Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters: The Five Movements

By Kristen Lutjen

The next in the Mindfulness Matter series that looks at coming full circle after a difficult year.

When we first moved to the beach a few years ago, I had just become a full-time student again and spent most waking hours with my nose in books or absorbed in learning or writing at my laptop. I brought my studies poolside or to the beach as often as I could and would use the beach as a place to practice some of my grounding and meditative practices. It wasn’t until concluding those studies that I began to turn that level of attention to the multitudes of shells along our beach when I took my walks. For the first time last autumn, I found myself compelled to actually collect some of those shells. What called out most to me were any shells that were spiral in nature – beautiful reminders of the perspective of life as a spiral.

Throughout my spiritual journey, I continue to find myself returning to certain concepts or lessons time and again. It was exasperating at first when finding myself, “right back at the beginning” of something. Hands flung in the air with an attitude of “Not THIS again,” there is temptation of incredulousness at being faced with similar circumstances, especially if they weren’t so pleasant the last time around. It took some time to learn that arriving “full circle” does not always equate to the “one and done” of a closed loop. Life is more cyclical in nature. Life can be seen as a spiral. When revisiting concepts or circumstances, I return to it as a different version of myself after having experienced more of life. With mindfulness, rather than reacting with exasperation, I take a breath and wonder what new discoveries can be made this time around. In revisiting certain concepts and circumstances, there are new opportunities. There is more to learn, more to experience, more to contemplate. There is another way for me to be with what is. Life is a spiral. So how will I be with it this time around?

Along my mindfulness journey, a variety of frameworks have proven useful tools for deeper introspection and contemplation. One such framework, also cyclical in nature, used in the Chinese wisdom tradition is that of the Five Movements of Life. Life is movement. Nature’s way is not static, it is constantly changing as it moves through cycles and seasons. These movements correlate different elements and seasons with certain qualities and capacities upon which we can practice mindfulness. Wood/Spring has an upward and outward movement of birth, growth, creativity, and renewal. Fire/Summer is associated with warmth, passion, joy, and maturity. Earth/Late Summer is a time of abundance, harvesting, gratitude, transformation, giving, and receiving. Metal/Autumn are associated with acknowledging, honoring, grieving, and letting go. The fifth movement descends into the depths of Water/Winter – a place of stillness and quiet, a time of storing and gathering, opportunities for practicing patience while experiencing uncertainty and the unknown.

In a way, most of this year has been a long winter, a season of unknowing. With this pandemic, we’ve been forced into a sudden letting go of life as we knew it and plunged into the deep waters of uncertainty. There has been and still is much grief around that, for all of us. As we in the northern hemisphere move from autumn into winter, I find myself contemplating what is already gone, but is something to which I am still clinging as if it can still be.

There are things that are gone, but my expectations around them would have me believe I could still have them. That I “should” still have them. And there it is. As soon as a “should” shows up, I understand there is judgement that harms. “Should” shuts down possibilities and incites anger, resentment, and frustration from somewhere deep within me. It’s a closed loop that keeps me spinning around like a dog chasing its own tail. Mindlessly being led around by my “should haves,” I am no longer in the moment. But if I mindfully observe my “should haves,” there are discoveries to be made. What stories, histories, beliefs, and emotions are behind the “shoulds?” If I wasn’t clinging to the expectations of my “shoulds,” what could happen? Could I accept what is – including my own grief and pain? Could I allow myself to feel rather than offload some of my uncomfortable emotions? Could I maybe even spare myself and others some pain by releasing these expectations?

One day last week, as I took to my journal with my usual stream of consciousness, I faced the emotions attached to my latest “should.” I should be gathering with loved ones this Christmas, celebrating the season with all of our cherished traditions. And in acknowledging this should, I felt and expressed my anger and sadness on the page. No matter how ugly or petty or pitiful the thought, I wrote it down and let the tears take over. Then I stopped writing and sat with my grief and just cried.

While there is still sadness over the Christmas that will not be this year, I feel much better for having released what I had not even known I had been holding inside. I continue to attend to how I am being with what is. My partner and I continue to contemplate and manifest new possibilities around what we will do this holiday season and thereafter.

As we decorated our home for our Christmas for two this year, I was reminded of the roots of this holiday around the winter solstice and its festival of Yule, which honors the cycles of nature and holds hope that darkness (evil) will be banished and the light (goodness) will be reborn. I am reminded that this too shall pass. As the Byrds so beautifully sang, “To everything turn, turn, turn! There is a season, turn, turn, turn! And a time to every purpose under Heaven.”  There will once again be a time to gather in multitudes and celebrate with favored traditions. We will spiral back around to such a time. How I meet and who I will be at that time will depend upon how I am being now during this time. There are discoveries to be made in this time of uncertainty, if I allow myself to be still and listen deeply to myself, others, and life itself. What is calling out to be released? What is calling out to be born? Where can I practice patience during this “in between” time of uncertainty and transition?

We will spiral back around to a time where we can celebrate together. Until then, I wish us all additional patience, peace, and grace with ourselves and one another.

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