Thursday, March 31, 2011



There are four seasons within the clay heart. When it is winter in the world of nature, all the colours have vanished; everything is reduced to grey, black or white. All the visions and beautiful rich colouring of nature thin out completely. Grass disappears from the land and the earth itself is frozen and perished in a bleak self-retraction. In wintertime, nature withdraws. A tree loses all its leaves and retires inwards. When it is wintertime in your life, you are going through pain, difficulty or turbulence. It is now wise to follow the instinct of nature an withdraw into yourself. When it is winter in your soul, it is unwise to pursue any new endeavours. You have to lie low and shelter until this bleak, emptying time passes on. This is nature's remedy. It minds itself in hibernation. When there is great pain in your life, you, too, need sanctuary in the shelter of your own soul.

One of the beautiful transitions in nature is the transition from winter to springtime. An old Zen mystic said, when one flower blooms it is spring everywhere. When the first innocent, infant-like flower appears on the earth, one senses nature stirring beneath the frozen surface. There is a lovely phrase in Gaelic, 'ag borradh', meaning that there is a quivering life about to break forth. The wonderful colours and the new life the earth receives makes spring a time of great exuberance and hope. In a certain sense, spring is the youngest season. Winter is the oldest season. Winter was there form the very beginning. It reigned amidst the silence and bleakness of nature for hundreds of millions of years before vegetation. Spring is a youthful season; it comes forth in a rush of life and promise, hope and possibility. At the heart of the spring there is a great inner longing. It is the time when desire and memory stir towards each other. Consequently, springtime in your soul is a wonderful time to undertake some new adventure, some new project, or to make some important changes in your life. If you undertake this, when it is springtime in your soul, then the rhythm, the energy and the hidden light of your own clay works with you. You are in the flow of your own growth and potential. Springtime in the soul can be beautiful, hopeful and strenghtening. You can make difficult transitions very naturally in an unforced and spontaneous way.

Spring blossoms and grows into summertime. In summertime nature is bedecked with colour. There is great lushness everywhere, a richness and depth of texture. Summertime is a time of light, growth and arrival. You feel that the secret life of the year, hidden in the winter and coming out in the spring, has really blossomed in the summertime. Thus, when it is summertime in your soul, it is time of great balance. You are in the flow of your own nature. You can take as many risks as you like, and you will always land on your feet. There is enough shelter and depth of texture around you to completely ground, balance and mind you.

Summertime grows into autumn. Autumn is one of my favourite times of the year; seeds sown in the spring, nurtured by the summer, now yield their fruit in autumn. It is harvest, the homecoming of the seeds' long and lonely journey through darkness and silence under the earth's surface. Harvest is one of the great feasts of the year. It was a very important time in Celtic culture. The fertility of the earth yielded its fruitfulness. Correspondingly, when it is autumn in your life, the things that happened in the past, or the experiences that were sown in the clay of your heart, almost unknown to you, now yield their fruit. Autumntime in a person's life can be time of great gathering. It is a time for harvesting the fruits of your experiences.


These are the four seasons of the heart. Several seasons can be present simultaneously in the heart, though usually, at any one time, there is one dominant season present in your life. It is customary to understand autumn as synchronous with old age. In the autumn time of your life, your experience is harvested. This is a backdrop against which we can understand ageing. Ageing is not merely about the body losing its poise, strength and self-trust. Ageing also invites you to become aware of the sacred circle that shelters your life. Within the harvest circle, you are able to gather lost moments and experiences, bring them together and hold them as one. In actual fact, if you can come to see ageing not as the demise of your body, but as the harvest of your soul, you will learn that ageing can be a time of great strength, poise and confidence. To understand the harvest of your soul against the background of seasonal rhythm should give you a sense of quiet delight at the arrival of this time in your life. It should give you strength and a sense of how the deeper belonging of your soul world will be revealed to you.

Even though the body ages, diminishes, becomes frail, weak and ill, the shelter of the soul around the body always embraces that fragility tenderly. That the body is in the soul is a great consolation and shelter. As your body ages, you can become aware of how your soul enfolds and minds your body; the panic and fear often associated with ageing falls away. This brings a deeper sense of strength, belonging and poise. Ageing is so frightening because it seems that your autonomy and independence are forsaking you against your will. To the young, old people seem ancient. When you begin to age yourself, you recognize how incredibly quickly time is moving. In actual fact, the only difference between a young person at the height of their exuberance and a very old person at a very frail and empty physical level is time.

One of the greatest mysteries in life is the mystery of time. Everything that happens to us, happens to us in and through time. Time is the force that brings every new experience to the door of your heart. All that happens to you is controlled and determined by time. The poet Paul Murray speaks of the moment as 'the place of pilgrimage to which I am a pilgrim'.

Time opens up and opens out the mystery of the soul. The transience and the mysteries which time unfolds have always filled me with reverence and wonder. This found expression in one of my poems called 'Cottage':

Sit alert

behind the small window

of my mind and watch

the days pass, strangers

who have no reason to look in.

Time in this sense can be very frightening. All around the human body is nothingness; that nothingness is the air element. There is no obvious, physical protection around your body, therefore anything can approach you at any time, from any direction. The clear empty air will not stop the arrows of destiny from lodging in your life. Life is incredibly contingent an unexpected.

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