Spring Equinox: What is Relief?

Photo by  Valentin Salja  on  Unsplash

Friday was glorious.

I spent the morning and early afternoon inside, doing the computer work of running a small business and dream-weaving new ideas for Locust Light. I reached a point where I felt good about what I had done. It was 3:00pm. My decision was quick: I put on real pants, packed my "adventure bag" with my new journal (I just finished one I'd been writing in for almost 3 years!) and a pen, and set off to the river. 

Ahhh, the relief. 

The world was expanding all around me. I heard the tree toads on the drive to the river. Climbing out of my truck, I could feel the vibrancy of the forest, though my eyes couldn't discern a change. It was warm. I picked up my favorite footpath and wound through the forest to a sandy spot at the edge of the river. 

The expansion, the warmth, the sun. It was all so glorious, so thoroughly relieving. But why?

I sat by the river with my sleeves and pants rolled up, relishing the sun on my bare skin. In just a few weeks, this same sun would feel oppressive. I'd be looking to straw hats, cool water, and shade during my lunch break to feel the same exhale, the same sense of "relief" I was feeling right now.

I pondered this, pondering the other types of "relief" I've sought in my life: relief from financial stress, from the instability of moving every year, from the unrelenting drama of romantic relationships. I've sought the "relief" of financial stability, housing stability, a long-term, happy partner for a long-term, happy life. I've desired, prayed for, set intentions around finding this relief in a quick way, an immediate fix, a sharp contrast to the instability. 

And some of it I've found. But it was never quick. And, in a way, it was never as satisfying as I'd hoped. 

Deep relief is a feeling of contrast, a strong difference from what has been. 

In fact, I realized, this is the way the word is used in art: relief describes the foreground being raised or otherwise distinct from the background. There is a sharp contrast. 

This gorgeous, warm Friday, is a relief because my body & heart still carry the very immediate memory of winter chill. This warmth is a distinct contrast. By mid May, my body will have traded the memory of chill for the remembering of a sweaty scalp chugging cool water.

By summer, the contrast won't be there, and the warmth will not be a relief. It will be more of the same.

I thought about the past tumultuous years, which have been (dare I say?) winding down the tumult. I am practicing contentment, experiencing more stability, gathering bits of joy around me in ways that seemed impossible just a few years ago. There was never one grand moment of change, never a sharp contrast, never an exhale as relieving as this gorgeous Friday.  

And that's a trick of the human mind: when we don't carry the memories of the difficult past so strongly in our beings, we can forget to feel the relief of the present moment. 

I realized that it's up to me to remember the contrast, to think back to the past and feel this joy that I have now as a relief.

It's up to me to remember winter in early June, when I'm sweating, and feel the expansiveness of the warmth, just as I think back to the chaos of summer when I'm curled up in winter. 

But mostly I realized that it's time to stop waiting for a moment of relief to arrive. It rarely happens that way.

There is rarely a grand change that comes and delivers an amazing contrast. Even in nature, we only get these days of relief a few times a year, one or two in early spring and early autumn. That's why these days are so special.

Most days are a gradual, imperceptible change, a minute shift of the ever-turning Wheel of the Year.

And, if I could hazard a guess that keeps with my nature/life metaphor, I'll bet that my life will keep progressing in much the same way: small changes, small gatherings of joy and steps on my life path that gradually build and expand. Not dramatic relief, perhaps, but grand nonetheless. 

We barely notice it. And yet, the Wheel keeps turning, the seasons shift. 

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Photo by  Valentin Salja  on  Unsplash