It has been so warm recently it is tempting to forget we are a month into autumn. Even the blustery rain showers have an almost summery, thunderstorm quality. But it doesn’t take much to notice the sun’s lazy angle, the fields of stubble, and the blackberries bulging at the roadside. And then there are the long, straggling skeins of geese making their noisy way back from the north, reminding us for sure that the seasons, and the world, keep turning.
I heard someone say recently that, of all the changes in season, the shift from summer to autumn was the most abrupt. I don’t see that. At least, not this year. Of course, it depends upon where in the world you live. I’m in Scotland, where the four seasons are readily discernible. I know what she meant, though. In memory, the start of autumn, linked as it is with the tragic return to school after the long summer holiday, seemed to appear out of nowhere. One day we’d be tripping through the sunlight-fantastic, the next saw us squelching through wet, rusty leaves, duffle coats dripping and smelling of dog. But memory is a curious, often distorted, thing.
This year I am being mindful, paying attention. There is a new calmness about me, allowing me to look and really see, to watch, observe. I’m taking my time to notice the first golden leaves amongst the greens, the dwindling numbers of butterflies, the absence of swallows. Where once I would have slept, waking one morning to the sudden shock of leafless trees, faded colours, a seeming lack of activity, of life, I am witnessing a gentle and wondrous slide of seasons.
I wonder if I’ll manage to use this approach to help me get me through the northern winter. That stretch of time between Christmas and the start of spring seems full of the threat of winter never ending. We might get a hint, a glint, a touch of warmth on a March day, only for late snows to obliterate April. We have spent so much time agonising over the winter darkness, that we have not noticed the early spring flowers poking tiny, brave shoots up into the cold. And we have lost so many hours wishing to fast-forward into summer, that we have not realised the sun has already begun to climb steadily higher. If we aren’t careful, it can be a depressing and very dark time.
The way we perceive these shifts in season, echoes our perception of change in our own lives. We are either always looking back, witnessing, over and over, the way we were, or wishing away our precious time by reaching too far forwards and falling short of our mark. We are left stranded, inert. We see no progress because we do not appreciate the ‘now.’
I’ve been frustrated with myself lately. I’m still not managing to get out of the house, make myself engage with people. I’m still not ready to get a ‘real’ job and work again in an office or some such. I still have to watch out for anxiety, panic, even rage, if I’ve given myself too much to do. Outwardly, I do not appear to be making much progress. But there is definitely something going on, at a deeper level.
I used to tell people I had a little kernel of sadness somewhere deep inside that would never go away. There were times when I accepted this, let it be, and managed, in my haphazard way, to get on with life. But there were also times of great distress, when I could not ignore what I felt lay at my core. It kept me trapped in the past, angry about the present, and incapable of imagining a future. And during those times, all the world could clearly see the bleeding heart worn on my tattered sleeve. I was a very spikey, reactive person.
However, I now see the benefits of the last few years of reflection and meditation, of learning to let go of the past, to accept, forgive, and move on. I handle life much more easily now. I still feel overwhelmed from time-to-time, but I’m able to recognise it, pause and look at it, give myself time to sort it out. My approach to life, and to myself, is transforming, almost without me noticing. Such a small thing, just a tweak here and there, and a miracle has occurred: that kernel of sadness has grown into a seed of quiet hope. Yes, a very small thing indeed, but one of which I am deeply proud.
In a world where only tangible, profit-driven achievement seems to be rewarded, the hard work done by those whose tender way of being makes engagement in that world an experience of pain, is little regarded. Those with physical or mental ‘disabilities’ are, at best, overlooked. And so it is up to us to take each piece of territory gained, each small win, and make it wholly our own. Even if all you have managed to do today is lift your head from the pillow, drag yourself out of bed and brush your hair, or perhaps managed not to lose your temper with an irritating but undeserving child, these are things of which to be proud. No one else knows how much it has cost you to do these things. Compare yourself to no one, do not measure yourself by society’s distorted yardstick. Be proud of who you are. Right here. Right now.