I have mixed feelings about autumn. Traditionally, autumn and harvest season was for giving thanks for the fruit of our labours in summer. A time to reflect and recognise what we have achieved before moving into the fallow period of winter.
But autumn can also be a time of sadness as we let go of long light days and the warm optimism of summer sunshine.
In the northern hemisphere, many of us approach winter with trepidation. I feel this more with each year, something to do with getting older I suppose.
I’m not sure exactly why winter is harder as I age. Perhaps it’s connected to the stage of life I am at, where my days and weeks are already bound by routine and multiple, competing obligations.
The short days and long nights compound this feeling of restriction. Like becoming entangled in a heavy wool blanket. It is comforting and warm and cocooning, until it becomes suffocating and I am struggling to throw it off, to breathe and be free.
Towards the light
This year we have the added factor that we are entering our second full winter of the pandemic.
I have a sense that we are steeling ourselves for challenges ahead. Covid-19 is still among us, supply chains are crumbling and energy prices soaring. Things feel chaotic and unhinged and it’s taking all our energy to just stay balanced. We are already exhausted and there is nowhere to go but onward. We’re hungry to move towards the light, not sink back into darkness.
But this is all sounding a bit bleak and there is of course, another way to approach the change of seasons.
As I sit here at my kitchen table, the rain is battering against the windows and bouncing off the ground outside. I’m grateful for my warm dry home and non leaky roof. Grateful for the dog slumbering at my feet, occasionally punctuating his snores with contented sighs. I’m grateful for the bad weather that gives me leave to sit here and write.
When the weather is fine and bright, I feel pressure to do; to make hay while the sun shines. When the weather is bad, it’s like permission has been granted to stop.
When we were more connected to nature and the land we would have worked hard through the summer and autumn months so we could retreat and hopefully rest in the harsh winter months.
These days, we are more likely to slow down and take our longest break of the year over summer. As winter approaches, we feel the pressure to be productive. As if we can counteract the short days by squeezing yet more into them.
Can our creativity and productivity be maximised when all around us nature is retreating and conserving energy?
A fresh point of reference
We would be wise to recalibrate, using the cycles of nature and the seasons as a reference point. We don’t hibernate but we can withdraw to reflect and think and plan, ready for a new burst of growth with the spring.
Nature has no grand plan, no big objective, no 5 or 10 year goal, nature just keeps turning. As surely as the sun sets and rises the days will shorten and lengthen and the cycle of nature completes and goes on. There are lessons here for us.
If we keep attending to the small things, but with deliberation and intention, then our own cycles will complete themselves. We will make progress as surely as winter will turn to spring and spring to summer.
We can find comfort and meaning in the daily cycle of our lives, if we look for it, by being mindful of how we fill our days.
Ask yourself, what are the things that support me and what are the things that deplete me? How can I find more balance between the two?
One way is to notice how we feel if we forget to attend to something for a day or two. If we give ourselves permission to let something slide, how does it feel, what are the consequences, if any? Maybe, you might find it wasn’t that important after all.
If you do start to feel out of balance, stop and reflect on what you have stopped doing and why. Perhaps those are the things that you need to prioritise, the small things that are easy to do but big enough to matter.
Moving forward with intent
Cultivate habits, be deliberate, pay attention to the small things but resist at all costs the temptation to squeeze more in, be more productive, to do, do, do.
We are a work in progress and the work is never done, no matter how hard we try. Just as autumn and harvest time is not an ending but a point of time on a continuum. A time to reflect, celebrate, consolidate and begin again, with intention.
By Melissa McConnell
While writing this blog I remembered Robert Frost’s poem, which beautifully invokes the cycles of nature to remind us of the transience of life.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
By Robert Frost
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
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