An ancient adage says that “winter is the time for dreaming” and every year I rediscover this truth with surprise. I think the dreams come in winter because the isolation, slowness and austerity of winter, relative to the crowded, busy fecundity of other seasons, creates the time and space for them to bloom like crystals. I had what I’d call a scrooge type dream this holiday season, where I awoke with joy and deep gratitude for my tough life on the edge of the wilderness. No, the dream wasn’t about giving but was about appreciating what we have.
I have intentionally spent my adult life in or surrounded by “undeveloped” wilderness. She is always there for me and without her I would be lost. I know in my heart I owe Her my life many times over and She is who I live for. In the dream this wilderness that surrounds our hundred and forty four year old log cabin here in Golden Lake, of which I am the guardian though legal ownership, slowly disappeared in much the same way as land has everywhere; first though selective logging, then a house or two and then suddenly a clear cut and condominiums at which point I was in a nightmare. I was inside the condo and I ran to the back window to see if She (the wilderness) was still there behind this abomination and when I looked out there was only a dirty alleyway and then another line of condos. I woke the way one always does from a deep dream, still partiality caught in the dream and frantically putting back our waking reality together piece by piece. With great relief I realized nothing had happened, everything was still there and alive, the swamp the woods the slugs, birds and bugs, She was still there. I prayed for an hour or so, crying and laughing in thankfulness for every single wild thing I could conjure.
Then, as I lay there in the predawn darkness, my mind opened to something I feel we all need to think about; We avoid the stain and work involved in living a natural life in harmony with the Earth and endlessly seek self-pampering comforts and pleasures. But while “stress” is given a bad name, it is these natural “stresses” that makes us strong “what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger”. And the hollow oblivion of endless “comfort” makes us soft and weak and open to disease. To be clear, I’m not talking about the abstract stress of the workplace, the economy or pollution, stresses that don’t go away. I’m talking about the natural physical stresses of life. Within the plant kingdom it is a well known fact to herbalists that stress is what gives a plant its “medicine” its spirit. In the art of bonsai, trees are created to mimic trees that are growing on windswept cliffs because of their deep beauty and power.
We all seek comfort. This is our animal nature. But as animals we were designed to struggle for survival. Life is not meant to be easy. There would be times of comfort, warmth, food and companionship but also times of stress, hunger, coldness and loneliness. And this beautiful balance gave us our strength and appreciation for life, it made us what we are. But in our present human circumstances with megastores, supermarkets and fast food, central heating, flush toilets, hot/cold running water, cell phones and computers, cars and planes, there is no sense of natural limitation, balance or connection to that which gives us life. With ease and corporate encouragement we seek comfort to the point of oblivion, sitting in our oil heated apartments, in a comfy chair, snacking constantly, watching endless images on a screen for entertainment. But does this really make us happy? healthy? or fulfilled? I don’t think so. These conveniences bring people physical comfort but cause a deeper sense of restlessness, fear and dread, because we are not connected in a real way with that which gives us life, with Her. Rather then facing the realities of living with the Earth and feeling a great sense of fulfillment at doing so, we run but intuitively feel guilty and fearful at the one-sided flimsiness of our pampered existence. So what do we do? Do we change our life and learn our ancestral traditions to be one with Her again? No, instead our attachment and fear makes us cling to our artificial “life=style”. Then we create artificial stresses for ourselves so we don’t just turn into a sad blob. We continue working at our job where we sit all day but in our spare time physically stress our bodies and workout at a gym. We emotionally create the stress we’re missing from living with the elements and wildness of the Earth, through scary movies, games, rides and personal dramas, fights and affairs. We channel our natural energy given to us through millennia of survival into twisted ambition to be the best, to be famous, to climb the corporate ladder… . We do anything but admit we feel lost, fearful and empty, which would bring us to question our modern life and change it, separating our desires and wants from our natural needs.
Most people don’t even intellectually realize, let alone feel in their heart that everything comes from the Wild, everything comes from Her. It always has and it always will. Humans can’t create anything, we can only take and manipulate. Agriculture, tools, clothes, everything in our modern world comes from Her. In the proper order of things, as we lived for hundreds of thousands of years, it was clear that both our “stress” and our “comfort” came from Her, from our place in Her balance. And so to keep in Her good books in the balance, we only took what we needed with great appreciation, and we made art and ritual to feed Her so She would have the strength to keep creating life for everything else to live well, so that we could too.
Many people in Ontario and Eastern Canada lost power over the holidays. I realize for some people this may have been a life-threatening situation, but for most it was a gift; a rare chance to see the difference between what we need and what we want. This was the worst time of year for something like this to happen yet how many people out of hundreds of thousands actually starved or froze to death? Very few if any died from these natural causes. Then I ask how many people came together with their families or other people in a meaningful and appreciative way and how many people found an appreciation of their lives in a memorable way that they wouldn’t have without the power out? I remember being at my dad’s house in Toronto during a ice storm at the same time of year in the late 90’s. Neighbours who’d lived as strangers for years checked in and helped each other, people used their fire places to heat their homes, cooked outside on barbeques, lit their homes with candles. And in the heart of the city it was quiet and you could see the stars! It was all very beautiful and as well as being the most memorable holiday I’d had it showed me how quickly things could change back to an Earthwise existence and how good this could be for everyone.
Our dreams and the challenging or “stressful” parts of our lives are full of teachings. In the coming year, may we all try not to shun and to see these times and things not as enemies but as friends coming to wake us up, coming to open a door towards change.
May your new year be as stressful as you need it to be.