October 20, 2011

Fall and Change: The End of a Cycle

If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be fall. I just remember so many delightful things about it growing up, like going into the orchard to pick apples, raking and jumping in piles of all the multi-colored leaves, the holidays that come with it—Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas right around the corner. As an adult, I look forward to harvest season, the nice weather, and more social and family get-togethers.

Today it dawned on me that there's something even more noble about fall: an undeniable beauty and peace at the end of a cycle. The seasons are a rhythm of increasing and decreasing sunlight and life on Earth. In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice marks the moment renewal begins—the return of the light. Spring is a time of flourishing.  Summer is rich decadence, and Fall is of harvest and decay. It's a natural pattern, one that we can't resist, and why would we want to? We know this is the way things are meant to be.

Yet during day to day life we have a more ambivalent relationship with change (at least I do). Sometimes we say, "It's time for a change," or, "I needed a change." But sometimes we're not so psyched about the idea: "You mean you want me to change?" or, "I can't change the way I am..."  As for our attitude about change, it's almost as if it depends on our perspective: we resist change we take to be negative, but embrace change we deem to be positive. It's a very subjective perspective, that depends on many things—our culture, profession, gender, our experience, our age, even our moods.

Perhaps the changes that we feel more passionately about have to do with our own selves. However, since we often don't notice changes going on around us (or do, but choose to ignore them), it can be difficult to even notice a shift in ourselves. It's funny to me that our culture clings so insistently to an identity that defines us as individuals, when in fact we grow so much throughout the course of our lives. In fact, physically, comparatively few of the original cells we were born with are still with us as adults! In essence, we replace ourselves over and over as we age.

For me, it's frustrating that, despite knowing that change is a necessary and healthy part of life, that I overlook its role so often. It's satisfying when I can slow down, appreciate the moment, and not get too caught up in the past—i.e. what we could have done differently, or the future—the what ifs of a situation.

Observing my daughter is a prime example of how important it is for me to stay focused on the present. So much is happening with her today—her development is so rapid that if I look away even for a few hours, I might not catch the first time she says "duckie" or even her first steps by herself. That's not to beat myself up over the hours I have to spend working, but a reminder to fully appreciate the moments I have with her.

The growth of a human and the cycles of the seasons are expected changes, that we're fairly prepared for. But then there are unexpected changes that take a bit more attention to notice when they are first happening. Mood swings, for example. A good friend moving away. An ant infestation on a plant in your garden. An ill pet. It pays to stay aware so you can catch these changes as they occur, and that way you won't be so surprised when their results affect your life.

Completely unexpected events catch us completely by surprise—they can either delight us to no end, like a friend dropping by or calling out of the blue, or winning a contest. They can throw us off balance, or even do harm, like serious illnesses or acts of violence. But we also have the opportunity to see some seemingly random events as not so happenstance. For example, in the American culture of my birth, death is a very difficult subject, but in my host culture, Mexico, the end of the life cycle is embraced at this time of the year, in the Day of the Dead celebrations. Or on another topic, no one really predicted when the Occupy Wall Street movement would occur, but many people were starting to get fed up with the course of our country's evolution, and so it should come as no surprise that the day would come when people would demand a change.

By seeing occurrences as part as the natural cycle of cause and effect, maybe we can relax into the feeling that; either we did everything possible to positively affect the outcome of events, or that we did everything possible and it's out of our hands. That must be where the phrase, "God give me the courage to change the things I am able, and the serenity to accept that which I cannot" came from.

It would be an omission on my part were I not to acknowledge the role of reading Buddhist books, such as those authored by the Dalai Lama, in influencing my thoughts on the subject of impermanence. Reflecting on the momentary (and cyclic) nature of things helps me to appreciate the little things that I might otherwise overlook in my daily life. If that gives me just one more iota of peace, that's a change I can embrace.

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