Archive for September, 2010

The Autumn Equinox

You may not realize it, but this year, the Autumn Equinox aligns with the full moon, so we have both cycles beginning on the same day.  Indeed, as is the case during each new season, this will be a time of powerful transition. As we experience this shift within, we can learn a lot from observing what happens in nature–most striking, is what we see happening to the trees. And, I would like to reflect upon this and offer some thoughts on the matter of letting go.

In a beautifully written synopsis of this season from a Chinese Medical perspective, Neil Gumenick writes: “Nature instructs us about our own cycles of creating and letting go: Trees in autumn don’t stubbornly hold onto their leaves because they might need them next year.”  He goes on to say, “….how many of us defy the cycle and hold onto what we’ve produced or collected-those decayed leaves, that old negativity?”
It is indeed these attachments that prevent us from moving forward in our evolution. On the level of living now, we wind up carrying an ever heavier load if we do not allow things to fall away.
Quite simply, it is important to examine what we are holding onto and to examine what, if any, purpose it serves. More aptly, how does holding on defeat your purpose of achieving a healthier and more balanced life? This is the lesson of autumn.
What would we expect of a tree if it did not let go of its leaves?
So, in that spirit, take a deep breath…..but make sure you let it out!




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The Nature of Attachment

Clearly, attachment is a biological process that is needed for survival. A leaf is attached to a branch, a petal is attached to a stamen, and a tortoise is attached to its shell. However, just as attachment is an essential part of nature, so too is the biological imperative for letting go: A hermit crab leaves a shell that is too small. A snake scurries away from its sibling’s moments after its birth. A bird freely abandons its nest once a squirrel or other animal has corrupted it. Tress let go of their leaves in the fall. Everywhere in nature we see examples of moving on and letting go. Humans, on the other hand, are challenged by this idea and struggle to leave the places, people and things to which they have grown accustomed. Like a well-worn sweater that has become a little too tight or soft leather couch that no longer supports us, we become so attached to things, especially our value systems and beliefs that we willingly screw up our lives to keep them in place. Unlike the rest of the natural world, we remain attached to the familiar, even after it no longer serves us and often after it contributes to states of dysfunction and poor health.

Where do we find the help to take on the challenge of letting go? The best answer takes us back to the Chinese understanding of autumn, of which another aspect is the change in the air. Most of us are familiar with the crispness and refreshing quality of the air at this time of the year. Autumn provides us with a welcome relief from the hot, oppressive and air-starved days of summer. In autumn, we literally stretch our lungs to fill with this air.  And whether we realize it or not, metaphorically, it is a time for inspiration.

We require inspiration to have the courage to plunge into the depths of our attachments. We require inspiration to see them for what they are. And we require inspiration to help us shake lose from the ego’s identification with and its attachment to the things which cause us pain. It takes inspiration to move forward in our lives.


As a final thought, I would pose the following argument: letting go does not require as much work as it may seem. In autumn, leaves fall effortlessly from the trees. Try it-let your leaves go. I think you will be pleased with what happens in the spring.

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Advice from the Skillful Doctor: Letting Go

Question: My fiancée and I broke up about a year ago, but I still feel so angry about it that I’ve been unable to move on and develop any new relationships What can I do to start over? 
Answer:  The end of an important relationshipis always challenging. A period of disappointment and despair is quite natural. But so is our emergence from it. What you need to move forward may require some more time, but in all probability since you are seeking relief, you seem ready to take the next step. The issue, then, is to muster the forces to let go. My recommendation is that you not convince yourself to do this, but cultivate your skill at letting go and let the process unfold more naturally.
To begin, imagine for a moment what it would be like to live to your fullest potential and in harmony with those you love, surrounded by beauty and at peace. Spend some time developing this image and the feelings associated with it. Though you may not see this state lasting too long, keep coming back to this image, get comfortable in that space. Now examine the attachments that are holding you back. Are there some attachments you can shed right now? If so, release them. Every time you have an opportunity, see if there is something else you can let go of. Along the way, keep returning to that image of integrity, peace and harmony. See how much lighter it makes you feel. If you find that something is holding you back, explore its origin. You might pick up a notebook and compose a story of your thoughts and experiences. Play back that story as a movie: find a way for the hero or heroine, you, to heal and return to wholeness. If you are having a hard time letting go, choosing for whatever reason to hold onto pain in one area, come back to it another time.  For now, do what you can and be kind and patient with yourself. 
It may help to know that one of the things we hold onto is the notion that we are something other than perfect. And, we might be better served if we let go of the faulty thought that change is impossible or out of reach. In fact, we do it all the time. What does not change so easily is what our ego holds onto most tightly–its assumed identity. In this instance, even using the word “fiancée” holds you back as it defines you by association with another. Let go of the word. See this as part of your personal growth and evolution, but nothing more.   Give your true self and your inner voice more credit for its independent value. 

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Reflecting Upon Summer: What’s in Your Basket?

In some cultures, September marks the month of the “Harvest Moon,” which brings to mind a time of transition: vegetables move from the crops to our tables, the long warm days gradually shorten and cool, and the seasons progress from summer to fall.  In the northeastern United States, soon the crisp air will drift through the brilliant hues of the changing foliage. In no time at all, leaves will cover the ground and the tree limbs from which they spawned will turn gray and bare, their leafless branches reaching out into the sky. Fall is the time when the playful exuberance of summer yields and our thoughts begin to move invward as we take stock of what we harvested.

In Chinese Medicine, Autumn is associated with the lung element, and specifically is a time for release. Just as the trees let go of their spent leaves, so must we.

But this is getting ahead of ourselves, as eager as we might be for the cool refreshing air, autumn has not yet arrived! To make the most of this last full moon of the summer this is actually the right time to pause and take the opportunity to reflect upon the season that is coming to a close, before leaping ahead.  Much the way we gather baskets of vegetables from the ripened late summer gardens, we can gather our thoughts of the past months.  What lessons have we learned?  What experiences did we have and what memories remain?  As we give thanks for the bounty of harvest, we can also feel gratitude for the lessons of summer.

What is in your basket?


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Taking a Moment

Too often we are so focused on the task at hand, moving so fast that we lose sight of the beauty that surrounds us.  It is particularly easy to slip into this habit as during this seasonal transition; while the pace of life generally slows during the long summer days, it often starts to pick up again now.  We may suddenly find ourselves very busy, caught up in worrying about what we have to do next and pouring over our schedules for the coming weeks.

If you are balanced and relaxed then you can take a moment to absorb the wonder. The future evolves as you evolve. Finding new things every moment brings you closer to the flow. Be of the mindset that something special could happen at any moment. Be prepared.  Reflecting skillfully is about staying present and living now. Treasure is found in the day-to-day act of living in love with life.

Just as nature is overflowing with curves, corners, knots, and unexpected changes in direction, so our lives are, and should be, filled with unpredictable twists and turns. While you may find yourself briefly on the straight and narrow path there is sure to be a sudden curve up ahead. Like a treasure trail, this path will lead to unexpected destinations and surprise you. You may be faced with difficult questions such as “Who am I, what my purpose is and what is of value to me?” Some of these questions may be answered after a long period of effort. Others you may discover through everyday experiences.

I would advise you to enjoy and learn from the adventure of finding treasure. Part of the journey’s beauty is the unexpected. The curving path is often the most interesting one. Resist becoming attached to what “needs” to happen and remain pliant, which is truly the definition of strength, as you continue on your respective journey.

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Appreciating Any Weather: Advice from the Skillful Doctor

Question: I love the summer but hate the winter, so with the first sign of autumn, I begin anticipating the cold weather ahead.  As a result, I can’t enjoy the season.  How can I learn to be more accepting and positive about the seasons I don’t like?

Answer: Nature’s cycles have to do with how the earth-and its flower reflectioninhabitants-renews itself. Sometimes this renewal process is gradual and gentle. Sometimes it is violent and destructive. Nevertheless, these cycles are endless sources of wonder, healing, and inspiration.

Local parks, nature trails and your own backyard are treasure troves of undiscovered beauty. In fact, the greatest place of tranquility might be found right outside your bedroom window in the form of a beautiful sunrise, rustling leaves, a duck floating on a pond, a sparrow building her nest, or a dew drop falling off a leaf.

Could you find fulfillment and joy by simply marveling at the cycles of plants and animals in response to seasonal and climatic changes to their environment? My children and I used to spend countless hours sitting beside a small pond on our property mesmerized by the iridescent quality of dragonfly wings. Witnessing first hand natural events such as bird migration, plant budding, flowering or fruiting, insect activities, and the stages of birth and death can help us reestablish our interconnection and interdependence with the natural world.

Every three months or so, it can be helpful to review the importance of each season as it comes to a close.  In so doing, we may appreciate more fully the value of each season as it passes, as well as prepare ourselves for the transition to the next.  By appreciating this value, we can enjoy the time more.

Share your reflections on the changing seasons or submit your own question in the comments section…

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