The Secret Spring

We are about to enter one of my favorite times of year: the secret spring. You would never think it was spring, looking out the window. It has snowed here several times, and New York has practiced its wretched alchemy, converting the once pristine snowbanks into sullen gray floes that gird the street corners. The sidewalks are all carefully cleared to avoid lawsuits. But the corners are a no-man’s land, disdained by the snowplows, ignored by the building owners; the gray ice has congealed into humped and slick outcroppings, like molten glass that has hardened haphazardly.

Even as the season proclaims itself winter, inwardly I can feel that it has turned toward spring. It’s more a kindling of feeling then the feeling itself ; a sense that we have accomplished the pivot and are moving in a new direction. The days are just perceptibly longer now, and we are turning out of darkness and into light. The winter is a time of contraction, a falling inward. The secret spring brings the first relief from that compression. It is as if the year were a roulette wheel and we that hard steel ball rolling around the track inside. But the roulette wheel is not circular, it’s egg shaped. We’re at that point where the ball has just passed around the little end of the egg, the time of greatest compression. Now we begin to expand.

I lived for a while in California, where I was blessed with many fine spring days right in the middle of winter. I find myself more comfortable wintering in the Northeast. In the Northeast, the waning light corresponds to colder weather and gray days. There is a perverse coziness in feeling depressed on a cold gray soggy day. The weather invites you to fall inward, urges you to sleep. It is sympathetic to your mood, and there is an implication that perhaps your mood will in its turn be sympathetic to the weather, and lighten as the weather does.

In California, these shortest days are accompanied by rains that wake the plants. The hills cover themselves with leprochaun green grass. The moss on the trees softens. Daffodils bloom in January. When I lived in California, my inner world and the outer world felt in discord, and that only intensified winter depression. How much worse it is to be depressed on a lovely day, to find your mood in disharmony with that of the environment, to be the gloomy guest at the wedding. The inability to grasp a proffered pleasure is more painful than the outright denial of it. And therefore, hell might turn out to be a pleasant enough place for all but the damned.

On the other hand, it is a joy to be happy in inclement weather. I have rarely felt as alive as I did one day on the winter marshes of Ipswich. All around me the reeds stretched beige and brittle. The wind prowled over the mudflats and tugged at my jacket. I was intensely aware of the spark of life that I held protected inside my winter clothes.

I can feel the slow awakening of the buds beneath the snow. I know that soon the sun will burn the snow to water and reveal green shoots that look like blades of grass with a stripe of white down the center. I’ll walk over to observe the bulbous head of a crocus, still wrapped in a white layer like paper. The air will be cool, but it will feel moist, too. I’ll stand looking at the crocus, and at the soil that looks like old coffee grounds, sodden and brown, and my shoes will drink the snowmelt, until my wet socks inform me that they’ve had their fill.

The secret spring is a relinquishing of grief and a return to life and appetite. I love it because it is the time of infinite possibility. I love it as I love the moment just before the dance begins when all of the songs are yet to be played, and all of the partners still possibilities. It is a secret and a promise, a first beckoning, not yet a compulsion. It is a low tremolo on the strings prefacing the first full gesture of the symphony.

It is the moment after the first moment, the time after God stretched out his hand and said “let there be light”. The moment when the universe knew that it would be populated, and felt still its cool dark empty spaces and welcomed the stars.

There is a corresponding, complementary time in the Summer. Summer is the time of the promise fulfilled, the time when the sun pushes the plants into greenest unfolding. Summer sunsets can evolve so voluptuously that it seems that time itself must be stretching out. My favorite place to watch those sunsets is the porch of my family’s house overlooking Huntington Bay. The porch faces northeast, so that the sun itself is not visible, blocked by a point of land. Unable to directly view the departing sun (and have my vision obscured by floating green spots), I find my attention directed to the response of the landscape to the changing light. The bay becomes a great bowl filled with liquid colors. The water reflects molten lead and rose. The houses across the way flash orange fire from their windows. A few sailboats lean over, slouching leisurely back to their moorings, the white bellies of their sails touched with gold. If I have any say in the design of Heaven it will include that view, and the smell of sausage grilling, and an abundance of fresh sweet corn.

Yet in that time of greatest expansion and relaxation begins the first movement back toward contraction. There is the smallest tincture of sadness in the languorous yawn and stretch of the Summer evening. And this serves to intensify the flavor of the moment, as a drop or two of vinegar can lend depth to the flavor of a soup.

We stand on the threshold of the secret spring ; the first stirrings of lust, the small sudden spark that passes between two not-yet lovers, a pheromonal message sent and received, slyly, like a note passed in class. It is a tingling in the nose and at the nape of the neck. And there opposite us on the other side of the wheel is the apex of summer; the post-climactic moment, the instant after release. Two lovers lie entwined, one lying on the other’s body as if it were a raft, the two carried now on gentle meandering currents, down and down, inward, back to the center, back to the beginning. Two nestled in each other’s arms, like squirrels in a hollow. Pulses slowing, contracting unhurriedly toward hibernation, until that time when they, like the world, will be born again.

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About Tom Weiser
This blog is devoted to the development of the Bad Lama's Guide to Meditation.

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