Autumn is the season of change. It is a time of transition, from one state or way of being to another. It is a season that authors neither ends nor beginnings, but describes a liminal space between the two—between light and darkness, warmth and cold, sleep and wakefulness, death and life.
Autumn reminds us in its changing weather that we ourselves are alchemical beings, capable of transforming the suffering inside us into compassion, the sorrow into joy, the disappointment into gratitude.
Autumn asks us to accept that nothing lasts; that everything is impermanent. As children, we learn to name the world, as if it were made of things. In our unlearning, we feel both the sorrow of all things passing and the joy of life's renewal.
Autumn helps us understand that we should not write life's story with a beginning and an end, but as a circle that grows back in on itself. Autumn teaches us that death is just another change. Like autumn's leaves, our bodies fall, become the soil and bear new life.
Autumn reminds us that we belong to nature and its rhythms. It was not God who cast us from the garden. We did it, and divided ourselves from our own nature—the good in us from the evil, the light from the darkness, the sacred from the profane. In Autumn, we renew our wholeness. We are not made from dust, or Adam's rib, but from the earth. To our mother, earth, we will return.
I was in Connecticut visiting my lovely daughter Chloe last weekend. We took a long walk in the woods under the reds and yellows of the beech, oak and maple trees. Our talk turned to autumn. I ventured that it might signify death. Chloe told me that autumn's meaning is change, and that death is just another form of change.
We talked about the film Arrival by the masterful Denis Villeneuve, who more recently made Dune. After our walk, I watched it again. Seven-legged aliens land in strange, lozenge-shaped ships, all over the world. Alarmed, and assuming hostile intent, the U.S. military is dispatched to figure out what they have come for. But their language is, well, alien. They communicate by spraying a kind of ink that forms fleeting circular logograms. "Unlike all written human language, their writing is semasiographic," says Jeremy Renner, who plays a theoretical physicist called Ian Donnelly.
It conveys meaning. It doesn't represent sound. Unlike speech, a logogram is free of time. Like their ship, or their bodies, their written language has no forward or backward direction. Linguists call this 'non-linear orthography', which raises the question: is this how they think?
I sometimes wonder whether we might better understand the world if our language had no nouns, or if the nouns were all gerunds. We might describe trees as tree-ing; leaves as leaf-ing and unleaf-ing; autumn as autumn-ing.
The ouroboros is the name we give to a snake or dragon eating its own tail, and has been found in ancient Egypt, in China, in India, in Norse mythology, in South America and elsewhere. It is usually interpreted as a symbol of the eternal, natural cycle of life, death and rebirth. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote of the ouroboros that it "unquestionably stems from man's unconscious", that it is "a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow" and that it "symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites."
“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
From Thoughts Without a Thinker by Mark Epstein, M.D.
As daylight shortens and the weather turns colder, leaves stop making food. The chlorophyll which makes leaves green breaks down, and is reabsorbed into the tree. As the green disappears, the leaf's orange and yellow pigments become visible. Autumn was already there, all along.
Thank you so much for keeping company with me along my Bearings journey. It has become a labor of love, written from my heart. I have set myself the goal of writing one a week for at least a year. Your messages, texts and emails of love, encouragement and support will surely continue to sustain me in my work, and I am very grateful to you for that. 🙏 ❤️.
According to my publishing software (the excellent Ghost platform), more than 80% of you open the newsletter every week. Maybe every topic is at least somewhat interesting to most people. Some people tell me they connect with them all. Other people get in touch when one topic connects with them more deeply. Different people connect with different topics. It's a thing 😃.
With that in mind, I have an idea for you 😉. Go to the Bearings homepage here. Take a look through the different topics. There are 26 of them now, meaning that I am half way to my goal. Yay! I have also organized the 26 topics into six categories: Life's Journey, Seasons of the Soul, Relationships, The Undiscovered Self, Gifts and The Sacred and the Profane. If you find a topic that you think might resonate with a loved one, a friend or a colleague, copy the url and send them a tiny essay as a tiny gift!
Each week I explore a life metaphor that has touched me in my coaching. Subscribe to get my scribblings every Sunday morning. You can also follow me on Medium, or on LinkedIn. Feel free to forward this to a friend, colleague, or loved one, or anyone you think might benefit from reading it.