I received an email newsletter from Ten Percent Happier, a meditation app that offers many types of meditation and teachings. The article shared was entitled, “The Joy and Dread of Autumn” by Jay Michaelson and the topic connected to my heart. It speaks to the impermanence of life and how nature dies with the change of seasons. Michaelson writes, “At this time each autumn, as leaves begin to fall in earnest … I actually feel a desire to somehow paste them back onto the trees.” Reading this I thought to myself, “yeah, that’s how I feel.”
Surely, fall is a beautiful season and recently my family was in New Hampshire where the sugar maple leaves change to deep colors of red and maroon. Along with the more common yellow and orange, fall’s palette is really spectacular. Even on the ground, the leaves create a gorgeous contrast between the still-green grass and beige sidewalks. It’s as if the forests are on fire with color and the sparks are on the ground.
“Even if the autumn leaves are riotously beautiful, the bare branches of February are bleak and dour,” writes the author, who says he suffers from seasonal affective disorder. The mind knows that death is near so with the colored leaves soon turning brown, the trees will be bare for the next 6 or 7 months. I realize that I’m a green-season person even though I have an autumn birthday and am grateful to live in a region where there is sunshine all year. So in this conundrum, mindfulness helps me practice with emotions, thoughts and sensations conjured up by the change of seasons. I notice the grasping and aversion felt in my body as churning in the stomach and heaviness of heart. I understand that these feelings are uncomfortable, even depressing. I allow myself to explore the sadness when fall is giving way to winter and remind myself in a moment of wisdom that this is a predictable journey of life and death which is temporary and will in a few months transition again to the seasons of rebirth. I try to make friends with my emotions using self-compassion, reminding myself that the flowers and green leaves WILL return. Apple crisp and pumpkin pie are delicious. Wood burning in the fireplace is cozy and all is well in this moment. It’s the cycle of life.
The following family meditation is done outdoors on a hike or where ever we can find an area to be among trees. We keep eyes open and can choose to either sit or lie down for this practice.
Autumn Family Meditation
Begin by feeling the areas of the body in contact with the ground. Sitting, the feet and legs are touching the earth while lying down, the whole back body will be heavy and grounded.
The leader directs everyone to take several deep breaths in through the nose and out the mouth to settle the nervous system and center the body in the meditation space.
The leader then asks everyone how they feel about the change of seasons. Some like it just fine while others may be feeling a little grasping for summer or aversion of fall. It’s a personal thing either way and no need to answer out loud. This is a moment of introspective contemplation.
Next we do a body scan, moving our attention progressively from one end of the body to the other while noticing any areas that are tense or tight. Those are where the emotions of the change of seasons are physically being felt.
Looking around, what do we see in the trees and plants around us. What colors are the leaves, branches, plants, vines, etc? Are there signs of life or is everything pretty much asleep?
Using the sense of touch or body sensations, what’s the temperature of the air? Cool, warm, etc. Is there a scent to the change of seasons? Dirt, decaying leaves, evergreens…
What nature sounds are we aware of? Birds, squirrels, a breeze in the trees blowing leaves to the ground? There may be fewer animal sounds when the season is changing to winter.
Once the atmosphere of the practice has been established, we continue to notice the in and out breath and remain in silence, allowing the body and mind to interact with the breath and the environment around us, noticing what our awareness wishes to tune into.
When enough time has passed, we take a few deep breaths together and look around us, mindfully seeing details of nature’s beauty that is a constant in the cycle of life.
Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the founder and Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center offering workshops, classes and coaching for children, families, individuals and classrooms. For more information please visit the website at MindfulFrontiers.net.