By Melissa Moore
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In the Northern hemisphere, there is a melancholy to the end of November when the grasses turn brown and the trees are freshly naked. We participate in this annual death of light, the descent into darkness… for a spell, and if we’re not wrapped up in activities, we might glimpse the sacredness of this seasonal transition. And yet, I notice that November tends to be one of the busiest times of the year. Like so many things, we’re propelled by the bottom line—instead of following the natural tendencies of the season. The seasons always display a natural wisdom of what to do at their respective time of year, and it’s so obvious—we miss it!
Following the seasons, no matter the time of year, is attuning to the sacred and exchanging directly with the invisible forces of life.
The Spring season is natural when we hatch anew, enliven, plant, and cooperate with emerging life. The summer is a time to accomplish—because one can move, expand, and grow when there is an ease of activity. The fall celebrates the harvest and gives thanks for the richness. Wintertime’s arrival—often unwelcome, we can taste the invitation to stock up and hibernate. Winter is a beautiful time for a solitary retreat when that opportunity is available. However, most of us fill our calendars with engagements and family reunions. Of course, meeting with our families is important too, and there’s a short season of bringing our children to meet their elders. Still, we need to find a balance with the seasonal flow.
In the late fall, going into the holidays in North America, no matter our spiritual roots, the season of darkness heralds a time to honor the quiet. Everything needs time and space to die and renew. We foster our natural connection to the sacred by allowing ourselves to synchronize with this quiet time of year in some way, whatever our life affords us. That may mean getting up at dawn for sunrise meditation before the kids are up. Or a slow walk with a beloved pet in the chill of the morning.
These glimpses of stillness emerge organically in the flow of our lives. Often it’s a matter of offering ourselves the space to be quiet. We don’t have to call it meditation; silently sitting or walking is enough. The dark time of the year lends us its hush, silence, and luminous stillness.
I recently walked out of a cabin at Drala Mountain Center at 8000 in elevation in the Rocky Mountains at 6:35 AM. I was on a group retreat, and I’d just completed a Maitri practice room. The color I chose to intensify in this retreat was yellow or the Ratna Buddha family, associated with fall, earth, generosity, and bounty, among many other things. Ratna is the color of death and ancestors. During the retreat at the Mountain Center that morning, it had snowed, and snow had collected on the land through the night up to 14 inches. Early in the frisky morning dawn, I noticed winter had arrived through the silence. The snow hushed the forest to a stillness only afforded by fresh snowfall. I opened my ears and stood still to allow the silence to open my heart. It is like I caught up with myself at that moment.
Recalling when nature has awed us into open-hearted silence is an excellent exercise.
I only need to stop typing this article and raze my gaze right out my office window. I’m awed to see the beauty of golden light reflected through the bare elm and plum trees—and experience the kiss of autumn wind rustling the dead leaves. In this instant, my mind is quieted, and I notice the subtleness of the elements opens my heart.
Contemplative practice is learning to attune our hearts to the energies of the present moment, nature, and a cultivated relationship with the elements I find it is the most accessible experience of that which is eternally sacred. One can also tune into the present moment in a crowded airport and experience much the same, but this takes training.
The primary practice is remembering because we have a lot more training in forgetting there is an instant resource in our natural environments. We need to slow down and tune into the present to remember to do. Failing to raise our gaze and feel our experience in the present moment is so simple. Trungpa Rinpoche called this always-available sacred moment Nowness. Nowness is also referred to as the fourth moment in Buddhism. The fourth moment is beyond time and simultaneously incorporates all time, past, present, and future.
I’ve experienced the death of the seasons as an excellent time to reflect on our year. Starting at the end of November and early December—moving forward through the Winter Solstice, and between Years… This is the season when the planet is most distant from the sun. This is the season we are invited to go inward to access and reflect on our year of experience and the transition of what was—to what is—to what will be… all accessible right now.
What happened in 2022?
What did you learn, and how do you want to apply that wisdom? What are we working with as we transition into 2023, what are we completing in life, and what are we willing to carry forward – even though we still may carry a burden? What is unfolding now for you going forward? Staying in the present to answer these questions is a point of access to our innate wisdom. But, it requires we go inside and sit openly, and wait…
When the underground energies settle down, the earth protects our life force while allowing time for rest. We do not need to figure anything out logistically, we can surround ourselves with loving kindness and stay with whatever arises.
We can attune to nature’s stillness—in the Northern hemisphere, at this time of year, the days are short, and the nights are long—can we find respite in the dark season by following nature’s lead?
Attune to the stillness, the silence, and the joy of the sacred this holiday season in a Karuna community. We will walk through a group ritual together, a time of reflection. Please bring a candle, an instrument, or anything that opens your heart and represents the sacred.
On Thursday evening, December 15, at 6 PM Mountain Time, we meet on the rise of the waxing crescent moon and practice a seasonal ritual of contemplating our year. Please join us for Attuning Our Hearts to the Sacred.