Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was is not and never again will be; what is is change. – Edwin Teale
I’m writing this on a gorgeous fall Minneapolis day. It is so beautifully warm and clear-blue skied outside that we could be forgiven for disputing the major climatic transition this part of the world will soon face.
My body will adjust as it always does, but for now it is screaming at me what most of you do not yet hear: “Go to sleep! Dress up warm! Go inside! Be alone! Start a fire! Contemplate!” I know that what we see when looking out the window today does not warrant this pattern of behavior. No matter; my body simply knows.
While others are outside soaking up the sun, jumping into piles of leaves, hosting bonfires and running marathons, I am already on the fast track to a more solitary existence. The life of the highly sensitive person is not one that allows for sudden adjustment to a change in direction, particularly during a powerful seasonal change. The highly sensitive organism that is my body doesn’t give me the option of procrastination or denial.
This is clear: I am a being of nature. I am moved and powered by its cycles as surely as a tree or a river, a monarch or a goose. My God uses these cycles to form and make me, just as a rock is softened and shaped by the water that presses upon it, tide after tide.
While this is fact for all of us, my body will not permit me to ignore this truth. And though the frustrations created by this are obvious, it also presents a gift. Because there is always a gift that accompanies a challenge.
One of those gifts is surely the opportunity to become less production-oriented for a while. Not that I have less to do or can entertain long days of doing nothing. But internally, my addiction to recognition and the checking off of to do lists is tempered by a healthy humility.
Acknowledging my human limitations, I embrace once again the certainty that my value is not tied to what I accomplish. I let go of the notion that I am not worthy if I am not achieving, doing, making noise, being busy. This is not an easy adjustment for me. It is forced upon me. And for this I remind myself to be thankful. For we will all be there at some point on our journey. If not today, one day soon. This is another opportunity to live what I say I believe.
So I fall into the sleep of the dead on a golden, sunny afternoon, waking a little unburdened but still cotton-headed and anxious and headachy enough that I am forced to seek out even more stillness and simplicity. The tears that spontaneously fall point me toward the emotions and memories and burdens I still need to let go.
“To everything there is a season. Turn, turn, turn.” – Ecclesiastes 3. What a wise and compelling and timeless truth!
I’m already looking forward to my annual fall retreat, which takes place during the first weekend of November. For me, the silence and stillness this quiet getaway provides each year brings autumn’s greatest gift to reverent fruition: I will let go.
Autumn: The Season of Letting Go
“We’ve all experienced that moment when the scent or feeling of fall arrives on a summer breeze. The air may still be hot with summer’s breath, but the winds of change signal that a new season is arriving. Actually, although summer officially begins on June 21st, the equinox marks the shift where the days of increasing light turn to days of diminishing light, creating the paradox that characterizes all transitions: just as we are expanding into summer’s fullness we’re simultaneously contracting into the shorter days that will reach a decrescendo when autumn hands the baton to winter. In this sense, autumn has been breathing inside summer’s aliveness all along.
Autumn is the quintessential season to illustrate the key features of transitions. Where winter is the season of reflection, spring the season of rebirth, and summer the season of celebration, autumn is the time when we align with the action of nature and ask ourselves the central question of any life transition, “What is it that I need to let go of?” Perhaps it’s your habitual thoughts of worry or anxiety; perhaps it’s your tendency to nit-pick or criticize your partner; perhaps it’s getting angry at your kids; perhaps it’s the inner critic, the voice that’s constantly telling you that you’re not a good enough wife or mother or person. Whatever it is can be blown down to the ground alongside autumn’s leaves and decompose into the earth when we choose to consciously focus on that which needs to be released.
Autumn is also the time when memory often floods your emotional body. As your kids leave for the first day of school, you may remember those early school days from your own childhood. Whether the memories are positive or negative, you’ll find yourself pausing for a moment, as Mrs. Zuckerman did, in the bittersweet realm of nostalgia where you become exquisitely aware of the passage of time. Another summer over, another school year beginning, another autumn at your doorstep. If the memory is positive, you might dwell for a few moments in the happy feelings. If the memory is painful, it’s an opportunity to allow the feelings to swell up inside you until they bubble into a tears and notice how they roll down your cheeks like the leaves dropping outside.
As we notice ourselves, so we notice our children and observe what aspects of themselves they’re naturally shedding. Children are constantly in transition, and when we understand them through this lens, we can facilitate their seasons of change and growth more gracefully. Perhaps your child is getting ready to start middle school. Perhaps you’ve just moved to a new town and you’re helping your kids adjust to the multitude of losses and new beginnings that surround them. Perhaps your baby is turning into a toddler and learning to assert her own voice. Perhaps there are negative habits or attitudes that your child is trying, in his childlike way, to release. Again, when you align yourself with the action of this season, you will find creative ways to help your kids release the old habit, identity, or lifestyle and guide them as they become accustomed to their new role.
I’ve been watching my older son, Everest, grow into his big boy self over the past six months. In a few weeks, he’ll turn six, and as he approaches this significant milestone he’s been shedding aspects of his little boy self. On the summer solstice we enacted a family ritual where we each wrote down onto leaves things we wanted to release, then threw the leaves into the creek to be transformed by the fairies of the solstice into positive attributes. Encourage by my husband and me, Everest wrote down that he wanted to let go of his habitual whining. Perhaps it’s because we’ve given it our attention or perhaps some magic does occur during rituals, but whatever the reasons the whining has decreased significantly. On the autumn equinox, we’ll enact another ritual and ask for help letting go of the same habits.
In William Bridges’ beautiful book, The Way of Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments, he writes, “Since a loss is best seen as the cue that it is time to let go of the inner thing, one of the first things a person in transition needs to ask is: ‘What is it time for me to let go of?’” As the leaves change color and fall, as you sit in front of a crackling fire, as you watch the golden late afternoon sunlight cast itself across the yard, ask yourself, “What is it time for me to let go of?” And when the answer appears, throw it into the leaves and the fire and the sunlight and ask for autumn’s aid to help you let go.”
– Sheryl Paul