I recently heard that the spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, has a bumper sticker on his car that reads, “I’d Rather Be Here Now.” (It is a clever play on the “I’d rather be…” themed bumper stickers and also makes reference to Ram Dass’s influential 1971 book, Be Here Now.) Whereas this seems to be sound advice in general for living a more mindful and fulfilled life, these words are particularly relevant in the Northeast at this time of year.
This week in my corner of the world, Mother Nature is donning her most stunning gown, and it is a sight to truly behold. By that, I mean: Drop everything else, bundle up, go outdoors, and experience the colorful leaves waving and tumbling elegantly from the trees!
Meditate on letting go. Allow the mundane preoccupations and habits of daily life to release their hold on you, and be here now in nature. We only get to see this intense display of colors for a couple weeks each year; Mother Nature does not wait.
On the theme of letting go, we also can consider: What has outlived its usefulness in our life?
And what can we harvest?
At this time of year, some Northeasterners feel sad because the cold, gray time of year is on the way. The sun sets earlier in the evening, and we are putting the remainder of our gardens to bed under covers to protect them from frost. But now is not the time to dwell on thoughts of winter! If we spend time thinking about winter, we are not experiencing this spectacular moment! In this sense, I’ve experienced autumn as a teacher of mindfulness – of being in the moment and not getting ahead of ourselves. We can pause for a few moments to feel the crisp air and appreciate the vibrant colors, forms, and movements of the natural world.
Smell any number of familiar, comforting aromas carried on an autumn breeze or from a warm oven.
Taste the gifts of the harvest.
Hear the geese honking as they fly in formation overhead.
Occupying our senses through an awareness of the natural world is an antidote to too much thinking – about a personal situation, a political situation, or whatever else may occupy our mind.
As I sit in the kayak watching leaves fall one by one, I feel the stress fall away, as well. Why? Because when I am seeing or listening (etc.) with my full attention, I am not thinking!
I find the image of falling leaves inspiring. Some leaves seem to be in a hurry and nosedive to the ground with obvious gravity. Some free-fall courageously with arms extended and belly into the wind. Some flutter down delicately, easily mistaken for butterflies. Others glide erratically like paper airplanes, distracted by ever-changing air currents. Some somersault, head over heels the whole way down; I swear I hear them giggle. Some spiral down dizzily while others zigzag weightlessly. Others take advantage of a generous breeze and ballet their way gracefully through the air, looking like they are having so much fun, liberated and free and nearly defying the laws of gravity.
Watching the leaves let go awakens something in me. It fills me with an urge to live more fully and authentically. In our brief human existence, do we want to be a leaf that simply drops to the ground or one that dances elegantly the whole way down and perhaps inspires others to do the same? Are we paying attention and aware of when it is the right time to let go?
When I lived in Florida, I missed fall greatly. My grandmother would send us care packages of lovingly packed apples, and after moving back up north, I sent a package of autumn leaves to a Florida friend who was a transplanted New Yorker. I realize some of my friends are experiencing fall vicariously through the photos I post online and that this is a time of year when those who have moved away really miss “home.” This is a powerful time of year, and although we can honor the gifts and themes of autumn no matter where we live, what a blessing it is to be here now!
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