It was a bright, sunny day. The sky was blue without a cloud to be found. As I walked for a mid-afternoon break in my neighborhood, there was a bit of chill in the breeze. The leaves have begun to turn from deep green to shades of yellow and brown. Autumn: after a long, hot summer, you have arrived!
I recognized the signs of the transition as they began. After a few days of frantic activity at the feeder outside my window, the humming birds disappeared. They had been my companions since spring. A week or two later, bright red cardinals and striking blue jays were perched in the branches of the cherry tree in the front yard. As the sun rises over the tree line in the morning, I can now see the light reflect through the newly spun spider webs between the rungs of the front porch railing.
We know the signs of the transition. As summer days fade, nature enters a gradual shedding of the life that marked the warmer months. The transition is often marked with vibrancy: bright colors, noticeable changes in air temperature, and the final blooms of the annual flowers. It’s a transition marked first by letting go of the seasons marked with a certain joie de vivre. Yes, the colors of autumn are brilliant. But what will follow? Can we know what the coming months of winter will bring?
The transition from one season to another which we witness in the movement from autumn to winter is metaphoric for the transitions of the seasons of our lives. While nature moves through these transitions with a kind of grace and elegance, often we face our life transitions with stress and anxiety. Focused on what we are giving up, we often miss the opportunity for something new.
As I think about the changes of this autumn season, I am aware that several of my friends have been in the midst of significant transitions.
• One recently completed graduate school and took a new job in a much smaller city in an isolated part of the country. Will he like it? What will he do in a small city? Will he cope well with the loneliness sure to come during the months of getting settled in a new place?
• Another friend recently sent her youngest child to college this year. While facing the empty nest, her mother’s health declined. The mother is moving in with my friend and her husband. She talks of missing her little children who are now adults. Now she has both the empty nest and the care of an aging parent. How will she care for herself as she’s pulled by these real life family changes?
• A colleague is planning to retire in the coming months. He enjoys his work as a professor, but feels squeezed out of work as younger administrators introduce new technologies and systems at the university. The changes make day to day work more complex, but do they improve education? It’s too early to tell. But the changes seem to make my friend experience a sense of inadequacy. He’s been viewed as a top person in his field. Does it mean that he retires as someone who just couldn’t keep up?
Transitions occur in our lives just as surely as they do with the seasons of the year. One thing that the changing seasons has taught me is to appreciate each change as it occurs. There’s no use dreading a hard winter or a hot, humid summer. The seasons come and go in their own time.
The same is true with our life transitions. Change occurs for us. We can attempt to cling to what we find most comforting in the present moment, but it will change and pass away. Embracing the change as it comes is the essence of living life fully. Everything about us and around us is transitory. That’s a key lesson conveyed in all the great spiritual traditions.
In the midst of the changing seasons this year I find myself drawn to the words of the 16th Century mystic, Teresa of Avila. In the Book of My Life, a kind of autobiography she was ordered to write by church officials, she states: “Nothing shall trouble you. Nothing shall disturb you. All things are passing.” Living during the Spanish Inquisition, when some “experts” insisted that Teresa’s spiritual experiences were the work of evil spirits, Teresa maintained her integrity and spoke what she knew to be true. That truth was who she understood herself to be as a person living in vibrant communion with the Holy One. It was from that truth that she looked squarely at what could happen to her in the inquisition and recognize that “all things are passing.”
We often fret because of transitions. The process of change is often difficult for us. We simply don’t want to change but want to be comfortable with the things we’ve grown used to. But perhaps we can learn to be like the leaves of autumn: when the time is right, just let go and let the wind carry us. After all, “all things are passing.” There’s no reason to be troubled or disturbed.
© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.