One of the best words I have to describe the season of autumn is bittersweet. It is a time of many moods, some sad and some inspirational. How can we not be moved by the dramatic changes of color, the cooler weather, the descending darkness, and the barren branches contrasted against the stark sky.
As we see time and again during the fall, the trees shed their leaves as part of the cycle of renewal. This is a universal principle – in order to grow, we must release something. This is true of our own bodies in ways we don’t even notice; we are constantly shedding old cells and creating new ones. If our physical bodies didn’t have this process, we’d have a much shorter life span, as the old tissues would wear out rather quickly.
Let go the out-moded
However, there is a more subtle process at hand in our psyche. Here, too, if we want to grow—to continue to evolve into better human beings in every way possible—something needs to be let go of. In fact, we are in a constant process of integrating new information, aspects of ourselves, perceptions, and ideas, as we realize that old ways of doing things no longer work.
When we’re young children, we believe that the whole world revolves around us. While this is age-appropriate and facilitates our growth when we’re three, by the time we’re about seven we’re in need of shedding this perspective and beginning to understand that cooperation, empathy, and respect will get us much farther in our relationships. In computer science, what was a cutting-edge programming language 10 years ago may be completely out-dated today, and we need to constantly update our knowledge and skills to keep up with the evolution of technology.
Fall season reminds us that we all have out-moded parts of ourselves that we need to let go of. This allows us to sprout new ideas, improve skills, deepen our relationships, and grow on the spiritual path. The old ways, however, don’t need to be tossed into the trash. On the contrary, like the leaves that drop from the trees, they can serve as the foundation for new growth and fuel for renewal.
In a forest, the soil becomes rich and continues to feed the flora indigenous to the area largely by the compost of the dead plant matter that has fallen to the forest floor. Many of us are able to compost the leaves and twigs we rake up at this time in order to have a rich and natural fertilizer with which to nurture our gardens.
You have an inner garden that needs the same compost. The self-absorbed and ego-centric world view of a toddler, though meant to be grown out of, is intended to be the foundation for a healthy self-image. We still must take care of our own needs, but we evolve to expand beyond solely that. Although old programming languages may not be in use any more, the skills we used to learn and implement them can be applied to new ones. Take what you have learned, digest it, retain what is useful, and expel what isn’t, just like your own digestive process. Yes, there are always waste products with everything we consume, but that doesn’t mean we should never have eaten anything.
So it is with our lives. We’ve all made mistakes, said things we regret, made choices we wish were different. We’ve also done things or purchased items that were useful at the time, but now are nothing but a burden in our closet or a habit that keeps us from realizing new goals.
Autumn’s energy causes us to take stock and decide what to hold on to and what to let go. This process may require you to practice forgiving yourself or someone else. It may bring you new opportunities that necessitate making changes to accommodate them. It may bring up grief, even if you know that what you’re releasing is a good thing. Although we must all let go of our past, we also integrate those experiences into our psyches as wisdom. The leaves that fall lose their form, but as they break down into compost, their transformed substance continues to serve the growth and well-being of the tree.
As the trees learn to let go, we can release our grip through the yogic practice of aparigraha. Literally meaning “non-clinging,” “non-grasping,” or “non-greed”, aparigraha teaches us the importance of letting go of what we don’t truly need. It’s unnecessary for trees to hoard the dead leaves, trying to save up for next year. Nature provides the nutrients it needs to create new and abundant foliage in the spring, and in fact it is by releasing the old leaves to the earth that provides the compost for nourishing the soil. Hanging on to what is dead and no longer serves us hinders the ability for the new, stronger buds to open. Yoga philosophy knows what nature long has: it is better to let go of clinging to the past, so that we can become the best of who we are today.
Letting the leaves fall also requires us to face fears of the future. When we let go, we realize we must step out into the unknown, trusting that something is supporting us. But just as the trees let go of their undergrowth, having full faith that spring will come and new leaves will burst forth, you can have that faith through the winter, too.
Retain this faith as emotions arise and release. You may be grieving a loved one or a phase of your life. You may have moved to a new location and miss the old familiar places and friends. Breathe into the feelings, allowing yourself to fully experience them. When they are spent, they, too, will drop away. It is fine to reminisce, but don’t wallow. Review the past, bless it, and release it.
This may leave you feeling a little like the barren maple tree: so it’s time to put on the inner insulation. Get a soft and cozy security blanket and throw it around your heart, which is more sensitive right now. Autumn has a way of triggering the old stuff. As you let that old stuff go, give yourself comfort and support through the process. Practicing positive affirmations, recognizing small achievements, or seeking out cheery and inspirational company are several ways to bolster your spirits. It’s an excellent time to start a personal growth class, join a support group, or attend church or a spiritual organization that nurtures your soul. Slow down and make space in your life for nourishing and restoring yourself.
So rake up those leaves of the old you, and as you do so you’ll be able to see the beautiful gardens, lawns, and rich earth that are underneath. While you’re at it, take it lightly – pile them up and jump on them! Then take the past to the compost pile and know that by letting go of it, you recognize what the present offers and create the foundations for abundant growth in the spring.
Copyright © 2006, 2008 by Constance L. Habash