The temperatures are still hovering around the level expected for late summer during the day, but in the early mornings and evenings there is a chill in the air. The first leaves are turning yellow and orange, and beginning to fall. The old willow tree in the garden is well into its shedding, scattering small pointed leaves onto the lawn like confetti.
There’s a little saying I’ve seen doing the rounds on the web that in Autumn nature is teaching us the beauty of letting go. It’s sweet and perhaps a bit twee, but there is a truth in it too.
Looking at the cycles of the Wheel of the Year and mapping them to our own internal cycles, Autumn can be seen as a period of going inwards after the extroversion and activity of summer. By necessity, we may end up spending more time indoors, and while we have heating to keep off the chill and electric lights to banish the darkening evenings, there is value in allowing yourself to move with this cycle, to take time to think, to be a bit more introspective (in a focused and healthy way).
Autumn is a time of celebrating harvests, and while most of us are no longer involved in agriculture first hand, we all still depend on the harvests to live. Taking time to remember this with gratitude, to connect to the interdependence of all things, is a good way to put things in some perspective. It’s also a time to think about what “harvests” you may have reaped over the past year, and prepare for what challenges may lie ahead.
And yes, it is a time for letting go. Deciduous trees shed their leaves in Autumn because they are no longer any use to them: the shorter days, lower sun and falling temperatures make photosynthesis more challenging, and the energy needed to maintain green leaves at this time of year would be greater than the energy they can produce (evergreens are different, and often have smaller leaves, having evolved in colder and/or darker climates). By analogy, Autumn can be a time to let go of any old habits, thought patterns, modes of behaviour or stuff that is no longer useful to you.
This is not about moral judgement; leaves are not “bad” because they are no longer useful, and nor are behaviours and thoughts necessarily bad because they no longer serve. It’s just about recognising where you are now, where you are going, and what is helping and what is not.
I have my own things to let go of this Autumn; guilt, shame and anger among them. These are, in the right place and time, useful emotions. They can be moral guides, but they can so easily become tethered to old dogmas and become toxic. I’ve been doing a lot of self-work recently, and hope to be able to untie some of these Gordian knots over the next few months.
Another thing I want to do this Autumn to let go is downsize my “stuff”. I’m not a very cluttery person, I try not to own more than I need and keep a tidy house, but I know I have clothes that no longer fit or I no longer want, which can be donated to charity. I probably have books I have read but don’t need to keep which can go to the little “free library” in the old village phone box. Living with less, in order to live more.
Autumn is my favourite season. The colours and smells, the misty mornings and dark nights, the festivals of Samhain, (secular) Halloween and Bonfire Night, all combine to make me feel more Pagan than at any other time of year.
This year has been a challenging one, personally and politically. And while Autumn brings its own challenges (the start of a new Academic Year at work, and Year 2 of Druid College spring to mind), it is also a time to breathe into the darker half of the year, to let go, and to prepare for the winter ahead.
“This is the moment of just letting go…if you had life eternal” – Ghost, Life Eternal.