Spring is renewal time. We reconnect with so much that has left us over the winter months: our gardens, the leaves on the trees lining our street, the open waters that we canoe or kayak, warm breezes, robins and cardinals singing in the morning, the first chirps of crickets in the gray dusk.
Reconnection with the natural world around us should be a daily project, not a one-time
inhalation of, finally, 75-degree air, or the fleeting smile when the sentinel daffodils in your neighbor’s yard open their petals. Those are wonderful moments, of course. But our lives today, especially, are so fraught with interior distractions—getting the job done at the office, cleaning the basement, answering email and updating Facebook, deciding on the best health insurance plan during open enrollment—that we become easily disconnected from what’s real in the universe. From the first day that a human being sparked something of an interior life—both psychologically and physically—the primal, and primary, relationship with nature began to fall away.
People have understood the need for reintegration for thousands of years. Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan seeks out a sweat lodge ceremony in her essay “All My Relations” from Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World so she can reconstruct her fragmented connections with the greater universe of which we are all a part. As the steam from the rocks becomes the breath of all life and spirit, she says, “We remember that all things are connected. Remembering this is the purpose of the ceremony … The intention of a ceremony is to put a person back together by restructuring the human mind. This reorganization is accomplished by a kind of inner map, a geography of the human spirit and the rest of the world. We make whole our broken-off pieces of self and world.” As the sweat lodge ceremony comes to a close, “it is as if skin contains land and birds … the animals and ancestors move into the human body, into skin and blood. The land merges with us … We who easily grow apart from the world are returned to the great store of life all around us, and there is the deepest sense of being at home here in this intimate kinship.”
Hogan emphasizes how central story is to this reintegration process: “Story is at the very crux of healing, at the heart of every ceremony and ritual in the older America.” In his essay “Landscape and Narrative” from Crossing Open Ground, Barry Lopez elaborates on this convergence of inner and outer landscapes, story and reintegration. In addition to the natural world that is the external landscape, Lopez says there is a “second landscape,” an interior one, a kind of projection within a person of a part of the exterior landscape … The speculations, intuitions and formal ideas we refer to as ‘mind’ … are deeply influenced by where on this earth one goes, what one touches, the patterns one observes in nature … A story draws on relationships in the exterior landscape and projects them onto the interior landscape. The purpose of storytelling is to achieve harmony between the two landscapes, in a harmonious way to reproduce the harmony of the land in the individual’s interior. Inherent in story is the power to reorder a state of psychological confusion through contact with the pervasive truth of those relationships we call ‘the land.’”
So here it is, May in Iowa City, and we’re ready to rebuild our connections to the living, burgeoning earth that has lain dormant for so long. I don’t know if everyone needs a sweat lodge, but we all could add a little ceremony and story into our days to heal the breach between the interior and exterior landscapes that winter may have wrought.
As you dig in the moist soil of your garden, feel and smell the dark humus and the worms that squiggle back below to safety. Tell your son or daughter or life partner or friend the story of the time you brought a pocketful of earthworms to grade school.
As you walk to work, ponder the last cream and maroon petals falling from that magnolia you pass every day, or stop and move in closer to gently touch that last redbud flower stubbornly clinging to the tree as the heart-shaped leaves burst forth. Remember the story of the day you and your life’s love planted the flowering dogwood in the front yard of your first house.
As you let the dog out to the backyard in the morning, step out with him with your cup of coffee and your little daughter at your side. Sing “Here Comes the Sun” together, which you were so delighted to discover she had learned in preschool.
Ceremony and story can be small as well as grand. Any conscious carving out of a mindful moment can serve as brief ceremonial time, as a new story itself. Such offices should be part of our lives every day, not just occasions full of pomp and circumstance. May is one of those months, with its cascading beauty of renewal, when we realize how distant we have made ourselves from all that is important in the world. We realize we need to make our inner selves whole again with the external landscape, to redraw the map between spirit and nature, to make land and birds and flowers part of our blood and skin once more. Renewal, reorder, reorganization, reintegration—of mind and nature, of internal and external landscapes, of story and season. This is our task in May.