The sun is out today in my quiet little mountain town. Snow covers every sign of life and the trees have tucked in for their winter sleep. I haven’t seen grass in the backyard for months now and the river behind our house fluctuates between a slow trickle and solid ice, depending on the amount of consecutive days of sunshine that makes its way into our little valley here. A pot of water sits on top of the cast iron stove, heating and humidifying our little mining house that I’m fairly certain hasn’t seen any new insulation since it was built in 1904. We’re piling up snow faster than it can melt, making the view out the back door something reminiscent of living in a snow cave. It’s cold here. And it’s winter. It’s winter in all the ways that winter is beautiful and also hard. It’s quiet here tucked away in the mountains, with little to distract me from the darkness and even less to remind me of the life that lingers beneath all that white. The fall here was epically beautiful, the Aspens showing off around every corner, inspiring my own contemplation on the celebration of death and what it looks like to leave this world with grace and beauty. But, in the midst of winter, I now understand now the importance of that final burst. And something tells me that when the Aspens wake up from their slumber, I will be just as surprised and awed by their vibrant life as I was by their death. They will return to quaking and shimmering with the backdrop of the infinitely blue sky that Colorado is so good at.
And so in this quiet, I find myself contemplating what I have long believed about what it means to grow and evolve. I have this tendency to believe that the signifier of evolution is to get over something, to move past it, to be done with it, and to let it go. But this quiet winter is inviting me to entertain the possibility that perhaps the measure of living and growing is not in fact out-growing. Maybe the end goal is not to try to get to a point where we don’t need our resources, but rather to be present to the way in which those things do in fact feed us and nurture us and fuel us, and to be grateful for their existence. And maybe what feels cold and empty is, in its own way, a resource. We weren’t made to go this alone, so perhaps there is company even in the quiet of winter. What if progress is simply allowing what those resources look like to be current? I may out-grow a particular jacket, but as long as winter keeps coming around, I will never out-grow the need for a jacket. I will always need something to keep me warm, even if that something keeps changing to be more aligned with where I currently am in my life. The fundamental need for warmth is always there.
I believe it’s not a step backward to return to those places again and again, those places you thought you’d out-grown, you thought you’d moved past, you thought you were done with. I think it is the endlessly cyclical nature of our existence to return, to re-engage.
Those security blankets that we so desperately want to believe we’ve out-grown, that we aspire to out-grow because that signifies “progress,” what if those security blankets are actually our way of navigating this world? What if instead of being a crutch to be out-grown, they are instead a place that we can come to rest, to take care, to refill?
I posted just 2 or 3 blog entries in 2013, finding myself more deeply entrenched in this next phase of my life that involves more doing and less reflecting. And yet, as the depth of winter calls at my heart and I find myself spending more hours in darkness, I also feel myself turning back to the space of reflecting, cycling back towards this place of contemplation and connecting to a more core part of my being. It’s never truly linear, this existence, and I find that every time I convince myself it is, I just wind up back somewhere I thought I’d left behind.
This time last year was full of endings and new beginnings. I was leaving behind so much, named and unnameable, and I had myself convinced that to leave meant to never really return. But that’s not true, not really.
Maybe every time we return, we step in to that space a little deeper, a little closer to core, a little bit more sure of all that we don’t know and yet all that we know we need. Because sometimes we need to walk away. Sometimes we need to try it all on, see what works, see what still needs work, see where we can rest, and see what drives us forward. And then we come back to the drawing board, pick up that familiar pencil, consult an old friend, sit on that worn down rock and watch the ocean dance at our feet, and remember those things that feed our soul. And rest there for a while, letting ourselves be nourished and nurtured and refueled before we begin our cycle again.
We are not weak to need our security blankets. Perhaps, in truth, we are stronger for it, because we recognize that which fuels us and keeps us going. And perhaps, learning to allow for support is the greatest signifier of growth. Letting those friend’s couches hold us, and those hours long phone calls recharge us, and those old familiar faces seeing us in ways we need to be seen. We may walk away from those, but the truth of it is, it is only because of the strength in that support that we are able to take the steps away from it. And so, in returning perhaps we are more able to recognize that strength and find more solace in those places that hold us – not down, but up.
I planted bulbs in late September before our first big snow fall. I know they are there under the ground, insulated by the feet of snow over their heads. They’re just waiting for their time to return. Because everything does, always, in some way or another. The earth revolves around the sun, offering up both the quiet of winter and the vibrance of summer. And through it all we evolve in our own revolutions around the axis of our core, returning and moving away and returning again.