What You’ll Find Inside: Sometimes our teachers show up unexpectedly in our lives. This year I found that my fall garden was one of the best teachers in mindfulness that I had ever had. Full of richness, full of lessons.
It was mid-November and our vegetable garden was still hanging on. By this point I usually have my raised beds cleared out for the winter and I was getting a little antsy about the impending snow. This year, my cherry tomato plants had grown to 7 feet tall. They were unstoppable and gave no indication they were accepting the end of the season.
Finally, I took my tomatoes out and hung them over an archway so they could ripen in the sun and I could clean out the garden beds. It appeared they were trying to hold on through the winter. Not yet ready to let go.
Where I live In Ontario, Canada, we’ve usually had at least one snowfall by Halloween, so this T-shirt and shorts weather in November had us really upside down. On weekends and evenings, we’d been in sprinklers and at the beach all September and October.
So you can imagine how the three inches of snow we got the day after pulling my tomatoes out was a shock to everyone’s systems.
As though we were also not ready to give up summer and fall. And now it appeared that winter was here to stay. All my tomatoes froze 🙁
Fall Signals a Fresh Start
Whether we live in the city or the country, nature has an abundance of mindfulness lessons for us throughout the year. If we open our senses and minds, we will take these in. Some lessons are like an old friend who keeps coming back and offering comfort and support. Some are big aha moments. One thing is for sure: being in nature is therapeutic.
Fall, for many, signals a shift in our psyches, our bodies and our rhythms. As nature readies itself for the coming winter, we begin to quiet ourselves.
In the academic world, fall is a time for new beginnings – but many of us, having been in school for so many years, have never shed this “September signals a fresh start” feeling.
Although the routines of starting fresh in September may be long gone, having children can keep us in this rhythm.
These changes and hesitations towards change, offer us deep lessons of the soul if we choose to see the meaning in the mundane. Fall signifies the need to be mindful of the changes happening inside and outside of ourselves.
Lesson Number 1: Impermanence
Revered Buddhist teacher, author and poet Thich Nhat Hanh offers this comment on a chapter of the Heart Sutra::
One autumn day, I was in a park, absorbed in the contemplation of a very small but beautiful leaf, in the shape of a heart. Its color was almost red, and it was barely hanging on the branch, nearly ready to fall down. I spent a long time with it, and I asked the leaf a lot of questions…
I asked the leaf whether it was scared because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, “No. During the whole spring and summer I was very alive. I worked hard and helped nourish the tree, and much of me is in the tree. Please do not say that I am just this form because the form of leaf is only a tiny part of me. I am the whole tree. I know that I am already inside the tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. That’s why I do not worry. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, I will see you again very soon.”
Autumn is the essence of impermanence. For most plants, the growing season is coming to an end. The leaves on the trees are changing colour and letting go, the flowers are starting to turn brown and wither, the vegetables that were once plentiful have stopped bearing fruit (some of them anyway!)
This is our signal to bid farewell to the aspects of our life that are ending or dying.
We may be in a relationship or career that’s no longer serving us. If our heart isn’t singing, it may be time to look at the changes we need to bring the song back into our heart and soul.
This isn’t to say we cast away relationships when difficult times come. It’s a time of introspection. A time to assess what needs to change. Sometimes it’s a fresh perspective, other times it’s a change in a particular relationship.
We may be moving into a different life phase – children are going off to school or our parents may need more support from us as they age. It helps us to handle these states of flux when we accept nothing ever stays the same.
We’re always moving from one thing to another and it’s often so organic and natural we don’t notice. But then when something big changes unexpectedly, it can take us by surprise if we’ve believed things will be this way forever.
Sometimes we cling to something and have a hard time letting go. It’s in these moments we need to take heed of nature around us and recognize letting go is natural – when it’s the right time. The apples hold on until the bitter end but when they are really ready, they eventually let go.
Lesson Number 2: Gratitude
The Harvest reminds us to be grateful for the inner work we’ve done this year and are doing right now. We are reaping the results of what we have sown all year.
If we’ve been doing inner work, we can be thankful for the changes which have happened inside us and manifested in our outer worlds by now. This can give us courage or mental space to start down a new path. Perhaps this means starting the business we’ve always wanted to start, finishing a course, organizing the closets, sticking to a wellness routine, or being a better parent.
If we’ve sown seeds we’re not so happy with, anger, jealousy, contempt, lack of self-care… we’ll suffer the consequences of those seeds that have now taken root. Sometimes we get in a rut.
Don’t let a few bad seeds discourage you though.
We feel gratitude for being here, at the closing of this season. Grateful for all we have learned this year, or are learning right now, looking back over our choices and where they have brought us.
We know what the garden in our mind has grown. It was we who tended to this garden and helped it to grow. We made choices to feed our soul in positive ways or we may have fed the angry wolf, the green-eyed monster or the martyr.
The good news is we can let those negative roots and seedlings die off if we are willing to.
Lesson Number 3: Stay in Tune with Yourself
Just as the cherry tomatoes in my garden didn’t pack up and stop growing when I was ready to clean out my gardens, you may notice one aspect of your life is causing resistance. Perhaps you’re rushing.
Change takes time and patience. It’s also best served with a warm cup of kindness towards ourselves. If we’re in tune with our bodies and hearts, we can ‘feel’ the right moment for a change.
Often it’s our mind rushing or resisting the change. Sometimes we feel we have no control over our thoughts – but this is the area in which we have the most control.
Our heart and body give us clues and yearnings as to the direction we should go. If we listen, we hear those messages and can make the choice to change our thoughts. Once we change our thoughts, our emotions and actions begin to follow suit. When we act differently, those around us begin to respond. By this point, we’re committed and ready to move forward with the new us.
Lesson Number 4: Slow Down and Take in the Richness
Annual and Perennial plants have different jobs in the fall.
Your annual vegetables are producing their last fruit and slowly letting go of their year of glorious production.
Your perennials (the trees, plants, and veggies that will grow anew in the spring) are busy doing something else. They are gathering up all the nutrients and vitamins – the richness – from the surrounding soil. They are preparing for a long rest in which they’re no longer “doing” they are just “being.” Allowing nature to take its course and nourish them. Bathing them in what they need to poke through the soil yet again when the spring sunshine warms their roots.
Fall is the time for us to breathe in the richness around us. The old decaying bits have died off, old relationships (or bits of our old selves) are on their way out. The wheels are in motion to affect change. Now is the time we wrap ourselves in self-care and nourish our hearts.
It’s the time to prepare for rest. Time to let nature do its thing. We’ve made choices as to what we want in our life and these requests are being fulfilled.
Just as the tree or flower doesn’t question whether it will produce buds again in the spring, we need to trust if we have done the gentle pruning and wrapped ourselves in the richness, we will grow. We are now safe to rest and let the new “buds” in us gather strength inside.
Reflecting on the Fall Lessons in Mindfulness
As with the universe and everything in it, we are always in a state of flux. Always changing.
It’s important to practice gratitude for being aware of where you are now and how that helps you. No matter what your choices have been, what seeds you’ve sown, the results are before you and you have a choice of how to tend this garden.
Staying in tune with your heart, soul, and body will help guide you at the right time for a change. Remember to be kind and patient with yourself.
Once you’ve made choices around the changes in your life, it’s time to gather your strength and wrap yourself up in nourishment. Read or listen to empowering books which support these changes, spend time with close family and friends who are supportive. And just let the change happen within you while you rest and go deep inside for the winter.
I was sad to see my garden covered in snow (and my not-yet-ripe) cherry tomatoes frozen. But I was also overjoyed to see the fresh new snow. So white, so promising. So many new and different things happen in the winter.
Thank you garden, for all the lessons this fall.