A sharpness is on the Summer’s tail,
The healing breeze of Summer yields
To the bitter wind of Wintertime.
If this was a signal to you, bird,
Then you would know the seasons not
Themselves, but as a turning wheel*.
The night before last, getting off my bicycle after an evening ride around the seawall, I felt the summer’s tail — a hint of autumn coming–for the first time this year. It happens at some point every August, around the same time as the falling stars, but it always catches me by surprise. It’s a hard-to-describe moment that everyone intuitively recognizes. It’s a little breeze, a whisper in the leaves, a sudden coolness that reminds you of season-change. And it awakens a child-like excitement, as if you can smell the autumn woodsmoke in the air. It’s a mixing of seasons– like reaching a mountain peak and seeing what lies beyond.
By coincidence, lately I’ve been feeling that my life is at the summer’s tail. I wake up in the morning realizing that I’m completely happy. I’m living in one of those rare and temporary bubbles when all is well, like the glorious days of summer when the meadow grasses are tall and waving in the sunlight. It’s tempting to ignore the subtle changes in the air.
The lines above are an excerpt from a poem about loneliness by my teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He wrote it after escaping as teenager from Tibet, leaving behind his family, his teachers, monastery and the ancient culture he belonged to. He invited his western students to seek sanctuary within loneliness instead of trying to run from it. This is the reminder that comes back to me when I hold my husband in my arms, when I kiss my mother’s cheek or hear my son’s voice on the phone. Loneliness is the thread that links happy summer days with the grief of autumn. It whispers that the winter of death is around the corner.
Reflecting on my teacher’s gift makes me even happier. I can’t say I’m not afraid of death or that I’ve mastered the art of staying present with loneliness. But knowing “the seasons not themselves but as a turning wheel” is a huge relief. It makes the people I love all the more precious, so petty differences dissolve more easily. It makes challenging relationships more workable, since the season of frozen opinions eventually melt into spring, given time. Holding the big picture in mind puts a gentle brake on my short term impulses.
This morning, summer is smiling again. The sky is deep blue and the sun is shining. Walking to work feels like being on vacation. In front of me is a young mother pushing her baby’s stroller. Across the street, an elderly man with a shopping bag pauses to catch his breath. My loneliness feels like a silent wave of blessing that wishes them well, wishes them a good day, a good life. Overhead, an arrowhead formation of geese gracefully cuts through the sky.
The jungle child sings his song
Sad and alone, yet weeps for nothing.
And joy is in him as he hears
The flute the peaceful wind is blowing.
And even so am I, in the sky
Dancing, riding the wild duck.*
*Chogyam Trungpa, from The Silent Song of Loneliness,
Timely Rain (Shambhala Publications)