The medieval Buddhist monk, Nichiren, famously said that, -“Winter always turns to spring.” Perhaps this is too obvious of a statement. I have yet to experience a winter that did not eventually become spring and if the past is a reliable predictor of the future, spring will be here in a matter of weeks. Why then does Nichiren bother to remind us of this truth? Perhaps it is his reminder of the temporary nature of all things.
The transition from winter to spring might be the one that we wait for with the most impatience. The other seasonal transitions can often be subtle; spring fades into summer which retreats into fall and then slowly cools into winter. However, with the coming of spring we are called to witness our world returning to life once again. Darkness gives way to days that are filled with light as temperatures begin to rise.
Shakespeare famously spoke of a “winter of discontent” as he described the oppressive days which marked England during the War of the Roses in Richard III. With all apologies to my friends who love to ski and spend time outdoors in the winter, I find winter an apt metaphor for the dark days we all must face, especially those brought into our lives by addiction. Just as the cold, wind-swept nights feel as though they will last forever, so too can the experience of an obsession to use or of having to face the consequences of mistakes made while pursuing our next high. All those whose lives are touched by the addiction of another know a similar pain when they watch helplessly as the agony of addiction is visited upon their loved ones or friends.
But just like all winters, this pain too has an end. The winter of a compulsion to use may seem endless and the holes we may have dug for ourselves may seem too deep to climb out of, but their end is just as inevitable as the end of the snow and cold of winter. The great Sufi mystic, Rumi, characterized life as a guest house and said that all we experience was but a visitor, staying with us for only a short period of time. As we literally witness life returning to the world in these coming weeks, let us remember that life is now also returning to us. When faced with a seeming permanence, let us pause, breath deeply and remember that “this too shall pass.” And finally, when we arrive in those warmer climates and longer days, may we also remember those depths of winter as reminders of from where we have come.