New Year, New Hope
It’s that time of year again when many people like to make New Year resolutions. I prefer to sit and reflect on all that has happened in the last year and think about where I wish to journey to over the next one and beyond.
So, my reflections. This time last year I had a job, was physically healthy and I was regularly going for long and often mountainous walks just for fun. Now, I have no paid work, have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (aka M.E.) and find it a struggle to walk one mile on the flat some days. Marvellous! However, I actually feel more fulfilled, joyful and purposeful than ever before. In this and my next blog post I shall endeavour to explain, and I hope you will be encouraged by my musings.
The last six months have been hard, there is no doubt about it. My life now is quite different compared with how it was in June when I arrived home having walked the Pennine Way. I felt fit, healthy, bursting with energy and was filled with optimism for the future.
How quickly things can change. Firstly, depression hit at full throttle for a couple of months. Then, just as I was beginning to move forwards, and I was feeling ready to hunt down that fulfilling job, just as I was going to increase the amount of mountain walking I would do in order to get my Mountain Leader (ML) qualification, I then go and get flipping chronic fatigue syndrome! Why? What did all this happen for?
Although I only have mild symptoms (for which I am truly grateful) there has still been a significant change in the way I now have to live my life, and this has been enormously challenging to accept. The main thing has been learning to slow down and let go of certain aspects of life. I now need lots of rest (aka doing nothing) so have less time in which to achieve the normal things of life, I can do much less ‘real’ exercise and often have to accept feeling exhausted and achy after doing it, and it's now essential to plan, plan, plan in order to manage without collapsing. This has been quite tough for an active, bouncy and sometimes spontaneous Susan to come to terms with especially as I don’t know when or even if I’ll get better.
However, that’s life, and deal with it I must. But how? By tuning into the natural world and creation of course! There is a general understanding today that being outside surrounded by nature is good for your wellbeing (see all the research, news and articles on the subject) and as it has always been a big part of my life I see no reason for that to change. I am simply altering the way in which I enjoy it.
Recently I read the following:
“We do not always recognise the hold that people and things have upon us until they are taken from us. This stripping away of non-essentials in our lives can be compared to a tree in winter being denuded of its leaves. Only then is the beauty of its form really seen – the structure of the branches, the shape of its trunk. With the sun behind it and a blue sky overhead, a tree in winter is a glorious sight, but it can only be seen like this because it has lost its leaves. In its nakedness it possesses a glory otherwise unnoticed. Likewise, the soul’s beauty may not always be glimpsed in days of prosperity and ease; it takes adversity to reveal its true worth.”
(From ‘Deep Calls to Deep. Spiritual Formation in the Hard Places of Life’, by Tony Horsfall)
The words leaped off the page as I read and I just knew I was meant to see it? Don't you love it when that happens? As I read, it echoed some of my own thoughts from the past few months. It has encouraged me to accept how my life is by indicating the beauty that can be found within struggles, even more beauty than can be imagined until it happens. I now have much hope for the future especially through finding the depth of my soul’s beauty.
A hugely important way I’ve found to enjoy creation is through meditation. As some of my non-essentials were stripped away and I’ve been forced to slow down in terms of exercise/activity, I became increasingly desperate for a new way of relaxing my mind. No longer could I enjoy exercise induced endorphin rushes. This led to me embarking on the journey of meditation. In September I went on a retreat at Launde Abbey, a beautiful place set in a hollow in the rural Leicestershire landscape. Sheep graze peacefully (think psalm 23), swans glide across tranquil pools, big skies allow the mind to drift to thoughts of heaven and the surrounding hills provide a vista of magnificent proportions.
What a setting to discover stillness and peace. And as we are all part of creation doesn’t it make sense that meditating in nature unifies us with the Creator? I have experienced a definite deepening of my relationship with God that has helped me enormously in dealing with the past few months of life, and indeed, continues to do so. I’m increasingly able to hear His divine guidance and live in the knowledge that I am actually on the path to my true purpose and finding fulfilment. Meditation is teaching me to be still and empty the mind, to just be rather than do - being in creation rather than always doing something in it. I am beginning to find my soul’s beauty.
As a result of slowing down I have had much more time to reflect, wander in and wonder about creation. This autumn the beauty of the glorious golden crowns on the trees astounded me and I even had time to notice the details of the leaves...
...how they changed colour from day to day and then how they fell to the ground leaving behind the naked framework of branches standing stark against the sky, a mushy, decaying mulch below.
What a dreary, dead scene you might think, but all this actually speaks to me of hope and life, for in nature death and decay are necessary in order to bring about new a new awakening. As summer warmth and rain produce a bounteous crop ripe for harvesting, the days gradually shorten and welcome the vibrant hues of autumn. With this come damper, cooler days where death begins to make her presence known - leaves fall, fungi thrive feeding off the rotting remains...
...and ultimately the trees stand bald and rigid in a barren landscape. But, slowly, gradually, it’s coming… an explosion of life! Lambs are born, flowers appear, birdsong crescendos and our tree starts to bud, fresh green leaves bursting forth . It really is lush!
But how is this able to happen? How can life come from death? Well, as our tree enters autumn it is actually preparing itself for survival of the harsh, dark, cold winter by entering a period of dormancy. This is a time when everything within the tree slows down – metabolism, energy consumption, growth. Leaves are shed as part of this process as they are no longer required to make food and would need energy to maintain. In effect the tree is resting and recuperating, preparing itself for new growth in spring. Meanwhile, the unwanted leaves left rotting below decay and enrich the soil in which our tree stands. When spring arrives these dead parts of the organism play their part in its ‘rebirth’ as the roots draw up nutrients to feed the tree. Death truly gives birth to new life.
I can really relate to the tree. Over the last few months it has felt like I’ve been letting go of my glorious leaves and have now entered a period of barrenness. I wonder if you ever feel like you’re in the midst of a desolate winter with seemingly no end to it. Well, don’t despair. As I hope you can see from my experiences there is always something to look forward to. As the seasons change spring will always come, the rhythm of life promises it. I'm excited to see what this means for me and am most definitely looking forward to what the next season of life will bring forth. I hope you are too. Happy New Year!