Spring, indeed, always comes.
When I was growing up, there was a popular phrase teachers proselytized, usually at end-of-the-year assemblies no one really wanted to be at: “Don’t ever change.” I never understood this particular call to action. For the sake of my ten-year-old life, I could not comprehend why they were telling us not to change. Surely they didn’t want us to stay in fifth grade forever? Or, god forbid, in middle school forever? Can you imagine? The thought is enough to give me nightmares for a week. Maybe it was a northwest Wisconsin thing, “Don’t change,” or maybe it was a late 90s thing. I don’t know. Are people still saying this? Maybe I don’t want the answer to that question. But I can tell you one thing: I was so relieved when I stumbled across a Heraclitus quote:
“The only thing that is constant is change.”
Spring is all about change, and most major world religions and philosophies recognize this change through worship and meditation. In celebration of all the beautiful change that comes with the season, here are six ways that people across the world ponder and celebrate the simultaneous fragility and immense focus and power spring sweeps into our lives every year.
1. To Everything (Turn! Turn! Turn!)
I grew up on music from the 60s and 70s, and rocked out to The Byrds’ version of Pete Seeger’s song on Oldies 92.9 long before I realized that “Turn! Turn! Turn!” actually had its roots in the Christian Bible, specifically Ecclesiastics.
1For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
9What gain has the worker from his toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
(Ecclesiastics 3: 1-13, ESV)
Spring in the Christian tradition is largely associated with Lent, a season of prayer and reflection that typically lasts 40 days and ends with the celebration of Good Friday (Christ’s crucifixion) and Easter Sunday (Christ’s resurrection). It’s a time to ponder what kind of seeds you are sowing in your life, as Matthew recalls in the Parable of the Sower.
1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9
(Matthew 13:1-9, ESV)
If you are curious about this parable from Matthew, I highly recommend listening to this podcast from Pastor Jim Thomas at The Village Chapel in Nashville.
Seek the good soil. Plant seeds with care and love and you will receive care and love.
2. Thoughts from Buddhism
Sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.
– Zen saying
The exact timing of Buddhist New Year celebrations varies from country to country and culture to culture, but many of them occur around the Spring Equinox in March. Songkran, celebrated as the traditional Thai New Year, is marked by a water festival. Water washes away negativity in our lives and symbolizes renewal and rebirth.
In Buddhist philosophy, spring is a time to recommit to mindfulness and embrace impermanence. As things grow, other things must die. The Thai Forest Tradition master Ajahn Chah teaches about impermanence by holding up his water glass:
“Someone gave me this glass, and I really like this glass. It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sunlight. I touch it and it rings! One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already broken, so I enjoy it incredibly.”
Just as the only constant in life is change, the only promise in life is death. We are inevitably broken back down into the dust from which we came, and this in itself is reason enough to find the beauty in every single breath we take.
3. Holi: Festival of Love
The ancient Hindu tradition of celebrating Holi falls on the full moon, or Phalgun Purnima. The festival begins with a bonfire on Holi eve to celebrate the victory of good over evil. Throughout the next day people celebrate the beginning of spring with hugs, presents, and the vividly colored powders (yep, ever wonder about the inspiration for the Color Run and its many offshoots? now you know).
In some celebrations, the colors also have medicinal purpose. They are made from colorful Ayurvedic herbs such as turmeric, sandalwood, dried tea leaves, and hibiscus. In the Ayurvedic tradition, the changes in weather can also bring on sickness. It’s the perfect season for a cleanse. Kameko Shibata recommends the following for springtime (full article here):
Try cutting out sugar, alcohol, dairy, caffeine, cooked oils and red meat for 2 weeks just to give your body a break. The first 3 days are the hardest – it gets easier after that! Getting a friend or partner to join helps a lot too. Increase your intake of water, yoga, rest and alkaline foods (green veggies, fruits, whole grains, raw olive oil, avocados). If you have allergies, increase your intake of bitters, sours and astringent. Bitter veggies (arugula, mustard greens, dandelion greens) support the liver and gallbladder, helping to cleanse the system. The excess of winter is all about sweet, heavy comfort foods. Now is the time to cleanse those out of the system.
Kitchari is a cleansing Ayurvedic dish that’s delicious and easy to make. I recommend this recipe from Elephant Journal.
4. Building on Holi: Hola Mohalla
The Sikh tradition of Hola Mohalla begins the day after Holi. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, initiated Hola as a day of mock battle and poetry competitions. The festival now spans three days and emphasis is largely on martial arts. Nihang, and armed Sikh order, are prominent participators in Hola.
5. Spring Equinox at Teotihuocan
Every year for Spring Equinox, thousands of people across the globe travel to the ancient city of Teotihuacan (just north of modern-day Mexico City) and climb the Pyramid of the Sun, the third tallest pyramid in the world. Climbing the pyramid at sunrise is believed to bring one closest to solar energy and creative life force of the universe.
Myth and legend shrouds much of the facts we have concerning Teotihuacan culture. The prominence of murals depicting priests suggests that their culture was highly religious. Bones excavated at various sites suggest they participated in human and animal sacrifice, particularly in consecrating new structures, including the Pyramid of the Sun. Several Mesoamerican cultures emphasize the idea of all life rising from the dust of other bones, an apt analogy for spring. Climbing to the top of the pyramid invokes the dust of the past, the promise of the future, and a reminder of the cyclical nature of life.
6. Sakura: Cherry Blossom Festivals
In the United States, the National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place in Washington, D.C. It commemorates Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki’s 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees to symbolize peace and friendship between the two nations. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, an influential woman who would later become the first female to serve on the board of the National Geographic Society, first began petitioning for planting cherry trees along the Potomac River in 1885. She was turned down every year for 24 years, at which point she decided to raise the money to buy the trees herself. She penned a letter to First Lady Helen Herron Taft, who took a keen interest in the idea. The official gift from Japan was received in 1912, and the trees were planted along the river from 1913-1920. The first official national celebration of the cherry blossoms took place in 1934.
In Japan, sakura celebrations date back to the 9th century. Nothing quite says spring like millions of cherry blossoms. The folk song “Sakura” is exuberant in its lyrics, while its melody invokes a sense of turbulence that comes with the changing season. Once again we see the theme of change: the melody and words together invoke the inherent beauty of impermanence.
Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms, Across the Spring sky, As far as you can see,
Is it a mist, or clouds? Fragrant in the air. Come now, come, Let’s look, at last!
Conclusion: “Spring Giddiness,” by Rumi
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.
Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
What a bargain, let’s buy it.
Daylight, full of small dancing particles
and the one great turning, our souls
are dancing with you, without feet, they dance.
Can you see them when I whisper in your ear?
All day and night, music,
a quiet, bright
reedsong. If it
fades, we fade.
Happy spring, everybody. Let some joy into your hearts today.