Recently, I crafted the last lesson of my winter web retreat, “Buffalo Dance: Exploring the Wisdom of Winter.” It has been a wonderful, three-month journey, taken by myself and nine fellow “winter travelers.” Our lessons have included chapters from “Buffalo Dance,” additional essays like the one below, and phone circles, all combined with a series of activities that have strengthened our connection (or reconnection) with the natural world both within and without.
As we ten complete our winter journey together on March 19, the last day of winter, I realized I wanted to share this last web lesson reflection with all of you for two reasons: First, to give you a taste of what you missed (shameless advertising…), and, second, to enfold all of you into that winter circle we winter clan members created with such powerful intention. For many of you, spring has come to where you live. For others, the cold and dark hang on a bit longer. In this between time, consider the living spirit of Right Timing…
“Utterly out of our control, right timing must be acknowledged, respected, and accepted. It will not be harnessed, and it is usually recognized and understood only after it as arrived or passed.”—from “Why Buffalo Dance”
As winter opens her cold hands to warm them at the tender fires of spring, right timing reveals itself as the perfect topic for this juncture of our journey. When one season gives way to the next, that transition often feels bumpy. Our sensory world bounces back and forth between ebbing winter energies and the beckoning ones of spring. Clutching cold one day, whispering warmth the next. Soft rains, sleet storms. Buds poking from the ground like inquisitive puppy noses, hard frost encasing them the next. And along with this outer see-saw, our own inner sensory and emotional world shifts, too, from elation to frustration, passion to fatigue, sorrow at winter’s parting to delight in the budding possibilities of a new growing season for both soil and soul.
When I had first read holy man Rolling Thunder’s words about the importance of right timing, I naively thought he was simply talking about the quality of patience, but that is only a small part of right timing. There are things we may long for for an entire lifetime, yet their time never comes. All the patience in the world has no hastening nor catalyzing affect on things that are not to be, or not yet to be. Putting this concept into my own words, I tell myself, “Susan, the universe does not run according to your own personal clock. Get over yourself, girl.”
Spring comes when she comes. Winter leaves when she is good and ready. This is true for the seasons of nature, and for the seasons of our inner nature. A universe unto ourselves, we humans have a unique capacity to live the energies of the four seasons within, often in no particular order, and according to no particular timetable. Outside our skin, nature reveals to us the qualities of each season, so that when we find ourselves in, say, an interior autumn, we know how best to work with that energy. We know the lessons we are to learn in that interior season, so that we can move on when we have completed the tasks of that particular energetic cycle.
These days, we need to make a conscious effort to learn the qualities and tasks of the seasons, because as a culture, we have left the wisdom of the seasons behind. As we have changed night into day with electric light, turned winter into summer with heat and shelter, bypassed the task of harvest, and placed the fruits of summer on our tables in all seasons, we have severely disoriented our natural, human rhythms. I deeply believe that in older times, our inner and outer seasons were much more in alignment. Humans did the work of inner winter during the natural season of winter. Humans grew in body and soul during the warm months. Thus, humans and nature lived each season in a kind of harmonic unison, magnifying the energy of that particular natural cycle. Today, we live in a more fragmented way, fitting nature to us rather than ourselves to her. It is, I believe, our greatest loss as humans.
Consciously living the energetic gifts of each season—whether we experience these seasons in our physical or emotional realms—allows each season to ripen within us so that it can naturally move on and out when it’s time is fulfilled. (What gifts, you say? Well, time to read my book “Why Buffalo Dance” for a closer, more intimate look into the heart and soul of nature’s natural rhythms.) There is an urge I am carrying right now to hurry winter along her way, and show her to the door NOW, and I am trying to remain patient.
However, I believe that right timing trumps all of our patience. Right timing is the mystery and surprise of life that remains utterly beyond us. Right timing is one of the sets of unknowable hands that cup us, taking us where they will. Within the grasp of these larger hands, we do our best and trust that by some process we cannot know, our good work—not our patience—is sensed through the skin of those spirit hands, and somehow perhaps affects where those hands choose to carry us. We cannot know this. This is where we must call on our capacity for hope and faith.
As many if you know, we have a new puppy in the house. Mazel Tov is just about ten weeks old now. When he came home, I read everything I could google about the stages of puppy development, and passed my information on to Carter. We knew that we could expect Mazel to mature into what is called a pup’s first real fear stage. We had learned that between eight and twelve weeks, things that had come easily to Mazel would all undergo a great scrutiny in his budding brain and would make him cautious and fearful of things he had previously accepted as a safe part of his world.
And so Carter got a startlingly clear, first-hand visit from Right Timing just two weeks ago. That particular morning after Mazel had inhaled his breakfast, Carter watched him bounce over toward his puppy bed for a snooze—and freeze. “It was like he had put brakes on. He just stopped dead still and looked at his bed. He leaned back on his heels—really, it was just like that,” Carter told me. “Then he slowly, slowly put is nose out and sniffed the corner of the bed. I shifted in my chair, and he bolted back, like the bed had tried to bite him.” With great animation, Carter described how Mazel had slowly made a new peace with is bed, sniffing it, then touching it with his paw, then finally, cautiously stepping onto it. “It was as though he saw his bed for the first time this morning” Carter said.
We will both remember that morning forever for its clear purity. Something in Mazel’s brain had mysteriously turned overnight. The timing had been exactly right. He had entered a new stage of his brief life, and the change had been so much more visible than we had anticipated. It was as if the very spirit of Right Timing had stepped into the room and touched Mazel on his head and said, “Now.”
Right timing is an important lesson for any season, and certainly for winter. No matter what dark place we may find ourselves in along the path, no matter how frustratingly long it drags us along in its foggy, freezing twilight. No matter how desperately we want to get to some land of brighter light, we may conjure for ourselves a moment of instant peace and stillness if we can invoke this thought and believe the truth of it: “It’s just not the right time yet.”
Now, add to that thought a strong pinch of hope and faith that the hands that carry us are wise beyond our ken—and they are—and we have good medicine to help us through the longest winters we could ever imagine.
How has Right Timing touched your life? Can you recall times when everything just seemed “off” a bit? Do you have memories of moment when the very cosmos seemed to line up just right, and things turned out far more amazing than you could ever have imagined? Tell us about it. We all need to hear these stories so that we can get a better sense of the spirit of Right Timing—when he arrives, when he hesitates, when he decides our location is not on his map…
Aho, Mitaku Oyasin—Susan