Built In Fresh Starts

Every year around this time spring creeps up on me and takes me by surprise: I’m going along, living day-to-day, probably a bit caught up in the grind of work, and have basically accepted the winter chill as an immovable fact of life as I know it…when one day, I wake up and find myself opening windows, digging in my closet for tee-shirts, buying sunglasses to replace the ones I’ve long since lost from last year, and marveling at the inexplicably good mood I’m in for no reason whatsoever.

As children, school vacations mark transitions between seasons and give us built in fresh starts, but for most of us, the adult world does not provide these little reminders, and it’s very possible for the months to simply pass in a blur. So, for me, the little nudge of warmth that enters the air, the first awareness of the lengthening of the days, the freedom from my heavy winter coat have become precious markers. The optimism and excitement that they breed is almost Pavlovian, such that before I can say to myself, “Laura, this happens every year–you always feels this way when spring first arrives,” I’m humming to myself, finding renewed energy, feeling invigorated by fresh hope.

One of the things that first attracted me to the Shambhala Buddhist tradition as opposed to other lineages was the “not too tight, not too loose” approach. I remember one of my first teachers pointing me to Chögyam Trungpa’s discussion of the beauty of “fresh start” as a way to to help me emerge from the exhausting, well-worn cycles of over-thinking to which I am prone. Sometimes, even with one’s meditation practice, you need to shift your awareness from the object of your focus to drink in the sensory world, gain some perspective, and remind yourself of the aliveness of the present moment. It can be transformative…when I remember to do it.

That’s the magic of spring, though: the change that comes over me around this time every year comes whether I remember it’s coming or not. I suddeny feel as though I am airing out the stale patterns of thinking I’ve slipped into without even realizing it, as though I’m rediscovering what it means to be alive. That the same thing can happen and feel very different each time reminds me that this actually true of all things, all days, all moments. Too often I stop myself from delving into the mystery of my existence by picking up on familiar threads of feeling, scanning my memory for when I’ve felt similarly, and then labeling it as an already known quantity–“Oh, this happened last time I did…”

But this has never happened before. I have no idea what the next moment will feel like. And if I can stay with the moment I’m in, investigate it, I’ll get a breath of fresh air, even in the middle of winter.

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