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Lessons from the Dark Season

It’s corn maze season and as the days get shorter and the air crisper, many tourists and locals will find themselves wandering lost through the walls of tall stalks until they reach the end of the maze and solve the puzzle. It’s a tradition that has taken hold of our society and become synonymous with autumn.

Mazes and labyrinths are nothing new. Hundreds of years ago it would not have been uncommon to find pilgrims following a maze, deep in prayer or meditation, quickly losing track of the physical world when lost in complex twists and turns of a hedge or wall. Although our modern interpretation of this maze might not have the same spiritual gravitas as the medieval labyrinth, its walls continue to reveal certain truths worth contemplating about our contemporary society.

I have always found myself in awe of nature’s wisdom in autumn. The trees are very much conscious of the coming winter and make preparations to live off of the stored energy as they rest through the winter. This bit of wisdom may have once been considered vital to the survival of all living things, but in the confusion of our all-consuming society, we rarely stop to consider just how significant, dangerous even, winter has been and will be again.

We are lost in a labyrinth of corn, all of us surfing the Internet on our iPhones as we bump into another dead end. All the while the leaves turn brown and the air bitter cold. Life is warm in the winter when we have the luxury of burning fossil fuels, but if there is one thing we can be certain of it is that eventually, energy will cost more than we can afford.

It was also once thought that a labyrinth could trap evil spirits. That a cold wind carried demon spirits from the dark water to the lit shore and that by building a labyrinth we could trap those who meant us harm. This is a comforting thought, a tale to tell children before bed. Of course we know there are no demons in the night, but just in case there is some evil in this world, we will be able to protect ourselves. But will we?

Halloween was once a time when we would lift the veil between this world and the next. We’d honor good souls already passed as we prepared for the long, hard months of winter. Bonfires were lit and masks worn to ward off or confuse the evil spirits that roamed during the hours when the veil between worlds was at its thinnest. These rituals also served as a form of mock reverence and a cathartic gesture towards acknowledging the very real existence of the more destructive forces in nature: giving the Reaper his due, so to speak. Men and women spoke of harvest and storage, respect and honor because they all knew what awaited them in coming months.

Today, our children don plastic masks, run door to door to collect and consume corn sugar in celebration of the holiday. Supervising their children, parents discuss football and fashion, reality TV and gas prices. The approaching winter is rarely considered.

And why should it be considered? Winter, to most, is shopping season. When the refrigerator empties we simply head to Wal-Mart to re-stock; if it’s gets cold, we turn up the heat. We have all been raised with the understanding that every problem has a solution and if times are tough, we work harder and life becomes easier. I would love to be able to continue believing in these mantras. But, as we continue towards tougher times, we’ll begin to realize that we are not dealing with answerable problems so much as we’re looking at unsolvable dilemmas.

Let us re-enter the corn maze, no longer half-blindly looking at our iPhones, mindlessly walking the same paths over and over. The time has come for us to walk the paths and contemplate our own inner demons. Take off our masks that hide our eyes from the reality that we have created and come face to face with who we are as individuals and examine how we spiraled to where we are today.

In order to move forward in a safe, sustainable manner we must all confront the dark, destructive nature that has guided our all-consuming society for so long. Carl Jung often spoke of man’s hidden shadow and its destructive nature when left buried in the subconscious. As each of us represses that which drives us to destroy our environment (consumerism), the more destructive the shadow grows.

So maybe it is time, as the leaves continue to fall, to again walk the paths of the maze, and light the bonfire that will allow us to become conscious of our own inner demons so that our society can once again listen and learn from the changing of the seasons.

Editorial Notes: From the Transition Honesdale website: A group of engaged citizens working to create a sustainable future by supporting the development of a more cooperative and resilient local community, right here in Honesdale, PA.

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