Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series on the wisdom of the seasons. The others are summer, fall and winter.
Ah, spring. It’s our season of hope, holding a promise that change is a-comin’, for the better. The river will “flow again after it was frozen,” Ernest Hemingway wrote of the season in “A Moveable Feast.”
Spring signifies coming out of the darkness. We’ve tipped the balance from longer nights to longer days. Equinox means “equal night” of light and dark (roughly), and through the rest of the season we can benefit — experientially and metaphorically – from more time spent in the light.
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant,” wrote English poet Anne Bradstreet. “If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
The season nudges us to the prosperous outdoors. In her diary, Anne Frank advised those who could, to “go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy.”
There’s even some science to the joy of spring. Research suggests that for many people, the extended daylight boosts mood, well-being and energy. Dopamine — a neurotransmitter associated with attention, motivation, pleasure and mood — seems to increase with more exposure to sunlight.
Happy New Year!
Forget January resolutions. In some cultures and traditions, the start of spring is the start of the new year. It’s a great time to draw a line in the sand and renew those long-term goals you may have already let slip. It’s time to declare a fresh start!
Because spring is as old as the planet, ancient religious traditions have evolved around its meaning. Spring is rebirth after the long death of winter, and traditional cultures didn’t take the return of food and better weather for granted. They prayed for it.
The luck-infused Chinese New Year is celebrated after the second full moon after the winter solstice and ends in a parade of dragons and fireworks that scares away the bad spirits.
In Thailand, I once celebrated Songkran, the water-throwing New Year festival held every April, when Thais also clean their houses for good luck. The 13-day Persian festival of Nowruz (“new day” or “New Year”) is also celebrated by cleaning one’s house, filling it with flowers and giving gifts, and on the last day by staying outdoors.
In Russia, the spring holiday of Maslenitsa (aka Pancake Week!) is a sun festival with singing, dancing, warm beverages, jingle bells, bonfires and lots of pancakes. Passover is a spring holiday that celebrates the brightness that follows the dark days of slavery. And the Indian holiday of Holi brings winter to a Technicolor close.
Christians celebrate a literal return from death (according to their faith) by Jesus at Easter. That holiday’s roots date to the ancient goddess Eostre (from the region that is now Germany), who was accompanied by a magical egg-laying hare. Rabbits and colorful eggs are metaphors for procreation, new beginnings and a promise for what’s to come.
Taking a lesson from our ancestors, we shouldn’t take the power of spring for granted, either. Instead, embrace the genesis it imparts over the Earth. While we enjoy more daylight, blooming flowers and the breeze on our skin after being covered for so long, we should also consider how vital those things are to our basic needs as humans.
“You know what spring is?” rhetorically asked my wife, who loves spring above the other seasons and is occasionally an accidental poet. “It’s getting up in the morning to get on the road. It’s going to the airport to take a flight. It’s the promise of adventure before reality sets in.”
Mindfulness + environment = meta-mindfulness
The reward for expanding awareness to our greater environment, as it unfolds, is that it helps you anchor yourself in time and place.
Noticing and celebrating what’s happening with the weather, temperature, animals, trees and general vibe can help us be more centered and connected. That’s what those holidays do or were designed to do. They bring us together around things we all value religiously and secularly: life, new starts, love, generosity, peace.
And of course there are many personally enjoyable ways to celebrate and connect to seasons as well: walking in nature, learning to sing or play a seasonal or holiday song, watching a seasonal or holiday movie, enjoying foods traditionally associated with the season (jelly beans!) and other activities designed to deliver happiness.
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt,” advised Margaret Atwood in her book, “Bluebeard’s Egg.”
As you get in touch with spring’s gifts, its meaning and metaphoric reminders, make it a year-round meditation.
“Live in each season as it passes, breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, who knew several books worth about living in community with the seasons.
Want to get more in touch with the seasons? In addition to a classic such as Thoreau’s “Walden,” another title that guides you through the year is Verlyn Klinkenborg’s hyperobservational “The Rural Life.”
I took a year to read it so I could focus on each month’s chapter at its appropriate time. Author Wendy Pfeffer and illustrator Linda Bleck – whose “A New Beginning” taught me about some spring holidays – created four good children’s books about the equinoxes and solstices.
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Each season has its touchstones for the mind and body, many of which you already enjoy, perhaps without realizing it.
But in spring, let yourself break out of the cocoon. Open those windows. get outside, plant something, fly a kite, ride a bike, have a picnic. We’ve endured the darkness and need to play in the light.
David G. Allan is the editorial director for CNN Travel, Style, Science and Wellness. This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project, to which you can subscribe here. This story was first published in 2021.