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Shambhala Sun | May 2012
You'll find this article on page 56 of the magazine.


Seasons of Awakening


In our yearning for enlightenment, we might hope that it’s a state of unfluctuating perfection that solves the problem of the constant change that roils our lives. But if we see what we’re doing as awakening, something that unfolds over a lifetime, we understand that each of us is somewhere in the middle of a long walk through varied terrain. Then our task is to stay alive to the changes in that terrain and to trust the path as it appears before us, rather than try to impose our map on it.

There are seasons in awakening. The winter of awakening is crystalline in its purity. The snow, which has been called Guanyin’s cloak, covers all distinctions, differences, and defining characteristics in unbroken white, and the gaze relaxes. This is the wisdom of equality; it’s bright, and a little cool.

Then, if we let it, spring comes with its exuberances and profusions, revealing the warm wisdom of differentiation. Now the distinctions between things, and the particular beauty of each thing, are important. If in awakening’s winter we love everything equally, in its spring we love each thing for itself.

Both winter and spring are part of what’s true, as are summer and autumn in their turn. In welcoming awakening’s seasonal transformations, we discover a greater truth that shows us a new way of trusting the very change we once thought a problem.

Awakening has its ebbs and flows, too. People often get worried or discouraged when nothing seems to be happening in their spiritual life. But because something isn’t apparent in our conscious awareness doesn’t mean it’s not happening at all. When the field appears fallow, we can learn to trust what’s going on underground, in the dark, invisible to us. In fact, it’s essential that along with the lightning comes the quiet dark, when radiant bursts are taken in and made part of the whole.

We can learn to trust the relentless stripping of winter as much as the bursting buds of spring—as do the plants, taken down to bare root and then blossoming again. To agree to all the seasons and tides of awakening means that we are always walking the Way: while there are times we won’t understand, there are no detours, no causes for disappointment. Though sometimes obscured by clouds, there is only the rising dawn, long and slow, that we walk within.

Joan Sutherland, Roshi is a teacher in the Zen koan tradition and the founder of Awakened Life in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

From the May 2012 Shambhala Sun magazine. Click here to browse the entire issue online.

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