The autumn equinox falls this year on Monday, September 23, but there is already a crisp, fall feeling in the air in the early mornings before the sun rises and in the evenings after the sun sets. In upstate New York, leaves have already begun to change color, gentle hues of yellow and red starting to appear along the roadsides.
At this time of year, there is often a flurry of energy and activity driven by the idea that after a long, languorous summer it is finally the time to start moving again, to go back to school or to resume work with a renewed vigor, to be productive, to make things happen. Sometimes before we feel fully ready for the summer to be over, we find ourselves caught up in a hectic, frenzied movement towards fall; we feel that if we don’t keep up with all the movement forward and get everything in order, we will be left behind, unprepared at the start of a new season.
And there is an element of truth underlying that sentiment. The fall is coming. We are still enjoying the bounty of the natural world, reaping the bounty of the late summer harvest, basking in the sun of warm afternoons, eating peaches, corn, tomatoes, but this is almost the end of the harvest season. Soon, the leaves will be bare, there will no longer be fruits on the vines. We do need to prepare for the cold months ahead.
But rather than approaching this season with a frenetic energy, as we tend to do, which can be detrimental to our well-being and perhaps lead to exhaustion or sickness, it can be more helpful to take the advice of the old saying, “make haste slowly.” This is a time for getting prepared, certainly, but calmly, deliberately, with mindfulness, and with a sense of quiet joy, grateful for the gifts the earth gave during the warmer months, and readying to turn inward, reflect, and dream during the quietude of the colder months ahead.
When we are feeling overwhelmed by the changes this season brings, a few simple practices can help us transition to autumn with joy and serenity, staying calm, grounded, and healthy.
Settling into a Rhythm
The end of summer and beginning of autumn is the time of year to ground ourselves in a quiet rhythm. Lately I’ve begun to spend more time upstate, in an off the grid cabin in the woods, and there the rhythm is apparent; it is easy farm from the city to fall into a steady routine, systematically doing all the things that have to be done during the daylight hours- waking up as the sun begins to rise, making a fire in the fire place, gathering water from the cistern for washing and cleaning, putting some water in the sun to warm it, gathering firewood for the next fire, and so on.
Even in the city, though, where the earth’s rhythms can be obfuscated, we can still establish daily patterns that can help us stay steady in this season of change and enjoy the quiet beauty of the season. We can wake up with the dawn, well before we need to go to work- something that is easier in autumn for people who are not normally early risers than it was during the summer, since the sun rises now close to seven in the morning. We can make the time to prepare a warm breakfast and sit down to eat it every morning, savoring the tastes of the season. We can walk part or all of the way to work, noticing the changes in the trees that line the city streets, or in the flowers in the parks and community gardens. On the way home, we can stop at the farmers market to get fresh produce that was just harvested from a local farm. In the evenings we can take a warm bath with flowers or herbs we got at the farmers market, meditate by candlelight as the sun sets, give ourselves a massage with warm oil, or spend time writing in a journal. Whatever we choose to do in this season, it can be very helpful to make it a set routine and carry out the activities of our day ritualistically, with mindfulness and attention to the small details.
Eating a Fall Diet
This is also a good time of year to begin to adjust our diet from a fall to an autumn diet, a diet that will keep us feeling warm, grounded, and nourished. If we were eating raw foods in the summer, it is now a good time to begin cooking our foods, adding some oils and warming spices. Also, in another time, in late summer and early autumn, people would be gathering up all the fresh produce and herbs, canning, making jams and jellies, drying herbs. We can still learn to do these things now, getting lots of fruits, vegetables, and herbs from local farms and make a practice doing the work ourselves to be able to have nourishing, locally harvested food to eat all fall and winter.
Connecting with Ancestral Traditions
Autumn is also a beautiful time of year to connect with our ancestors and with the knowledge and traditions they have passed down to us, especially, for me, women’s traditions. I have a quilt that was handmade by my great grandmother that I always take out and use on my bed at this time of year. I also bake Irish breads with a recipe that was passed down through more than six generations of women in my family. I listen to and play music from my Irish heritage, including songs my grandmother sang to me when I was a little girl. Rooting ourselves in our culture and traditions at this time of year can help us feel connected to roots that extend deep, and so feel grounded, nourished, and protected even as the winds outside blow the trees bare.
Embracing Feminine Energy
At this time of year, as the days are shorter and colder, the influence of solar energy is less strong, and the earth moves from activity to quiet, some people- both men and women- may feel more connected to their feminine energy. This is often described as the energy of dreaming, reflecting, exploring our subconscious mind and emotions, intuiting, nurturing, creating art and music. The energy is fluid, gentle, and receptive. As the season changes, it can be useful to have less of an emphasis on accomplishing things and a greater emphasis on experiencing things with openness and awareness, less of an emphasis on becoming something other than we are and a greater emphasis on being ourselves, deeply.
These are just a few simple ideas to start exploring as the autumn equinox approaches. As the fall progresses, I’m planning to write more posts about traditional home remedies to stay healthy in the winter months, traditional crafts to do in winter, and ideas for connecting more deeply with our subconscious, creative selves as darkness descends.