Here we are once again. It’s fall in the Midwest, and the weather is changing. The leaves of the maple trees out back are at their peak of orange and yellow vibrancy, and the backyard seems to glow with a quality of light that is unique to this time of year. As I walk down the steps to the lake, leaves crunch under my feet and the air feels cooler than it has in months. We still haven’t had a hard freeze, which is unusual and perhaps yet another sign of a climate that is getting increasingly unpredictable. But regardless the mild weather, the earth is sloughing off her summer skin and slowing down in preparation for what is to come. Winter’s cloak of stillness will be here soon enough.
Though the seasons change every year, sometimes it’s easy to forget the lessons we can glean from this age old rhythm of the planet. Each season has its wisdom, and autumn is no exception. There are lessons to be learned if we let the earth teach.
Lesson one: There is beauty in the dying. The folk duo Storyhill sings,
It’s in the color of the trees on the highway
Brilliant with dyin’
This one is fairly obvious, (who doesn’t love a blaze orange tree?) but when we stop and really think about what is going on, we can see deeper into the beautiful offerings that come alongside the passing away. A leaf at the end of its life, when left to ripen on the tree, takes on a beauty that just isn’t possible earlier in the season. It only starts to glow after it has surrendered into the next phase of life: making ready for death. In our culture we don’t like to talk about death, we like get back into our regular routine as soon as possible instead of feeling grief fully, and we make the natural dying process something to fear and postpone for as long as we can. But perhaps we miss the beauty when we don’t let the natural cycles of a body take their course. In order to see the beauty in the dying, we need to fully witness, acknowledge, and accept what’s going on. There are times to fight for life, to be sure. But there are also times when a life is ready to pass away, unencumbered. A leaf that falls provides nourishment for the forest floor, an idea that dies opens up space for something new to take its place, and a being that dies enters a new phase of the mystery of the soul. (and nobody is claiming these things are easy…)
And that brings us to lesson two: Letting go doesn’t have to be painful. It can be right and good. Of course, there are times when letting go is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Losing a loved one before you are ready to lose them (and who’s ever ready, truly?) is challenging beyond words. Yet there are times when we make letting go harder than it needs to be. When we hold on to a season of life that needs to fade, we only create suffering at a time when we need peace. We might argue that when we hold on too tight, we make a challenging situation more painful than it would be otherwise. A crimson leaf is bright red for a while, but after a time, it needs to fade into brown and fall to the ground. There is as much beauty in the brown as the red, it’s just a different sort. Releasing creates infinitely more comfort than clutching something that isn’t ours to hold forever.
Lesson Three: There is a time for growth and a time to rest. The great thing about trees in autumn is that they demonstrate this really well. In spring, a tree gathers up strength and send out its energy, sprouting new leaves and inching further toward the sky. All summer it continues to strive and grow and push upward and outward. But then the air starts to cool and autumn reminds the tree that it can rest. The changing temperature reminds the tree that it can let go of the growth and constant push and go into dormancy, at least for a little while. There will be time to grow and push again soon enough, but for autumn and winter, rest and stillness are the priority.
So, the moral of the story of autumn is this: See the beauty that is possible in the passing away; find ease in release when release is the best choice; and rest when the life calls for rest.