by Paul Hourihan edited by Anna Hourihan
In the northern hemisphere and temperate zones the real year begins in the spring and ends with spring when the year’s cycle is rounded out. In April the year is reborn. We, too, hope to be reborn. For men and women also have their spring—not the spring of their youth but the spring of their spirit. Though we are part of Nature, natural creatures, we are primarily the vehicle of Spirit, spiritual beings. That is our true nature and essence and it is there that we shall discover the meaning of life on Earth.
When spring comes for us, we are often unprepared—we still linger in winter, so frozen, locked-in, benumbed and wintered have our souls become. We postpone our destiny even as the moment of our greatness arrives—the spring of our ambition. We scarcely recognize the hour for which we have been long preparing as we linger still, and hold back, and rationalize, in the long winter of our discontent and self-reproach. Some respond, but many do not—perhaps cannot. For many, the spring is a painful time of year.
April, the Cruellist Month?
“April is the cruellest month,” wrote T. S. Eliot at the beginning of his famous poem “The Waste Land,” a title which stood for the barren, lifeless condition of man’s life—in any age—when he has lost touch with his higher centers of consciousness. But the Waste Land of the 20th century became for Eliot merely a symbol or allegory of the inner Waste Land of our lives after we have cut ourselves off from Spirit.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
April and lilacs and desire and spring rain become the forces that stir the dull roots of the dead land—the dead land of our unregenerate consciousness—and make the dweller in the Waste Land restless and unhappy, resisting the spring, turning away from the first premonitions of rebirth. April is the cruellest month because it awakens what had comfortably slept in ignorance, unawareness and spiritual death all these years—namely, our souls.
The spring rain is the symbol of new life, a regenerative influence pouring suddenly into the dry and arid wasteland of our habitual consciousness. But we shrink from the burden; we resist the call to turn from our destiny. The winter at least had kept us sheltered—and forgetful… living on in our confined and lightless paths. The lilacs symbolize the blossoms of new birth, flowering new life, which April, the spring month of awakening, has cruelly brought to birth in our hearts—but to what purpose?
Has April been a cruel month for us again this year? Has it once again bred lilacs out of the dead land, again mixed memory and desire, again stirred dull roots with spring rain? Will we turn away once again and embrace the Waste Land, calling it our own country, thinking that winter at least kept us warm, feeding our little life with a few morsels of nourishment? And, after all, did we need very much?
Eliot’s View Corroborated
T. S. Eliot’s view of human life has precedence in the teachings of all the great sages and prophets of history. Plato, for example, in Book VII of his Republic, dramatized a similar vision of life in the celebrated Allegory of the Cave passage. In this sequence Socrates, the realized soul, is describing to a friend his conception of the human condition and makes use of symbol and allegory for his purpose because the truth he is trying to communicate transcends the limitations of both reason and the sense consciousness.
What Plato calls the world of the cave, Eliot calls the Waste Land; but obviously they are describing the same state of delusion, darkness, and ignorance. Buddha constantly alludes to this condition—the condition of all humanity in their natural state—as one of sleep, as do Shankara and Krishna. St. Paul thought of it implicitly as the realm of darkness and death. Ramakrishna said that without divine grace man was helpless, a slave to his senses and desires. The moment we cease thinking of God, he said, we are bound. But what, then, is the plight of those in the wasteland, in the cave, in the great world we inhabit, who have not even begun to think of God?
Christ, too, of course, corroborates what so many others have perceived. In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 8, we read of the disciple who had been picked by Christ to be one of his followers. Hesitating to plunge whole-heartedly into the spiritual life as a close companion of the Master (as many of us also would have done), he pleaded that he had to bury his father first. Christ replied, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”
This hard answer has puzzled many, but clearly it means what it says. In effect he was saying to the new disciple, “There are people who are dead physically, ready for burial; there are others who are dead spiritually—your friends and relatives, all the people around you who are, with few exceptions, dead themselves. Let them—they who are living in death—bury the dead. You follow me, for you, I perceive, are awakened; and by following me you will awaken completely.”
It is a terrible commentary on the natural human condition before the Divine Spirit has touched it. Christ is saying that in our natural state, even in the society of men, we are dead, cave-doomed, deluded utterly, our souls a wasteland. And, only by the direct influence of the Divine Spirit upon human life can we begin to awaken to the real life that is our inheritance.
So one more spring returns—but have we saved our souls? Glimpsed our own Resurrection on the day we celebrated another man’s? Moved even slightly out of the fatal circuit of the wheel of karma and reincarnation toward freedom from this law and conquest over this compulsion? Or, are we still as bound as ever—and the spring a rebirth of the year, only?
When will we finally awaken and allow the life-giving rain of the teachings of these spiritual masters to soak into the ground of our being and stir dull roots to generate new growth in our Consciousness?