Spring Awakening

Spring – I never thought it would get here. Feels almost like summer today. But a few months ago, our house and land was covered with snow as far as the eye could see. I wrote a song for something called February Album Writing Month (FAWM) inspired by this Tundra called “Winter Turn To Spring.” The title is taken from a 13th century writing by a Japanese Buddhist Monk called Nichiren. The entire quote reads, “The believer in the Lotus Sutra is as if in winter, but winter always turns to spring.” Nichiren, a Buddhist reformer who declared that chanting this Sutra’s title alone could bring one enlightenment, regularly encouraged his disciples to endure and overcome any hardship faced in (and brought about by) this practice.
At this time in my life, I was as if in winter – literally. Me, my girlfriend and her two daughters, plus our dog and cat, were completely snowed in inside our rented house that sat on an acre and a half of land that was covered in at least two feet of snow – three in some places. We didn’t have any shovels because I lost the key to the shed behind the house that had them in it. We were snowed in for five days before we were able to get a kind snowplow owner to do our driveway at half the cost most people were charging. (I fashioned a makeshift shovel to get us from the walk to the driveway.) During this time, as in several winters past, I felt a sense of powerlessness, of being buried under the thick of it, and that it would be an aeon until it all melted away. My girlfriend and I were also going through a rough patch, and there’s a line in there that speaks to that feeling: “Despite the deeper layers/Our hearts must be a place/We can’t let freeze.” The struggle wasn’t just to dig ourselves out, but to stay warm and positive within as well.
So many times I have seen my environment reflect my life-state EXACTLY – and have felt it change when I determine a new direction to win over my present circumstances. Nichiren’s Buddhism talks about “Life-conditions” – ten worlds which we inhabit at any given moment, here and alive on this Earth. They include Hell, Hunger, Anger, Joy, Tranquility, Learning and Realization. The highest ones are Bodhisattva and Buddhahood – two conditions that are everlasting and not affected by the lower ones. Nichiren also taught that each world is possessed in the other ten – so Buddhahood, for example, inhabits all of them. It’s a hard concept to grasp – that Buddhahood is innate, that we “reveal” rather than “earn” it – but eternally hopeful. There’s kind of a “fake-it-til-you-make it” stage in the beginning but after that it gets better.
This May, I am in a new house in a new neighborhood in the City, with music and art happening all the time, and I’ve just busted out my guitar and started to feel the call of the muse again. The snow has melted, Spring has returned. But the Spring in our hearts is the most important. Seeing all that snow, one can feel discouraged, or immediately run out and build a snowman. Summer can be outside and one can still be huddled under blankets. Seasons are just as much conditions of life as they are of our environment – which, after all, are interconnected. I am excited to be here, and out of the wintry feeling inside. It is a constant struggle, but thank goodness I have Nichiren’s words to revisit and the title of the Lotus Sutra (Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) to chant.