“The calendar can’t tell you when the first day of spring is—your heart does,” says Alexandra Stoddard.[1] Of course, externally, spring is a natural event starting at the Vernal Equinox and ending at the Summer Solstice. As a season, it is marked by warmer weather, a period that from very ancient times was, and is today, celebrated with symbols of flowers and bunnies for natural fecundity, sweets for the sweetness of life, and eggs, for breaking out of confinement to liberation, like a chick.[2] (As I write this, however, it is 30° Fahrenheit outside, so spring seems more like a promise than a felt reality, sort of like it is when we set an intention.)

Spring is also an archetypal event, paralleling the cycle of renewal in human as well as natural life. We can see the fertility cycle that leads to a fertilized egg and a chick emerging from it in experiences and symbols of spring in ancient times and now. Especially in northern climes, ancient peoples lived in caves or cave-like dwellings that would get pretty grimy and smelly by the end of winter, so when they were finally able to leave, doing so would feel like not just renewal, but liberation as well. Happily, that is not the case for us today, but we can still get that amazing feeling of walking outdoors without a coat and seeing flowers beginning to sprout and trees regaining their leaves, from which arises a sense of joy and possibility. It is no accident that the Passover Seder is celebrated in spring, signifying the escape from slavery to freedom, or that it is when Persephone returns from the Underworld, with flowers springing up at her feet,[3] or when Jesus, having died and being placed in a cave-like tomb, is resurrected. And all of these spiritual stories have long inspired people with the hope of life after death, as well as for renewal as part of the ongoing cycle of life on earth.

 

Ancient peoples painted eggs beautiful colors and picked flowers, as do we today—reminders that we have the potential within us to experience sudden moments of renewal, conversion, enlightenment, or transformation. In Buddhism, the blossoming of the lotus flower in spring is a major symbol of enlightenment. This flower emerges from murky, muddy waters, signifying lower levels of consciousness; the growth of the plant represents the process of psycho-spiritual development, and the blossoming, the achievement of higher consciousness.

 

I do not share the archetypal meanings of religious events to take away from their specific theological meanings within Judaism, Christianity, or Buddhism. Spiritual truths always have layers of meaning, as do natural ones. Thus, even today, spring is not just a natural, religious, or archetypal event; it also is a psychological one, associated with success and fulfillment in the modern world. Through observing transformations in the lives of leaders, Pamela D. McLean and Frederic M. Hudson, in LifeLaunch: A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life, outline a cycle of renewal that furthers feelings of aliveness and energy throughout life. This recurring pattern begins when an external or internal event occurs that makes living the way you have been either impossible or undesirable (for example, because you become ill, lose your job, business, spouse, etc., or suddenly start feeling bored and unhappy). This seemingly unfortunate situation launches the Doldrums, where you feel miserable and do not know what to do, followed by Cocooning (inner reflection about what to do and be next), and then Getting Ready (learning what is necessary to live successfully into your chosen new story). When all these steps are completed, you are ready to Go for It, embodying the new narrative.

 

If you connect this pattern with the archetypal one I’ve just described, you can see why John Steinbeck would title his novel about collective doldrums The Winter of Our Discontent, and why T.S Elliot would pen the line “April is the cruelest month” to express the pain that occurs when spring is alive in the natural world, but not in you.[4] The seasons provide natural symbols to help you remember that whatever you are experiencing inwardly can be followed by the release that is associated with spring, if you recognize that the feelings you are having are natural to the human seasons of renewal:

  • your inner fall and winter mirror your experience of moving from Doldrum dissatisfaction (where you are learning to let go of attitudes and behaviors that no longer fit for you, like when trees shed their leaves in fall) to Cocooning (going inward to germinate a new vision, just like seeds underground preparing for new growth);
  • your inner spring is your time of Getting Ready, (trying out new possibilities, as with vulnerable sprouts and buds in nature); and finally,
  • your inner summer is the time of Going For It by living the new story that makes you feel vital and alive once again (as when the fruit appears on the plant and ripens, so its sweetness is evident).

 

Our culture’s dominant spiritual traditions, in their theologies and related earth-based practices, also provide us with metaphors that can keep hope alive for us as we face difficult transformations. For example, when you feel miserable, you can imagine yourself moving from

  • winter to spring;
  • slavery to freedom; or
  • crucifixion to resurrection.

 

If you are feeling dull or stuck in your own ways, you can imagine yourself as

  • a seed germinating, sprouting, and bearing fruit;
  • a flower bursting into bloom;
  • generating possibilities like a rabbit birthing bunnies; or
  • bursting out of your shell like a chick emerging from its egg.

 

Once you discover the metaphor that works for you, you can find or create a symbol of your emergence to put where you will see it often, reinforcing your faith that spring will occur not only around but also in you.

 

Questions for reflection and perhaps sharing:

 

(1)  When have you experienced a cycle of renewal, such as McLean and Hudson describe?

(2)  What does an inner state of “spring” feel like to you?

(3)  As you observe the emergence of spring around you, what season are you experiencing inside?

(4)  If you are stuck in the doldrums, what spiritual or natural imagery or metaphor might help you keep the faith that you will emerge from your ordeal renewed and better off?

If your nation or other group is in the doldrums right now, what season do you see it as being in, and what metaphors and ways of thinking might help this collective experience the renewal of sp



[1] Quotation from her book Living a Beautiful Life.

[2]Even the name of Easter as a holiday comes from the ancient European holiday of Eostre, in honor of a great northern fertility goddess of this same name, whose symbol was a rabbit or hare.

[3] See my book Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within for more information about the Eleusinian Mysteries, which offered an initiation through the archetypes of the seasons into the experience of spring as a state of consciousness.

[4] In his well-known poem The Waste Land.

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