Friday, April 15, 2022

Transitions: The Only Thing Constant in Life is Change



“Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”   
― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead  

“Leaves are verbs that conjugate the seasons.”   

― Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces  

“We must live in the radiance of tomorrow, as our ancestors have suggested in their tales. For what is yet to come- tomorrow has possibilities, and we must think of it... That will be our strength. That has always been our strength.”   

― Ishmael Beah, Radiance of Tomorrow  

“There is only one real constant in life, and that is change”  


The last couple of weeks have had a few days that have been gorgeous and truly spring-like. And on those days, I have enjoyed walking around this city. I have walked some of my favorite streets, seen some of my favorite alleys, stood at some of my favorite corners, and stood before some of my favorite trees, bushes, and plants. Tulips and daffodils, rosebuds and cherry trees, Japanese maples, plants in window boxes. Everywhere things are bursting, blooming, and coming forth. We are in that glorious time of early spring, and the magic of transition is all around us. We humans have always recognized that and responded in real world and symbolic ways to it, and this week highlights that.   

The transitions of nature are the basis for much of our societal beliefs and practices. The transition seen in early to mid-spring has always been a time for some of the most important religious and spiritual observances in human history. In ancient days people marked the arrival and gradual unveiling of spring with festivals, sacred plantings, symbolic marriages and other rituals that reflected the important transitions that were happening in the world around them. Themes of rebirth, growth, sexuality, change and fertility would be acted out and honored in different locations all around the world at this time. In Sumer, the first civilization, the celebrations that coincided with spring marked the return of Dumuzi, the God of Death and Life, from the Underworld to join with the Goddess of Life, Ianna. And in their joining, the world was re-born. In ancient Egypt, Isis, the Goddess of healing and well-being, brought Osiris, the main god of their pantheon, back to life twice, once up from the underworld, and again by piecing his body back together after it was chopped up and scattered bu hi jealous brother. She was celebrated in spring with a boatload of symbolic flowers being floated on the Nile, the river that gave Egypt life. The Yoruba in West Africa also celebrated a goddess connected to the seas as well as the Divine king thought to have been the creator of the Yoruba people.  Early cultures also built huge structures around the world in places such as Stonehenge in England, the Mnajdra Temples in Malta, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, that were oriented toward the sun. This was so the community would know when to acknowledge, give thanks, and celebrate the earth coming back to life. Noticing these transitions, then, is a universal and necessary thing we humans have always done.  

The religious celebrations we are most familiar with- Judaism, Islam, Christianly, Buddhism and Hinduism- also have rituals and beliefs at this time of the year that likewise deal with transition, rebirth, and creation. Ramadan is a month of celebrating the revelation of the Quarn, which is the birth of Islamic belief and tradition. This is both internal and external-daytime fasting, a ritual evening meal, doing extra prayer and reading of the Quran, and being with family and neighbors, celebrating the community’s existence. Passover likewise celebrates both the Jewish culture’s birth, and the religion’s later birth. It also involves symbolic eating, family and community. Easter is clearly about rebirth and creation as it celebrates both the emergence of the Divine from death and the birth of a new religion. Buddhism has several mid-spring observances, depending on one’s branch, that celebrate the birth and death of the Buddha, Viisak Puja in May, and the formation of the first approved Buddhist Assembly, Magha Puja Day. Whatever the culture or belief, then, we humans find ways to reflect the world’s and life's ongoing transitions and cycles. Even if we are secular, we can always look at the symbolic meanings of spring cleaning and new wardrobes.  

I love the way nature works in cycles and transitions. They are what a friend calls, “constantly different similarities”- things that are both different and the same simultaneously. The coming of spring each year brings me new joy, new awareness, and new connections to the world around me, even though I have been through the arrival of spring numerous times. It is both constant and different, and noticing that helps me feel more connected to the universe. However you observe this process, I hope it is both a joyous and a meaningful one for you. And I hope paying attention to it can lead to some peace and understanding in this troubled time in this troubled world.  

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