It finally feels like autumn in Pennsylvania. The wind is caressing the edges of our home, making the warmth inside seem like a cozy little pod in which to hunker down. Our flannels and chunky socks are out, the coffee pot is warm, and our noses are filled with spicy scents of our last meal. The fall is coming to me with messages of rest. For some reason, the weeks leading out of summer were hectic, strained, and defined by busyness – all of which I will readily give up. In order to combat the anxious spirits, I made a decision to wake up each morning at 5:45 A.M. (!!!) and settle deeply into a morning yoga and meditation practice. When this thought first flashed through my brain, I will admit that I (internally) shouted to my inner voice, “Are you kidding me? This will never work! I am not disciplined enough.” To my surprise, after a few weeks, I find myself eager to take the time to welcome the sun each morning with movement, breath, and meditation.
Two thoughts came to me today:
Find a sense of ease in the difficulty.
Our purpose on this earth is to reduce the suffering.
The first was a statement by the yoga instructor as we held standing postures for long periods of time. Of course, she was speaking about the extended side angle we engaged in, but it entered into my spirit in a profound way. So often we fight against the flurry of activity around us, becoming victims (often self-inflicted) of the actions by others (often a result of something that has nothing to do with us, personally.) Take, for instance, anger. It is an ugly, ugly characteristic that can cause deep pain in both the holder of the anger and the person on the receiving end. That anger is rooted in a problem totally unrelated to the recipient of the jealous feelings. When I am in this situation, I will automatically take it to heart, imagining that it is something about me that is causing such anger in the other. I am not locating a sense of ease in the difficulty. My choices are: 1. respond, 2. do not respond. Having no response is not a hateful reaction, but in fact a very loving response to the other person. It requires understanding that the other is acting out of anger/jealousy/etc. because of a pain of which she is unable to let go.
Regardless of what the difficulty is, finding a sense of ease in it allows us to train ourselves to become unresponsive – nonreactive – in the absolute best way. Not only do we resist the development of pain in our own minds and spirits, but we discontinue the cycle of pain that transfers out of ourselves to others.
This leads me to the second statement… conjured out of thin air this morning. Let me give a little bit of background to its significance. I am coming to the end of my years in graduate school and, almost daily, I ask myself, “What should I do next?” Over the months, this evolved to, “What is my purpose?” While I do not think that my answer this morning is the specific one I was looking for, it hit me like a proverbial truck. Perhaps I heard this before? Perhaps. The point is that it was revealed to me after a period of serious introspection into the question. Regardless of occupation, of economic status, of age, gender, race, religion, or abilities, every person’s purpose is to reduce the suffering in the world. Try to argue me away from this one. You cannot do it. Any action that relies on a moral compass – regardless of the spiritual system that one utilizes – points back to this truth.
So what does this have to do with autumn?
While it is easy to make the statements like the ones above (or, maybe it is not so easy), it can be very difficult to live in a way that supports them. The transition into autumn is a metaphor and a reality, and it is not just for the trees. In contemporary society we want to live in a perpetual summer, avoiding at all costs the drying and falling of the leaves, cooler temperatures, and dark hours. We brighten our surroundings with celebratory decorations and twinkling lights. There is nothing wrong with wishing for light! But the summer must end. Autumn brings a necessary coolness that causes us to turn inward for rejuvenation. Sometimes this is masked by the visible signs of withering all around us and it is easy to forget that it is in service of new life to come in spring. We require periods of quiet and fading and drying up to pass through the seasons of our lives. It is necessary in order to take on the new eyes that come with spring after the deep cold of winter. This prepares us for a new summer.
My sister had serious health challenges this year that impacted her body in profound ways. As a result, the human body has a different meaning to me. My relationship with my husband underwent incredible changes as the result of having a beautiful little boy, but it has established in me the firm belief in the stability of our family core. I am about to transition out of the official role of student to a new professional identity, after a radical, life-changing experience (that I never, ever want to repeat.) It challenged my ideals, my character, and my sense of self. I come out of it a new person, confident in my abilities.
I write this to illustrate that, though one may view each difficulty as a test and a winter in itself, it is my belief that these require the acceptance of an inward turn – a cool autumn that leads to a quiescent winter. It will come regardless, but the key is to not resist it.
Find ease in the difficulty. Do not let the cold brittle your bones, but recognize the interior workings of growth.