The Wisdom of Autumn

“No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace, As I have seen in one autumnal face.”

–John Donne

Autumn in Minnesota.
Photo by JStanton 2011.

Autumn, my favorite season of the year, has arrived here in Minnesota.  Its cooler temperatures and assorted shades of color energize me with a deep sense of joy. I receive the season’s gifts, however, with a slight sensation of sadness for I know that autumn, in all its glory, will not last forever. Leaves will fall, and trees that once decorated our landscapes with hues of green and gold, orange and yellow, red and rust, will soon turn bare. A kind of death will occur, and I do not look forward to this loss each year. Yet this loss teaches me an important lesson.

Fallen, autumn leaves remind me that though they die, life emerges through the pangs of death. Decayed leaves nourish the earth, providing rich humus for sprouting seeds in the spring. Once vibrantly alive in color and beauty, each fall’s dry, dead leaves bear life-giving nutrients for new springtime germination.

Rick rakes autumn leaves–on Christmas Day 2011!
Photo by JStanton.

This seasonal cycle of death and life also takes place in each of our lives. When we face the frustration of our limitations, or struggle with our inability to determine a much-desired outcome, we experience the ache of autumn, calling us to die, to let go. In letting go of what can no longer be, we open ourselves to the possibility of transformation that ushers in new, abundant life.

Yet I find it difficult when the ache of autumn touches me personally. I often struggle to trust that new life will follow the death of letting go. Recently, while going through a challenging struggle, I kept saying, “I know there’s an invitation in this,” but at a deeper, more resonant level, I found it difficult to trust that invitation would come, or that I would even recognize it when it was staring me in the face.

So perhaps, when I’m faced with a difficult change or transition I would to do well to remember that no matter what the outcome, the wisdom of poet Ranier Rilke tells me:

“The leaves are falling…

as though far gardens withered in the skies…

we are all falling…

and yet there is one who holds this falling endlessly, gently in his hands.”

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