Nurture with Nature: Fall Fruition
Updated: Sep 25, 2019
In my book, Autumn = All Things Magnificent. We have changing leaves (here in the Northeast). We have cooler air that is easier to breathe and invites hot drinks like tea, coffee, and the infamous pumpkin spice latte. We have the perfect excuse to throw on comfortable and cozy sweaters, pants, and scarves. The decorations are simply divine, from gourds to hay bales to invitations for gratefulness and offering thanks (and don't even get me started on my favorite holiday: Halloween).
Yup, Autumn rocks my socks.
However, most of what we celebrate seems to be the superficial magic of what this part of the seasonal cycle has to offer. There is so much to be gained by diving deeper into the beauty that is starting to happen in nature; so much wisdom at our fingertips that is aching to be rediscovered.
So, what exactly is taking place at and after the Autumnal Equinox?
Autumnal Equinox Celebrations & Recognition
At the equinox, the Earth’s axis, which is normally tilted, is neither leaning toward or away from the Sun. This allows us a pause of equal day and night, an going forward we will see shorter days/longer nights as life starts receding from the world. We witness global cross-cultural observation of the equinox event such as the Pagans, Celts, & Druids who gather at monolithic sights like Stonehenge to usher in the change of season (Mabon). Japanese Buddhist culture honor their ancestors through the week-long festival of Higan. Chinese & Vietnamese celebrate the Moon Festival (Mid-Autumn Fest) by gathering to watch the full moon nearest to the Equinox while eating confections deemed “moon cakes”. Christians celebrate Michealmas at the end of Sept to honor St. Michael and all the archangels (originally timed to draw the faithful away from pagan festivities).
The universal observance of this particular time of year is fascinating to me and should point our attention to the fact that something important is happening here, so lets explore what Mother Nature is trying to tell us.
Nature Lesson 1: Gathering & community
Early societies understood the importance of feasting with your neighbors to create a village. Without each other, they could not survive, so they feasted together to celebrate, to create community, and to give thanks. Today, we have grown much more exclusive and isolated than just two generations ago. We feel that we need to do it all, and if we can’t then there’s something wrong with us. We see so much perfection reflected back at us through social media and public media, its hard to think that this is the exception to the rule instead of the rule.
However, in most developing countries, which rely heavily on traditional community systems, families report little to no stress as is commonly reported by first-world families. Chronic stress, depression, anxiety, and suffering from “perfectionist” ideals are almost nonexistent. The biggest factor that affects this is the village mentality. The extended family is nearly always present for assistance in child rearing and home-making (multi-generational household or family lives nearby), and neighbors are essentially a second family, allowed to watch, guide, and help as necessary. This is closer to how our ancestors were raised, with community as the backbone of a successful life. In nature, to be successful (not dying) is expressed and achieved through the herd mentality, with very few exceptions. It’s not really “the strong survive” as much as it is “the many survive.” And for us humans presently, our community gives us survival not in the life or death sense, but in emotional, mental, and spiritual support.
Nature Lesson 2: Harvest, Abundance, & Gratitude
For the soul, the autumnal equinox is also a time of harvest. Celebrate autumn equinox by harvesting your inner fruits of awareness the seeds that you have both reaped and sown. Take a moment to evaluate the choices you have made this year regarding your home life, professional life, and community. Every choice we made is a seed we have sown, and its result either bears fruit or becomes barren. Have you done something good and nourishing for yourself (like eating better, reconciling with a friend, starting a new class)? Have you done something stunting to your health (like picking up a vice, treated someone poorly, racked up financial debt)? Or have you done something neutral (like not helping a friend in need, passed by an opportunity to donate extra money or food which isn’t essential to your survival)? The good, the bad, and the ugly are all a part of our harvest, and it’s important to give gratitude for it all. Yes, even the poor choices. We learn our greatest lessons through trial and struggle. When we toil in the field of our lives, we become smarter and more attentive farmers, yielding even more abundance in the next season of our lives. There is always, always something to be grateful, and this is the season of thanks. Allow this nature lesson to touch you as deeply as it needs to for you to understand this universal law
Nature Lesson 3: Balance of Light & Dark
Summer was a time of so much Going and Doing (both “masculine” or “yang” attributes), that it NEEDED balance in order for one to remain whole and nourished. The candle could not be burned at both ends (maximum “doing” and little “self-care”). But the solstices actually mark the gradual return of or turning away from the sun. The Equinox, derived from aequus = equal and nox = night, actually marks a time where the days and nights are equal in terms of sunlight hours.
On the equinox day and night, dark and light, inner and outer, masculine and feminine, are all in balance before the night takes over…Bringing darkness along with the death of winter. All things must die before they can be reborn, and all spiritual ascent requires descent first. We are a reflection of the universe that surrounds us, what takes place outside of us, also takes place within us. This means that those who long for the light must first face the darkness within themselves. It is on the autumnal equinox that this stage of inner preparation for enlightenment can begin, in order to make way for the return of the sun on the winter solstice, and its rebirth on the spring vernal equinox. This is why it is so important to use this time of universal balance to hold gratitude in your heart for the life lessons that have helped you grow, and to do the hard work of letting go of everything else.
Nature Lesson 5: Dominant Elements - Earth, Metal, & Air
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Earth is unique among the five elements in that it corresponds to two unusual time periods: First, “Indian/Late summer,” and second, seasonal transitions (those few weeks between seasons in which autumn changes to winter, winter to spring and spring to summer) Earth is a stabilizing force during these times of transition. After all the activity of spring and summer, nature’s time to grow and bloom, earth can help us get centered and balanced in late summer as we organize ourselves for the autumn harvest and begin to prepare ourselves for winter, the season of rest. In traditional Chinese medicine, the earth element is associated with the spleen, pancreas and stomach, the organs of digestion and nutrition. Pay attention to consuming healthy (non-refined) sugars, and slow, mindful eating to aid digestion. Embracing our “earth” attributes allows us to more easily access our stable, responsible, nurturing, compassionate, and supportive side.
Autumn brings the harvest of crops, shorter days and preparation for winter. The metal element, from rough ore to sparkling gemstones, symbolizes the process of refinement and its resulting products. In this season, it’s time to make sure everything pure and necessary is used and maximized, and that anything unnecessary or wasteful is eliminated. Furthermore, metal is connected to air through the lungs. The lungs and the large intestine, associated with metal in Chinese medicine, both deal with purification and elimination. Eating vegetables and whole grains is necessary for our bodies year-round. Because they serve as cleansers for the intestines, however, they have added significance in autumn, when it’s important to keep your metal element in balance. Root vegetables are particularly healthful “metal” food. Embracing our “metal” attributes means allowing ourselves the space to be courageous, determined, simplistic/minimal, righteous, and in possession of our inner strength.
In Ayurveda, Autumn is the season of air. The season of air begins as the leaves begin to fall. The weather becomes cooler and there is a sense of transition or movement in the weather. Air represents the gradual weakening of nature as it moves away from its full bloom and moves forward to face the dormancy of winter. Nature intends for everything and everyone to become lighter at this time. There is a danger of becoming too mobile and light at this time if the proper precautions (counterbalances) are not taken. To live in harmony with this time of year means to spend time reflecting on the activities of the past spring and summer (practice the pause). While motion and lightness are natural at this “air” time, excess motion (business) may be articulated in the body and mind as anxiety, restlessness, or insomnia, while excess lightness (constant distraction, lack of focus) will deplete your energy.
Control of the air element within us is attained through the development of routines. Stable, grounding, healthy routines will help keep us from becoming depleted. Nutritionally, a diet that is heavier will also support balance, such as root vegetables, dairy like yogurt, kefir, and cooked whole milk, and whole grains. Emotionally, surrender leads to the highest manifestations of motion (air), and this requires faith. In Ayurveda, air is very closely linked to what we call spirit (prana). Thus, air/spirit flows freely through a body & mind that has cultivated an attitude of surrender and faith in both self and the divine.
Nature Lesson 6: Transition & Honoring
We can feel the personification of transition all around us. The wheel of nature is churning as we experience cooler nights, crisper air, and changing leaves. Daylight is waning. The full glory of nature and life that was teeming in the spring and summer are calming down, and bounties are being plucked and stored. In this time, when life is beginning to leave our natural world, we can try to do as the Buddhists do. In Japan a week-long celebration around each equinox occurs called O-Higan, or just Higan (“other shore”). Both equinoxes have been national holidays for the past 150 years The Japanese Buddhist belief is that the land of the afterlife is due west, and during the equinoxes, the sun sets directly west. The equinoxes, therefore, are appropriately symbolic of the transitions of life. This week is reserved as a time to visit the graves of one's ancestors, to spruce up the grave sites, and to leave flowers. It is also a time of meditation and to visit living relatives. This sounds very similar to the Western tradition we have around All Saints Day and All Souls Day (or the Hispanic Dia Des Los Muertos). Many cultures take special care to honor their dearly departed, as elders and ancestors are regarded with the highest reverence. In our elder-phobic society, there is much we can learn about proper care and respect for our oldest generation. Let Nature remind us now of the beauty of aging and the sacred part it plays in the circle of life.
Autumn Activity: Blessings & Project Lists!
After we sat took in everything there was to learn about the lessons of great Mother Earth, we sat down together to share some of her gifts to us in the form of a popular harvest-time treat: apple crisp! And do you think it sat long enough for me to snap a nice picture of it?
In fairness, I also forgot to take a picture of it the entire evening leading up to our gathering, so the fault really should just fall on me. Oh well. NY Times makes it look delicious, too. You go, Mark Mittman!
Coming back to our activity, Fall is the perfect time of year to take an inventory of the Spring & Summer, analyzing what went right as well as areas that could use some work. This prepares us for the inner work that we will accomplish when we withdraw for the dormancy of upcoming winter. But until then, we have precious few months to accomplish the remainder of our important goals and projects.
Blessing List: Fall is the time for gathering & enjoying the comfort of friends & loved ones. There is so much to be grateful for. I encouraged everyone to jot down 5 things they have been grateful for so far this year. Then, we made a list of 3-5 simple things we can do for someone else to spread the joyful energy of abundance and gratitude.
Project/Goal List: We made a list of everything we’ve been wanting to do (deep fall cleaning; out with the old, in with meaningful space). Let the sky be the limit! However, to help keep it manageable, we picked our top three choices. The object was to remove stress from this equation.
After sharing some of our blessings with each other, we concluded with a prayer: “On this Autumn Equinox, may I be reminded of everything in my life that is a blessing. In my gratefulness, may I pass on these blessings to everyone around me. On this equal night, may I embrace both the light and dark within. May I be emboldened to accomplish my goals, and brave enough to let go of what no longer serves me. Let it fall away as I breathe my way into a new season.”
Autumn Meditation: Pranayama and Guided Crystal Cave Meditation
I really tried to incorporate the reigning natural elements in this part of the evening because, well, it's fun! The obvious way to incorporate air into our meditation was to begin with a deep breathing exercise. Since air is recognized by Ayurvedic culture to rule Autumn, I really wanted to include a pranayama, or in other words a breathing exercise which clears the nadis (energy chanels). The Pranayama we chose to partake in is the Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing (see this easy-to-follow video for at-home application). Life is only ever happening in the present moment, and so is the breath. Pranayamas can therefore be a beautiful & powerful meditative tool. In Ayurveda (the ruling health system of Indian/Hindu culture), the body is believed to have thousands of nadis that run throughout the body, not dissimilar to the meridians of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The three most important nadis are the Ida (left, feminine), Pingala (right, masculine), and Shushumna (central, spiritual/primordial channel).
These channels start at the base of the spine, rising and intersecting to form our major chakras/energy centers, and terminate at key points in the head near the Brow chakra just above the nostrils (except for Sushumna which terminates at the crown). The culmination of balance between these nadis is revealed at the Crown chakra, allowing for optimal spiritual growth and meditation. When these channels are balanced and clear, we give ourselves the power to manage our life and all its challenges with greater ease - with grace. During our pranayama we listened to a yogic chant (listen to the video here, it's magical!) repeating the words “ong namo guru dev namo”, meaning I bow to the All-That-Is/Infinite; I bow to the Divine Wisdom within myself.” After we got started, I came around and placed my hands on (gave Reiki to) the crown of everyone's head to open their energy channels (nadis) to receive divine cosmic light.
After the Nadi Shodhana was finished, I switched our music to some lovely, enchanting crystal singing bowls (can be found here) to help incorporate the next two dominant elements: earth and metal (or in this case, mineral/crystal). I asked my participants to lay down and get comfortable, and went into the guided meditation portion which would conclude our evening. I will include the script I used below (adapted heavily from the lovely meditation found on this Zen blog):
I also recorded an audio file of the guided meditation which can be found here: enjoy! If you don't have Dropbox, simply skip any prompts to sign up for an account and go straight to the webpage. The audio is a little quiet so don't be afraid to turn up your device.
"Continue breathing deeply, being mindful of taking deep, slow belly breaths. I invite you now to take the position you will be resting in for the remainder of the evening…Allow yourself to relax into your seated or laying position and become calm but aware. Let your muscles settle and rest, dropping any tension that might still be in your hips, back, shoulders, hands, jaw, neck, and face. Feel the floor underneath you, solid and supportive. Imagine the entire earth rising up to meet the curves of your legs, back, shoulders, and head. Feel yourself giving into its gentle support, giving into the beautifully grounding and calming electromagnetic waves that Mother Earth pours out for us every moment of every day. Breathe in peace and calm, breath out everything that no longer serves you. Breathe in safety and love, breathe out worry and tension. Breathe in wisdom and trust, breathe out uncertainty and control. Bathe in your stillness, in the neutrality of your energy at this time. Know that when we come back to our truest selves, it is here in this space of openness and present moment mindfulness. After all, we are human beings, not human doings.
"Imagine you are walking along in the cool air of an underground passage; the tunnel is lit with softly flickering candles in naturally formed pockets along the walls. The sweet smell of beeswax reaches you every time you pass one, and your movement causes the candlelight to flicker. It’s very peaceful here and there is the sense that many people have come here before; it’s the kind of reverence you feel on instinct when witnessing the majesty of a natural wonder. It’s totally and completely safe here. You hear the soft crunch of earth under your feet as you continue down the passageway. The carefully smoothed walls of the tunnel glisten and gleam in the candlelight; when you touch them with your finger-tips, they are slightly damp and slippery to the touch, like the stones of a nearby stream.
"Continue along; the path curves slightly, and after a while you come to an opening ahead of you where a soft light gleams. Go through the opening. You find that you are in a large cave, lit only by candlelight. A single candle floats in a pool of very clear water in the center of the cave. You notice that it seems far lighter in here than you might expect from just one candle and you look around for the reason.
"You quickly realize that the whole cave is lined with the finest and most lovely crystals you can imagine. It is as if you are inside a living geode, a bubble of earth where crystals have grown for centuries, or likely, eons. There is the subtlest intuitive impression that they have been here since the Creation, since light, dark, and matter were formed. The light from the single candle is reflected from each facet of countless crystals - they cover every inch of the walls and ceiling of the cave. It’s as though the shimmer of the night sky’s stars have been captured and brought down into the cave. Their beauty is almost too much to bear.
It’s simply breathtaking.
"You sit down near the dark pool of water and notice there is a low, backless seat carved from oak and you find it pleasantly comfortable. As you sit and marvel and the cave, you notice that the pool of water is not still; bubbles rise steadily from the center and you see now that water softly spills over one end of the natural stone bowl, and into a groove in the floor where it trickles away with a lovely sound like living music. The gentle rushing of the water is deeply relaxing, deeply comforting.
"Sit quietly and enjoy the radiance of the earth-born crystals and the music of the earth-born waters. The air is cool and fresh and moist and any difficulties you may have had with breathing vanish in this pure healing air. The scent of minerals, earth, and rock salt gently fill your lungs with every in-breath. You feel deeply peaceful and connected with the earth. Touch the water and scoop a little in your hand and even bathe your face with it; feel your worries and cares melting away.
"You notice that there has been something sitting next to you since your arrival, but your eyes have adjusted and you are only just now seeing it. You pick it up, needing both hands. It is smooth but has many corners, and has a little bit of heft to it. It erupts in light with each turn in your hands. It’s dark and beautiful. It’s a chunk of crystal that must have fallen from the ceiling some time ago. You hold this large raw gem in our lap, cradling it slightly. Its presence evokes a gentle calm, and it’s as though it’s inviting you to close your eyes. This gem has an almost life-like energy to it, an aura that is nearly palpable. Touching it, you feel instantly plugged in to the entire network of crystals within the cave. Their energy cocoons you, and you relax into its gentle embrace. Here, you feel completely supported by mother earth, completely safe, and there is a restorative glow that hums throughout your body.
"In the connection to this network, you are reminded that each beautiful facet of these crystals is just like the beauty that shimmers within you. Just as they gleam, you too have an immense collection of gems to offer the world. You look within and see some areas that are rough ore, needing a tender hand to pick and polish away the coarseness. Some areas where scepters and terminated points have burst through the rock, reflecting the burgeoning talents and gifts that you have started to nurture in your life. Some areas are beautifully faceted diamonds, reflective of the life-long passions and joys you have taken great care to polish and cultivate. Just as this cave is immeasurably old, so too is your soul an ageless and endless source of wisdom and clarity. You realize that your true inner nature is just like this cave: beautiful, peaceful, and brimming with light. It is here that your gifts are stored, and from here that you can act with grace, patience, and compassion.
"Stay as long as you wish, feeling the deep healing this place gives to any who visit. You know that you can always return here at any time. It is your sanctuary to cherish. Be with this consciousness as I come around now to give each of you Reiki at the heart and throat chakras, allowing our centers for compassion, love, and truth the fully expand and radiate.
"As we get ready to return to a waking state, whisper your prayers of gratitude to the cave. They will be heard, they will be stored. They will enhance the collective consciousness of our earth and human-kind. Silently send this gratitude now. As being to leave the cave, your movement sets the candle flickering and the light dances and casts rainbows across your face. Return up the stone passage way, walking slowly but methodically. Soon you find yourself back to where you began. Breathe deeply and when you are ready to open your eyes, you will notice how calm, centered, and deeply refreshed you feel. Take all the time you need to return to a sitting position."
Bringing my participants back to a waking consciousness, I concluded the evening by having them bring their hands to the universal prayer posture and spoke this Equinox Declaration to them:
"I am a blessing to behold in all my exquisiteness and imperfections. I see both the light and the dark within, and they are both ME. I rejoice in gathering with my tribe, and easily accept support and love as gifts that I am worthy to receive. I acknowledge all gifts in me that are coming to fruition, and I am ready to share them. I see WITH wisdom the great abundance in my life, and I pay it forward with a grateful heart. As I go into the season of Autumn, I am carried by the entirety of my ancestors before me. May I be a blessing to all I meet as I walk this cool, crisp path toward Winter."
I hope you can incorporate some of these delightful lessons, activities, or meditations into your Autumn transition. Be well, my friends.
Love & Light,