Autumn is a time when the leaves start to change colour. As they start to whirl down one by one, they remind us that it’s time to take a step back and slow down. The endless summer nights long gone, and with every day the evenings get a bit darker. This season shows us how beautiful it is to let things go. I always think that means that it’s a perfect time to curl up on the sofa with a good book, warm and cosy inside, and allow myself to rest. But letting go is also an active process. It asks that you release your hold on things that no longer serve you and that you restore your equilibrium. So whenever I fall into a state of slumber, I remind myself that it’s important to keep doing the things that give me new energy. Whether it is writing in my journal, going for a long, beautiful walk in the woods, or doing a gentle meditation practice down by the river.
Only three months ago I was sailing smoothly along the shore, legs stretched out on the bow, hands folded behind my head, relaxing in the sunshine, blue skies all around. I had a nice day job, a place to call my own, a furry companion and I was ready to find new love. Cut to stormy weather at sea, dark clouds everywhere, me over here barely hanging on to the stern of the boat, treading water as I wonder how much more I can stomach. How am I supposed to adopt a cat when I’ve just buried one, has anyone seen my date, I thought these demons were a thing of the past, and without a temp job can I even afford my home? At least I can always count on my anxiety to keep me company through difficult times! But the one thing that I realised, after swallowing another gulp of water, is that I may be on the outside of the boat right now, wondering where port side is, but I am still the captain of this ship. I am the one looking at the stars and navigating these waters, no matter how murky they get. As soon as I realised that, I felt really calm. As Ovid wrote in Metamorphoses: saevis tranquillus in undis. Calm amidst the raging waves…
Today, seperated from my love, I am
Without companion, sweetheart and friend, I am
The one who did not sleep in the darkness of night, I am
In short, entangled in every sorrow, I am.
– Nasibi Gilani
For the past seven months my beautiful Jet and I have been inseparable. Every morning she’d wake me up at sunrise, wait for me to finish my tai chi practice, rush to the sofa in the living room (brush time please!), cuddle up on my chest whenever I’d sit down, wait for me to come home and fall sleep in my arms at night, her soft nose pressed against my cheek. And now, out of the blue, this sweet creature, light of my life, is gone. Leaving me with nothing but memories. I will always remember that she was so scared on one of our last visits to the vet that she stuck her little head underneath my jumper, hiding in the safety of my embrace. It melted my heart to see how much she came to trust me, this little rescue animal, in the short period that I knew her. Faced with an emptiness that cannot be filled, I lost faith that there is always light to be found in the darkness. Overwhelmed with grief and feeling utterly defeated, I questioned everything. What’s the point in trying when we are all going to die anyway? But like the phoenix rising from the ashes, I too must start over. And so, with a saddened heart, I set out to rebuild all dreams lost.
Retreats are wonderful things. I mean the ones where a bunch of people go to a beautiful location for an intensive experience of something or other, with lots of togetherness. I’ve been on quite a few. From summer art camps to meditation/yoga/martial arts retreats across Europe. Now I’m finally ready to stop forcing myself to sign up for them. You see, being in a group drains my energy and if I’m deprived of the time I need to restore that energy, I get ill. Surrounded by so many happy campers, I’ve always felt there must be something wrong with me. If only I would be stronger, less sensitive, more relaxed, I would be able to keep up with the others. But there’s nothing wrong with me. Where does it say that growth (or enlightenment) can only be found in this intensive group setting? I understand now that just because something is good, it does not automatically mean that it is good for me. To each her own way and her own prayer. Or as a beautiful voice once whispered in my ear: you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. For me that is doing a little practice down by the river every day.
I was supposed to brush my teeth mindfully yesterday evening. Somehow between getting into my pajamas and packing my bag, I managed to rush through it the way I normally do. My mind completely elsewhere, until the subtle beep reminded me that I had to switch to the other side. And then it went off, again: things I’ve said that I shouldn’t have; things I didn’t do even though they were on my schedule; thinking about what my tomorrow would bring etcetera. When I lay down in bed, I made a decision to get up five minutes early and brush my teeth mindfully the next morning.