The real start of the year
On March 20th, in the northern hemisphere, spring begins. Day and night are of equal length, and then, the days start getting longer.
I am a big believer in using free energy - whether it’s the energy generated round religious holidays, like Christmas time, or the energy we can feel from the changing of the seasons. Every day is not the same. Our personal energy levels are not the same every day - we all know that. This has been a long winter. If you’re not a self-confessed Goth, you’ll be glad to get out in the longer evenings. There’s no need to do anything; just take a walk.
I live in the countryside, so this is the time to be digging over my veg beds and planting out some of the early things in the greenhouse - like broad beans. I never dig when the ground is wet because it does no good to the soil structure, the spade and fork, or me. Especially me. I get filthy and mad. And what for? I defeat my own purpose. The business of using some free energy, like the joy of a dry spring day, is to get into Tao.
Tao literally means ‘the way’. It’s flow. It’s that great feeling you get when you are in harmony with what you are doing. Tao, as a method, is about simplicity, patience, going with the flow, and being able to let go, or to let be. We live in a complicated, impatient world, where most of the day is an act of force. Force yourself out of bed. Force yourself onto the train, or bus or into the car, grind through the day, force the kids to eat their greens and do their homework, and when all force is spent, collapse in a heap. Sleep. Repeat.
Tao is none of that. The best thing to do every morning is to read your own energy. How do you feel? Raring to go? Tired? Unwell? Strong? Not? Then, is there any free energy to be had? Is the sun shining? Will you see a friend later? Have you scheduled in something to look forward to? Big or small. Doesn’t matter. I love my coffee in the morning. My first job downstairs is to open the back door and get a big breath of fresh air - rain or shine, winter or summer - I just copy the cats and dog, that’s what they do - that’s how the ‘read’ the day, nose up, what’s in the air? What smells different? Clear out the night-lungs. Start again. Meanwhile the kettle is boiling. I grind the beans. That smell of fresh ground beans. Oh wow! Then I am at the back door again, or in the yard, in my pyjamas and wellies, just with a little time to align myself with myself - and to align myself with this different, new day. It’s a little bit of Tao.
As spring comes I can feel the earth changing. The soil is warming up. The trees are budding. The air is softer. In the city it can be hard to connect to the coming of spring. But on the principle of free energy, find a way. It could be walking in the park, or along the canal, or going somewhere wilder at the weekend. It could be planting out a window box. It could be bringing spring flowers into your home. It’s good to notice, and to mark, the changing of the seasons. It keeps us in relation to the planet - and our relationship with the planet is at a crucial place. We have to live in better harmony with the earth. That is Tao, and it’s fair to say we are out of Tao most of the time.
There are many ways to notice, and to mark the spring equinox. You might decide to clean the bloody house - that’s what spring cleaning is all about - a celebratory cleansing of cobwebs and dust - and letting the fresh air in. All the family should help and it should be fun. Put on the music, dance with the broom, make pancakes afterwards. And take all the stuff you’ve hoarded over the winter to the charity shop. Spring is letting go in order to make way
The key is to decide that you will be part of Spring and Spring will be part of you. Above all, it’s not about spending money. You might cook something different - all natural, or bright green, like Risotto Primavera.
Or teach the kids how to make a proper omelette - because the hens start laying again at the spring point - that’s why we celebrate Easter with easter eggs - it’s the Pagan part of the Christian ritual. If you have ever kept hens, you’ll know how their behaviour changes as the light changes. One of the many upsetting things about factory farmed hens is their continual exposure to light - to keep them laying. But hens are not egg-laying machines; they are hens. They are seasonal. They are in Tao.
It will soon be Easter, because Easter, ‘a moveable feast’, unlike Christmas, depends on the position of the moon at the spring equinox. Easter Sunday falls on the first full moon on, or after, the vernal equinox. It’s another one of the those clever energy grabs the Christian church was so good at. Take an existing ritual or celebration and use the energy for a different purpose.
The weeks ahead are, literally, bursting with energy. Spring comes, whatever our personal state of mind. If you are feeling good about life, then the extra energy boost is there for you - but what if you are not feeling so good? What then? That’s when I have found that consciously tuning into the unstoppable energy of the turning earth gives me strength and gives me hope. It’s not just sunshine and warm air - spring can be wet and windy - it’s the sap rising, the green growing, the birds singing, it’s power, and it’s free to use.
Breathe deep, throw back your head, open your chest, stand up straight, speak. Speak what’s on your mind - tell the Spring about it. This is not crazy. Leaning against a big old tree that’s seen more springs than we ever will, is not crazy. Let things go - that’s part of Tao. Spring is a new beginning - whether we like it or not - and in our own lives, whether we like it or not - we must be able to begin again.
I shall shortly give the 2022 TS Eliot lecture on The Wasteland - his long poem published in 1922. I am doing this in London, in Southwark Cathedral, on April 7th. I have spent the winter reading the poem, and listening to it a couple of times of week - because that is a good way to get a long poem inside you. My reader of choice is Alec Guinness. Old-fashioned but perfect. You can hear it on You Tube. It takes time to get into - anything worthwhile takes time to get into. If you do listen to it, try it again a few days later. Don’t panic and don’t assume it’s difficult. Go with the flow. Let it happen to you.
The poem begins with the line April is the cruellest month.
April? Not November or February? No. Why’s that?
Spring is about beginning again, and beginning again can be so much harder than staying in the winter of your life
What do you need to do this spring? What needs to begin again? What ground needs to be prepared? What needs to be planted? What needs to be swept away, because it’s done? What new life is here?
What will be different, this time?