‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. We are probably all familiar with the first line of Keat’s poem ‘Ode to Autumn’. It was on my mind this morning as I drove to the farm. The lanes wind their way through wooded valleys and past the River Severn. Mist shrouded everything, trees appeared to almost float in a sea of this silver wispy substance and everything had a slightly disembodied, other world feel to it.
The magic was abruptly broken when I said good morning to a dog walker on my arrival at the farm. Her face glum, she pulled her jacket close around her. “Miserable day,” she sighed, “Winter is on the way.” I smiled and commented on how beautiful Autumn was. The lady almost sneered “Yeah…but I hate the dark nights…give me sunshine any day, every day”
We don’t know how to cope with times of fallowness or the seeming inactivity that darkness brings”
I pondered her words as I wandered down to the horses, saddened that she could not see the beauty all around her. Yet I know her feelings are not unique. ‘Give me sunshine everyday.’ Western society shuns the dark, focusing on the light, what we can produce and what can be seen. Cut off from the natural rhythms and cycles of the earth, we don’t know how to cope with times of fallowness or the seeming inactivity that darkness brings.
A doorway into the darker months
In recent months we have celebrated the Autumn Equinox (or Alban Elfed as it is known in Druid circle) and Samhain. Like Lughnasadh, Alban Elfed is a festival of Harvest. Our ancestors would have gathered together to celebrate the cutting of the last sheaves. On the Equinox the sun hangs on the Equator and day and night are balanced, reminding us that we need balance in our lives. Trees are full of fruit, nuts and berries and all around us Nature is preparing for the coming dark months. Samhain is a time when the veil between the worlds is thought to be at its thinnest, when ancestors are remembered. A doorway into the darker months of the year, Samhain invites us to let go of doing and go within.
Nature knows the inherent wisdom in the dark months.
Trees are letting their energy sink back to their roots, leaves are falling to the ground to provide rich compost for future growth. Squirrels are hoarding their stores. Unlike my dog walking acquaintance, Nature knows the inherent wisdom in the dark months.
We have lost the art of rest. Technological advances mean that we can be connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Advertising brainwashes people into thinking that to be successful we must look a certain way, own a certain car or brand of product, have a certain status. FAST is equated with successful; from fast foods to fast broadband or fast results. Being busy is worn as a badge of honour and yet this constant pressure for activity and production, for the accumulation of things or causes, produces stress that robs us of our health, both physical and mental. According to the UK Statistics Authority, 17 million working days were lost in 2015, costing the economy at least £2.4 billion.
Some reading this might protest that they resist the cultural pressures. Not going along with the materialistic world view, they are more interested in the plight of the earth and things of the soul. I count myself in this number. However, we live in turbulent times and grappling with climate change, terrorism, political upheaval, the plight of refugees and the ever widening gap between rich and poor, brings its own stress .Recent decisions by political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic ocean can bring us to a place of desperation and reactivity, leading to more and more activism and protest as we try to stem the tide of violence against our planet.
The frenzy of our activism neutralises our work for peace.
Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk spoke about this level of violence as a form of violence in itself. ‘There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence and that is activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralises our work for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work because it kills the root of inner wisdom that makes the work fruitful.’
‘Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths where the good way lies and find rest for your souls.’
So what is the answer? It feels like our world is standing at a crossroads with so much at stake. I love the words taken from the prophet Jeremiah; ‘Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths where the good way lies and find rest for your souls.’
I passionately believe that we need to rediscover the power of rest. We need to look to Nature to teach us. As the Wheel of the year turns, the dark months can remind us that it is not only ok to slow down, it is vital. Perhaps like me you are drawn to the idea but find it hard to see where you could possible take time out. Although chunks of time are ideal, it is not always practical to begin that way.
But there is a way of acknowledging your own rhythms, of finding rest in the midst of chaos. The Nature Process, is one of the best ways I have found. The Nature Process is a simple way of deepening your connection to nature by being in the body and experiencing nature through the senses. (for more information see www.thenatureprocess.co/) Rediscovering our connection to nature in this way affects our brain waves and shifts us a state of stress to deep relaxation. This has a knock on effect on our health and well -being when practiced on a regular basis.
Alba Elfed means ‘Light on the Water’. The Autumn Equinox is placed on the West of the wheel, water is the element connected to this direction. Samhain is North West and we begin to move into the element of earth. As I write this, I am sat looking at the small lake outside my cabin. Surrounded by trees it is an image of deep stillness. I imagine the depths of the lake remaining calm, even on days where winds ripple and disturb the surface and this reminds me that I also have hidden depths that can remain undisturbed, whatever is going on at the surface.
Take a moment to be still and allow an image of water to emerge in your mind’s eye. What comes up for you? Fast flowing rivers? Ocean waves? Rain watering parched ground or floods wreaking destruction? Perhaps it is water in the form of ice or mists such as the ones described at the beginning of this blog. Mists that add a sense of mystery to the ordinary landscape. Whatever the image, stay with it for a while and see what wisdom it has for you. It may be connected to your own life, or perhaps a situation that you are involved with.
Working in this way with Nature is, for me, one of ‘the ancient paths where the good way lies.’
Following these paths have indeed brought me increasing rest. I hope you find the same.