Spring has, for many years been my favourite season. As the ground, barren for so long begins to warm up and yield the first harbingers of change; the snowdrops, the crocuses and then the daffodils. We have just passed the vernal equinox and now can revel in the fact that there will be more light than darkness until the autumn. Hope arises spontaneously and, I want to say naturally, somewhere down below my diaphragm. It is my body that feels it rather than my head, I cannot think my way into this kind of experience, I have to wait for it to arise.
We are here in Cornwall, for Easter, and being further south the vernal rising is further on, though the breeze off the sea has a slight chill to it, especially in the evening. There is a peace to found here, especially as Easter is early this year and we are in a rather deserted holiday town; just unwrapping itself from the winter quilt and stretching itself to welcome the springtime visitors. Earth and people mirroring each other. Walking the coastal path yesterday with Cornish friends we had the misty views pretty much to ourselves and the beaches were wonderfully deserted.
Again I am aware of my body, nursing a cold, those odd sleeps where you are not sure whether you are in slumber or some slight delirium, where dreams are vivid and unsettling. Having practiced Yoga and Tai Chi weekly since Christmas, with both teachers synchronistic mantras ringing in my ears – ‘let go of all unnecessary tension’, and injunctions to feel were the body is holding stress and making a firm intention to allow it to dissipate, I am learning about my physicality.
In terms of the Enneagram, a system of understanding human personality that I have found very helpful in the past, we have three centres; the head or thinking faculty, the heart or feeling faculty and the body or sensing faculty. For years I have blithely trusted my heart (in the enneagram system my home centre). Only in the last couple of years has this become problematic, when my anxiety arose it was in the form of feelings; dread, fear, despair and incessant worry. I retreated into my head as at first the body seemed to be joining in with all kinds of sensations to confirm my feelings. The head, however, is no defence, it does not help to tell yourself that this is irrational or to snap out of it.
Anyone who has suffered from anxiety knows that thinking can become, very quickly, negative, repetitive and incessant. So I returned to my body, with guidance from the east. The ancient wisdom from China and India contained in the repetitive exercises and practices of Yoga and Tai Chi allow the body to come into the foreground like the sea as you approach the coast. The tidal flows and movements of the sea have far more effect on the land than does the land on such a vast mass of water. As the body relaxes, as we do laying on the floor of Crookes Ebenezer Methodist Church Hall wrapped in a blanket practicing what our teacher calls Yoga Nidra; a deep form of relaxation that allows each part of the body to settle into stillness. So the deep currents of the body begin to work on the mind and heart like the sea rippling the sand on the shore. Here in Cornwall the vernal tide of spring begins to work its magic on me and I trust that, if I can allow my body to attune to the season, I will find a deeper peace.
I recently heard a lecture on Seamus Heaney’s poem the Skylight. On the surface it describes the fitting of a skylight into his study, but as the sonnet turns at line nine (known as the volta) from the nest he found in the attic room to the opening out occasioned by the installation of the skylight; the close rhyme of the first part opens out into the freedom of the second. The feeling described is physical and resonant. The sky holds surprise wide open! This for me is the movement of Spring and almost worth suffering the long dark of winter to feel again the tidal pull of spring.
You were the one for skylights. I opposed
Cutting into the seasoned tongue-and-groove
Of pitch pine. I liked it low and closed,
Its claustrophobic, nest-up-in-the-roof
Effect. I liked the snuff-dry feeling,
The perfect, trunk-lid fit of the old ceiling.
Under there, it was all hutch and hatch.
The blue slates kept the heat like midnight thatch.
But when the slates came off, extravagant
Sky entered and held surprise wide open.
For days I felt like an inhabitant
Of that house where the man sick of the palsy
Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven,
Was healed, took up his bed and walked away.
Seamus Heaney *
* His collection ‘Open Ground’, contains this wonderful sonnet.