“I live my life in growing orbits which move out over this wondrous world, I am circling around God, around ancient towers and I have been circling for a thousand years. And I still don't know if I am an eagle or a storm or a great song.” Rainer Maria Rilke (From Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God)
Every year, when winter arrives, I find myself having the same conversation with people: “Can you believe how DARK it is and so EARLY? I mean…it’s only 4:30pm! Ugh, winter is here!”, we say, in resigned shock. As if, we, North Easterners, had never experienced the season before. As if, this was something new and unnatural and somehow we expected the following year to be different. As if, the Earth didn’t move through her timeless spiral dance with the sun since the beginning of time, way before any of us even dreamed of existing.
The truth is, though, we are always surprised when the seasons change. We feel those energetic shifts as both, familiar, and yet new and different because it IS a new cycle, a new year, a new phase on the journey of our lives however they unfold.
I’ve been on a path of commitment to living from a place of spirit for the past 5 years, ever since I dove into the teachings of yoga to become a teacher myself. It has been the single most beautiful and challenging decision of my life thus far. And so…I find myself having a similar reaction when I feel I fall short from the teachings, or the ideals I’ve set for myself about who I “should” be. Kind. Compassionate. Patient. Loving. Non-judgemental.
When I experience annoyance, anger, impatience, dislike, judgement…and more importantly, when I REACT from those places, I’m always stunned and disappointed in myself. Much like the darkness returning in Winter, the behavior is familiar, but I am different- have more tools, and so it feels surprising when it happens. “Ay, ay, ay! Why did I say that? Why did I DO that? I KNOW better. I’m a yoga teacher for goddess sake! I… MEDITATE! I’ve had transcendental experiences of connection to spirit and I know the answer is LOVE always. So…how can I still be struggling with all this BS!?!?”
The answer is, it’s a circle, not a line.
The circle as a symbol of life and God is found in almost every ancient civilization and teaching and for good reason. Our lives both personally and collectively move not in a neat, linear formation…but honestly often in a chaotic, rounding of the bases returning over and over to home, to the place where we begin and end, to our trauma and our healing, where the truth of who we are in all our messy perfection revisits itself and if we’re doing our work, repeats the lessons of forgiveness, acceptance and love that, day by day, season by season, breath by breath and trip around and around that spiral of energy we call life, have been shifting to evolve and elevate us both personally, and collectively, to our highest and best.
Its round, not flat.
The shape of this great mother, her movements and cycles over and over again reflect our individual process, our collective process. She’s got hills and valleys, still deep waters and rolling oceans, hot dense deserts and unimaginable jungles of wilderness. She create and destroys. And it’s ALL a valid and a necessary part of her wholeness. The seasons revisiting us, familiar and new… every year that flower dies and is reborn. When it returns that bloom has a slight variation in color, size, fragrance…it isn’t the same flower it was the season before even if it grows in the same place.
When I think of our current political and cultural landscape here in the US: Trump, Black Lives Matter, Me Too, Social Media and the Wellness cultures…it is jarring and feels new and revolutionary as indeed it is. But 40 years ago, there was: Nixon, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Right Movement, Television, and “hippies”. So it is that we’re just in the next cycle, evolution, circle…the next phase of growth, revisiting our wounds and our healing to take another leap closer to more light and love…like a checking in… and it feels…familiar, and yet is brand spanking new.
On a personal level, when I snap at someone because I’m tired, drained or n the desert of my emotions and soul, hot, dense and dry…so that I fall off my practices or my hopes for who I want to be in that moment, it does not erase the 10 other times I’ve wanted to snap but instead found my breath, my still water of calm centeredness and responded with patience or compassion. Every time around those emotions, if I’m going consciously, I’m evolving and learning and growing. And also, it’s ok to be the desert AND the river because that is wholeness…and it’s precisely the duality of that essence of who we are which keeps us compassionate and forgiving.
If I never snapped I wouldn't understand when someone snaps at me. But because I do, I can instead remember when I snapped at someone, and see beyond the moment to what might be really going on with them with compassion, forgiveness, and love. So my annoyance and my kindness are both necessary. Because they define each other, they keep me connected.
Yoga, if its working, if you're paying attention, is this way too. Downdog feels different the every time I come to the mat, and yet familiar. Old physical habits can creep up, and the inhale just reminds me to be in the moment, to do the pose from the now. My mind sometimes wants to check out or check ahead...and that exhale empties all the clutter and invites me back to the weight in my hands and the energy in my legs. Each time, familiar, because I've been in this shape before, and yet its the first time that day, in that moment, which is new.
I find, as I continue on this path, that this is why practice is SO important. Whatever yours is. Because we easily forget. We forget how dark it gets in winter. We forget that winter passes, and Spring returns again. That this too shall pass...whatever it may be for you right now- joy or pain...everything shifts, and goes around and through itself. That we are all on the same journey and want the same thing-to be loved, to matter, and be witnessed. Practice, whatever it may be- yoga, writing, painting, singing, praying, knitting, running- is our way to remember as we ride this wheel of life.
It’s a circle, not a line. It’s round, not flat. Its a remembering. A coming home over and over again to ourselves to each other…JUST AS WE ARE.
Keep circling back to yourself with forgiveness, acceptance and love. Offer it to others as they dance with their light and their shadows. That pure unconditional love is what lies at the heart of the spiral, and what, whether we know it or see it or believe it, keeps us here, and saves and will continue to save us, over and over and over again.