I went for a walk the other day. It was one of those days we sometimes get at this time of year that fool us into thinking that we have shaken off the winter and that spring is finally here. The sun was shining with that fresh kind of warmth, the birds were singing joyfully, the squirrels were chasing each other up and down tall conifers, while the deciduous trees were busy adorning their branches in tiny green leaf buds. The whole place had that feeling of life renewing, vitality streaming in as everything rejoiced in the return of the light. I bathed in it for some time before wandering at which point I noticed that despite the appearance of the small leaf buds, there were also small clumps of brown leaves dotted amongst the branches. Leaves from the previous cycle that hadn’t quite managed to fall to earth and join their fellows on the carpet of faded russets and ambers that spread out before me.
This sight started me thinking about the way in which we as human beings tend to like things to be clear cut. In general we like structure, for things to be one thing or another. For those of us who follow an earth spiritual path, we mark out the year with designated points that help us to understand the turning of the seasons, the rise and fall of the earth and sun. All this is a tried and true way for us to form a relationship with this cycle in a meaningful way. However, when we venture out into nature, it is often considerably more messy.
It is not uncommon for us to see two or more points of a cycle in evidence at any one time. Some things are exactly where we expect them to be, but others will be a bit ahead, others lagging behind. This is often a much more accurate representation of what we experience as human beings when we consciously engage in any kind of personal growth, healing or transformation. It’s not clear cut and things can often feel as though they are swaying back and forth between one state and another. Not all of our being moves at the same pace and it can be easy to get demoralised and feel that we are not making progress.
The traditions around New Year gives a good example of how many of us might experience this. Every year, lots of people get fired up about new resolutions, identifying things in their lives that aren’t working for them and making a commitment to change. That might be small shifts in thinking or behavioural habits, or it could be major changes to lifestyle. The psychological marker of the new year is a wonderful way to receive a big blast of momentum to get us going as one cycle ends and we enter a new one with a sense of a clean slate and a chance for a new start. That initial boost to our intentions is a powerful one and can carry us quite some way. However, as we reach the end of February and into the beginning of March we may find ourselves faltering in our resolve.
This is often the time when the first flash of novelty has started to fade. Perhaps we are becoming aware of just how much sustained effort is involved in creating lasting change. Perhaps we are finding that old habits, behaviours and ways of thinking are trying to reassert themselves. Despite the fact that we may be seeing those small buds of change in our life, that growth has not yet had a chance to establish itself. All too often we continue to see the clump of brown leaves on the branch that reminds us of where we have been and the previous choices we have made. Whenever we start our process of change or creation, this is a stage that we must all go through and it’s a time when our dreams become vulnerable.
For me this year, I have experienced this with a resolve to lose weight. I have laid out my plans for change and implemented them with some enthusiasm. I have spent time with the inner work, looking at why I have been making certain choices over the last few years. I am seeing some buds appearing: I’ve lost a few pounds; I have more energy; I am feeling empowered to make choices that serve my new vision rather than those that sabotage it. However, every time I look in the mirror or get on the scales, I am confronted by the clump of brown leaves on the branch, the evidence of all those past choices that have manifested through my physical body and have not quite moved on yet.
I was so grateful to the trees on my woodland walk for reminding me that I am in a process of transition, that this stage is necessary in any kind of growth or transformation…this feeling of being in between two states that is shifting into the new without having quite managed to fully let go of the old. And that that’s okay. Along with that came a reminder about the importance of where we invest our energy.
Looking at those trees that were so graceful in carrying the old and the new alongside each other, I was struck by the awareness that the trees were no longer feeding those old leaves. All their energy, all their life force was directed into the new growth, the new vision. They can allow the old dead leaves to remain as long as they need to, to let them fall when they are ready, because those leaves are not holding them back from new growth. So it is for us humans.
If we truly want change then we need to stop feeding the old habits, behaviours, thinking or choices and trust them to fall away in their own time instead of investing in them or allowing feelings of failure or self-reprimand to creep in. Even if we have to go back into our past to understand and come to terms with our previous choices, this is still moving us forwards, it is new growth.
When we commit our energy and our focus to what we want to create, to change, to grow, to heal or transform – when we act and make choices that are aligned with the new cycle rather than the old – then we have what we need to carry us through to the spring that supports us in establishing the changes we have longed for. The trees have understood something we so often do not…that the choices we make in the present about what we give our energy and attention to, are so often crucial to the future we will create. Do our current choices support us in stepping into that bigger picture and flow of life, encouraging us to unfold and become fuller, brighter versions of ourselves? Or do they keep us stuck in a place that no longer nourishes us or fulfils our needs?
Most of us will stumble many times along the way but each day, each moment, is an opportunity to reassert our direction, to review and change the choices we make in our lives and what they orientate us towards. We are part of nature’s endless cycles and they move through our lives whether we engage with them consciously or not. How much more joyful to be an active participant than to stand on the sidelines as an onlooker!