All winter I wanted to write an ecosexual response to the season of cold and dark. But a long winter’s hardly the kind of event that gets our juices flowing, we stay indoors on long nights and do all we can with human lovers. I trek in the woods a great deal in winter, living at the edge of public land that is full of people in warmer months. I like my alone time with death. The trees are spectral and move not, except when they break under their burdens of ice or heartless winds. The only standers that seem cheerful are the evergreens, hence we haul one into our house and decorate it at year’s end, a weird way to say thanks, but still. Be merry!
I never picked days with single-digit-temps to trudge in my boots to where the wild things are. I struggle in this fragile flesh to appreciate how shapes freeze simply from the touch of the air that handles them. Yet I knew the deer were perambulating and saw bald eagles glide against the gray dome. Mindful there is the local mountain lion some have seen, but never photographed, who may or may not have forsaken us. In the lake giant catfish still fed but sought deep holes for their ruminations. I didn’t walk far nor stay long. Because the silence is laden, and it only takes a few breaths to satisfy.
But then. Come late February and into March when the need for long underwear hangs on and on . . . I get soul sick. It’s just too much. And this year, it was one of the worst, for two people with two disparate sets of unfortunate situations were almost too much to bear entanglement with. You may call it codependency or you may call it compassion. I tried all winter to understand the difference. When others hurt—or hurt us from their hurt—how to practice the principle of non-attachment? Which is not detachment, not apathy, isn’t non-caring nor emotional distancing. Jeff Valdivia defines it on Medium:
Buddhism suggests that although we should act to bring about our goals and to avoid sickness and injury, we shouldn’t hold on too tightly to actually succeeding. In other words, it’s the actions that matter, not the outcomes…
We cannot control outcomes. We cannot make people happy, safe, or successful, no matter how hard we try. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try — we should try! We have a duty to try. The point is, our efforts might not be enough and this is something we need to come to terms with.
So far so good . . . now give me some clue how to do this.
Notice that these cravings and aversions you have are all about you and how you would feel if something good or bad happened. We often confuse attachment with love, but they’re different things. Attachments come with strings attached; love does not. Being attached to someone means you need something from them. Loving someone means you’re willing to give everything to them…Attachment, therefore, is selfish— it’s valuing your fears and insecurities above the person.Love, on the other hand, is unselfish. It’s about valuing the person for their own sake.
I have a problem with this last part. It lands on me as judgmental and polarized—”you selfish twit” versus “you highly evolved bliss-bunny.” Certainly, we could all do better at loving. Yet this analysis leaves out one crucial intersection that for many people is connected to how they love, and makes attachment as selfishness moot—I refer to the feeling known as empathy.
Empaths are not specially endowed people; we all have the capacity. And because empathy means feeling with, it means we suffer when others suffer. Rarely do those suffering set out to inconvenience us, to damage our cool, bum our trip. It’s not always about us needing something from them. When is major stress in a relationship the snare of codependency (we can’t function when the other isn’t happy, we are addicted to the other person), and when is it a compassionate suffering with?
This winter I suffered with; but I also felt sorry for myself because things for others went awry. I couldn’t fix anything, and this made me selfishly call myself a failure. I couldn’t ease the other’s pain and had to watch helplessly in one case; in the other, a withdrawal from me gave me pain . . . though consciously I could see the situation at root was not about me. I kept asking myself: how to keep be-bopping along over the suffering of others because that’s the enlightened way, “not attached to outcome?”
Winter was no bleak backdrop for bleak events (until the tail end when cabin-fever is surely a biologically induced malaise that has nowhere to go but stir fruitlessly in the soul). Winter was the palette on which the daily efforts to take care of self amid helplessness on the one hand, and loneliness on the other, took shape. The cold and the dark were a vessel in which to try to turn the heavy lead of hopelessness into the gold of renewal. I read a lot, meditated, fell asleep to online hypnotherapy scripts, and wrote down my dreams. Pathos replaced eros, and I wondered if I was losing my frisky-elder lust for life.
And then. You sense it before you begin to believe it—that you’ll get to turn off the furnace and open the windows again. As if you could actually see the air, it has a different hue. Your savior, Spring, with shameless color and push-ups of life force, is about to make good on its promise to return.
Living with four seasons isn’t everyone’s reality—some folks have eight (Swedish Lapland) or twelve (Iceland), some a staggering number of micro seasons (Japan). I resided in California for a time and experienced only two: wet and dry. I loved it; fuck the dreary cold and fat parkas! I was sixteen to twenty-five years old, with a lot to explore in the outer world, and though I loved music and literature these were felt passions borrowed from the creativity of the published or those recorded on vinyl. Seasons were bother or backdrop to the pressing business of young adulthood.
But everyone on Earth experiences the solstices and equinoxes, with or without noticeable celestial change: I’m thinking of the woman I recently met who lives at the equator. The imaginal impact of issues like light and dark in balance, or the sun’s fierce presence then retreat to a distance speaks to the ancient regions of our brains about things larger than the human preoccupation with gimme this, gimme that. I recommend immersing in the seasons as cocoons, vehicles, instruction guides, and living friendships—and I’m glad to be dragged through their changing, even when it’s as hard as this past winter. But always: a new season, a different kind of tryst with Lover Earth than our frigid sleep together, hearts waiting for a sign that it’s time to dance again.
Spring is more than dancing in the living room, Spring is an erotic ballroom! An ecosexual’s most blatant moment. Flowers as the sex organs of plants! Penile buds that will burst into giddy flags of green! Wind that wants to knock you down but charms away the sullen clouds. For empaths, the woods are singing, the baby squirrels are one’s children, the first sight of daffodils incites stealing a few from vacant lots. Yellow flowers on the altar in my writing room pervade the space with ruffled glee.
My suffering is mitigated. I wish I could report that the trials of the two beloved others reached happy resolution. There is discernible progress. Or is it just my different lens now, thanks to the seasons’ teachings: I worked all winter not on non-attachment, but on not turning to stone. How to stay compassionate but not paralyzed. How to elevate past the worn scripts and heal some old wounds because I am no spring-chicken, and it’s time. Spring had to be sprung before I had a model of release, and its name is Beauty. May we climb out of our goal-seeking, future-chasing, soul-compressed brooding long enough to notice.
Beauty matters. Not the artificial, market-driven, brainwashed-in attractions that lead us by the nose to buy. But take Spring, for instance. Money can’t buy it, though profit-addicts have twisted its coming with an addled climate, rifer than ever with tornadoes, floods, disaster. It is hard to preach Beauty to those hit with such Fear. But believe it or not, through video for people like me who’ve been spared, we are suffering with you. It could have been me, and it still might be.
I wonder how the Buddhist monk Thich Nat Hanh, who worked tirelessly in his native Vietnam to end the War and for all his efforts had to take exile in France, or for that matter the Dalai Lama driven from his sacred Tibet—how did/do they manage to talk about joy, joy, joy? How could they embody it after the horror they knew? Who in the Western world can feel Joy these days who is not of their spiritual acumen?
Beauty is a way in, and maybe Beauty is the sister of Joy. And Beauty is here. Her name is Spring. Let your eyes nibble and drink. Smell her pretty crotches, taste the new green things. Get wind on your skin, watch daily for changes in the natural world that surpass Winter’s subtle solemnity with wild braggadocio.
It’s inspiration, all for free. Spring, I attach to thee, my freedom, my Beauty.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash Daffodils in glass
Photo by Yoksel 🌿 Zok on Unsplash Daffodils & grape hyacinths
Photo by Nicolas Häns on Unsplash Monk at water’s edge
Photo by SAJAD FI on Unsplash Face with scarf
Photo by 辰曦 on Unsplash Sun and clouds
Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash Burning sage
Bruce Blank · April 24, 2023 at 7:48 am
The aftermath of Winter and all the preparation that goes into Spring – the compost! The sorting of flowers! The worry about when to plant! – It’s about getting the hands and hearts dirty. Turning the Earth to try, probably unsuccessfully, to taste fresh greens crunch or direct the delicate peas trending upwards. Then, there is what to do with breathing fresh life into our relationships, or involvement with others as the larger issues of Nation/World move onwards regardless of if we are ready or not. So that issue of controlling outcomes and our attachment to those outcomes is kind of like guessing when the last freeze will spoil the fun in the garden. I can’t fix it, control it…plan ahead? Sure. But not to rely on a guaranteed result. So here it is: Spring demands actions, not outcomes.
Great article – I still struggle with Zen…but it justs sits there watching.
Susan G Elkins · April 24, 2023 at 8:02 am
Beautifully said, gardener and host of greenhouse goodies! Great analogy about trying to control other people’s outcomes and waiting to see when Spring will warm. At last the final freeze in my neck o’ these woods is over…time for action!