On beginnings and endings
Of all the seasons, Spring has the most obviously literal name. It conjures bonking bunnies and bursting buds, an uncoiling, an explosive start. Spring is all about action, growth, impulse. Most of us, as the days begin to lengthen and the ground begins to warm, feel a corresponding surge of energy. That can be wonderful, but it can be unsettling too. Suddenly everything’s moving fast, the pressure’s on to be young! Optimistic! Bouncy! How can we harness the pell-mell energy of this time of year, when the slightest glimpse of sunshine sends us all a little giddy, and find something still and timeless at its heart?
I found these beautiful stop-motion films that summon up the vital energy of spring – with just a little trickery. When you speed up a plant, it looks so much more animated that it’s easy to ascribe a kind of sentience to it. Watch the little fern tendrils reaching upwards, questing for the sun, and it really feels as though there’s a very ancient, very basic kind of intelligence at work. An idea for a contemplative practice: what if you could apply the reverse of the stop-motion filming process to yourself, and momentarily slow down to the speed of a plant? Can you reach back to a less urgent set of survival instincts, a slower pulse of sap in green veins? C’mon – nobody’s watching. Override your inner sceptic for 20 minutes, and tune in to how it might feel to live at plant pace.
This one is an acorn, filmed from germination to eight-month-old oak sapling. The thing that stuck with me about this film is how much the early stages of growth resemble decay. For a long time, the acorn seems to be rotting, shedding, mingling with the leafmould and other organic matter in the soil around it. We do well to remember that no growth comes without a shedding of husk or skin – sometimes painful, sometimes joyful. Spring and its joyous yodel of promise is born from the rotting down of old growth, old seasons. What do you need to consign to the compost this spring?
On the frustrations of the acorn
I was vividly reminded of the acorn’s enforced waiting through the unglamorous early stages of growth when I visited the osteopath on Tuesday. For the umpteenth time, he straightened out my cervical and thoracic vertebrae; tugged straight the ravelled fibres of muscle and tendon and put me back to ‘normal’. The trouble is, my body doesn’t know ‘normal’ any more, and its most basic urge is to re-set the crookedness. He pointed out to me that the first thing I do after he’s adjusted my spine is go looking for the pain again. I hunch my shoulders, twist to and fro, looking for the comforting discomfort that has come to seem normal. So he’s given me a radical prescription: no twisting, stretching or heavy lifting for two weeks. Now, I don’t think this osteopath has ever been to a yoga class, but he’s got an inkling that something I’m doing is outside the everyday range of spinal movement, and it’s undoing his good work. Chastened, I went home and crashed out on my yoga mat for an hour, feeling tearful and battered, as though I’d been run over by – if not a truck, then at least a mobility scooter, or perhaps one of those three-wheeled electric milk floats. I felt a renewed solidarity for that poor little nut, hibernating underground and waiting patiently for the husk to split, peel away, become redundant. It’s time for a rethink on pain and injury. After a decade of counting on skilled bodyworkers to patch me up and get me back on the road, it occurs to me that keeping on keeping on may not be the most strategic way forward. So I’m toeing the line: no asana for a week, then a very gentle re-start for my spine. I’m always telling my students that yoga isn’t just about stretching and twisting; much as I love stretching and twisting, it’s time to take a little of my own medicine. Breathing, lying on my back and contemplating the example of the acorn, waiting patiently for Spring to be sprung.