The Seasons of the Day

Recently we had a residential training course based at Mill Grove for twenty or so people engaged in work with children and young people.  It lasted for a week, and from what we can gather seems to have been greatly appreciated. 

You can probably guess that having a group this size coming to live in your family home for a week changes the dynamics of things a little.  And it did.  But what I want to write about in this column is a phrase that several of the participants found stayed in their minds and reflected upon: “seasons of the day”.

As far as I know, it is a phrase that I coined myself, but I would appreciate further information about it if you have any. I certainly recall writing about it in a journal, Social Work Today, possibly twenty years ago, and haven’t developed the ideas much beyond that column. 

Very simply I imagined the four seasons (in Europe, and with the help of Vivaldi – and possibly Nigel Kennedy – we conceive of there being four) taking place in a single day.  So Winter is the night-time, Spring is the morning, Summer is the afternoon, and Autumn is the evening.  There is nothing particularly insightful or creative about this. One can easily, and perhaps, instinctively sense the resonances between these times of the day and the seasons of the year.

Seasons of the Day from a Residential Community:WinterIn this article I went on to describe how certain seasons lend themselves to particular activities, moods and conversations.  Again, this is hardly virgin territory.  Rudolph Steiner was one of many educationalists who saw that you couldn’t programme the same subjects in a school timetable during the afternoon that you would in the morning.  Maths, languages and theoretical science are better undertaken in the morning (Spring) than in the afternoon (Summer). Conversely sports, drama, practical activities are more appropriate to afternoon (Summer) and evening (Autumn). 

And many of us have heard of the so-called “graveyard session” at conferences: the period immediately after lunch, when a siesta seems to occur whether intended or not!

In a residential community like Mill Grove, I find that if there are things to be discussed with the children or young people, it is worth pondering when might be the most appropriate time to do so.  I think that parents probably do this intuitively (for example, talking about pocket money, tidying rooms etc. in the evening/Autumn, rather than before going to school/Springtime). 

On the other hand why not share good news in Spring-time, rather like sowing seeds, or planting seedlings?  I count it a privilege to be able to choose my time for sharing issues, whatever their nature, rather than be tied to formal programmes, routines or times.  I wonder how, say Clinical Psychologists working alongside children feel about this.  Is there a difference between sessions that occur in “Spring-time” and “Summer” for example?

Seasons of the Day from a Residential Community:WinterAnd, of course, in a residential community or family there is that wonderfully rich and mellow period before bedtime (Autumn) when reflecting together on life and the universe can often seem as natural as it would be unnatural, if not impractical, to try to do so in the early morning.  So here is one of the most obvious advantages that what used to be called the “residential worker” has over the “field worker”: we can choose our times.

When welcoming the course members to Mill Grove on the first evening together, I tried to explain that they were joining a community with its own rhythms and patterns of life, and that our course programme had been arranged around the corporate life of others, as well as the seasons of the day.  As part of this introduction I mentioned that these rhythms had developed over the course of 106 years, and three generations, so they were pretty ingrained in the way we did things at Mill Grove! 

But in passing I mentioned that residential communities have learned a lot from the cumulative experience of other communities worldwide and through history.  Benedict is one such, and his “Rule” is still relevant and practical for all who are interested in the patterns of “life together”.  Communities that last must go with the grain of nature, not against it.

Seasons of the Day from a Residential Community:WinterSo the course programme sought to build in these insights and practicalities.  We began each day with breakfast (breaking our “fast” together, as Winter you might say, began to melt into Spring), and then had fifteen minutes of devotions, using a simple pattern used worldwide in monasteries and residential orders and communities. 

The morning was given to theoretical material and input, usually but not invariably with a didactic approach, as a sower might sow seeds.  We allowed ninety minutes for lunch so individuals could have a brief siesta.  In the afternoon (Summer) there were small groups, role plays and time for discussion.

There were two hours for the evening meal, including time for personal rest and re-creation. Each evening/Autumn we had reflective sessions focussing on story, art, drama and music therapies.  They involved everyone in practical ways, including drawing, working with clay, listening to music, and improvised drama. 

It seemed to me as if we were reaping a harvest not only of the day and of the course up until that point, but often from periods of our lives years, and sometimes decades before.  We closed each evening on time (in case you haven’t gathered, we were careful to stick to our programmed times all through) with a brief devotion modelled on the service of Compline. 

Seasons of the Day from a Residential Community:WinterI first encountered this service/office as an undergraduate at college and it has remained one of my favourite gatherings, helping the gentle transition from the mellow mistiness of Autumn towards the crisp starry night-time and Winter.  I suppose it functions for a residential community rather like a bed-time story.

I’m not sure there’s a lot to add.  If you become attuned to the seasons of the day you will find that family life, like residential communities, is responsive to them.  You will also discover that the twenty-four hour media coverage, globalisation and the post-industrial society are no more respecters of the seasons of the day than they are of the seasons of the year.  Half a century living in a residential community has given me a healthy respect for Benedict, and I commend his practical wisdom to you.

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