who found it difficult to trust. Years of abuse, abandonment, betrayal and pain by family, friends or significant others had caused them to fear that all life held for them was more of the same. Their distrust often caused rifts in their relationships, sometimes to the point of pushing away someone they loved. And by holding on to their fear and distrust, they missed the good that was unfolding right in front of them. By focusing on the painful events of their lives, they failed to realize that it was often the negative events that led directly to new life and new growth. In effect, they chose to stay in an eternal winter, never noticing that spring had arrived.
Pain and suffering are an inevitable part of life. The person who has not experienced this truth doesn’t exist. There is no God or religion that promises a life free of pain, for suffering is a divine mystery that holds within it the seeds of growth. As Julian of Norwich wrote many centuries ago, “All shall be well, and all shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.” This is not a Pollyanna statement, but one of deep trust in the rhythms of life, in the mini-resurrections that occur in our lives on an almost daily basis. She knows that life is hard and that there will be pain, but she also knows the promise of life inherent in a decaying tree stump. In the wise words of the Desiderata, “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” Therefore, surrender to the rhythms of life. Trust in the arrival of spring.