Consider five ways to take the time to bathe in the emotional palette of autumn and reap the benefits the harvest has to offer…
“The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up, as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning ‘no.’
And tonight the heavy earth is falling away from all other stars in the loneliness.
We’re all falling. This hand here is falling. And look at the other one. It’s in them all.
And yet there is Someone, whose hands infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.”
— Autumn. By Rainer Maria Rilke. Translation by Robert Bly.
There’s perhaps no more romantic time of year than autumn. As summer’s fever breaks, the cooler temperatures invoke a sense of electric possibility against a backdrop of letting go. Externally we’re pulled toward an abundance of newness — exciting new schedules, classes, dates, clothes, and projects abound. Meanwhile, internally, we’re pulled toward melancholy: reflective, tearful, heavy mood states can take hold, and a sense of nostalgia, or our pain, may veil your internal experience. This emotional cocktail is both delicious and complex.
“For the romantics out there, there’s something magical about this turn inward.”
With sunlight waning, many people experience what can be considered Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Less sunlight alters our circadian rhythms, meaning we produce more melatonin (makes us sleepy) and less serotonin (makes us feel happy). It’s highly adaptive for a species to have less energy when there are less hours of daylight, as access to food becomes scarce in the colder months.The Taoist medical text from 300 BCE, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, describes how each season affects all living things. Of colder months, the text suggests one ought to “…retire early and get up with the sunrise. … Desires and mental activity should be kept quiet and subdued, as if keeping a happy secret.” Thus it’s fair to say the advancements of modern life put excessive demand on our biology. You may notice feelings of sluggishness, sleepiness, trouble getting out of bed, food cravings, weight gain, and loss of motivation toward your activities and social life. Light therapy and exercise are the primary recommendations for managing SAD, but for the romantics out there, there’s something magical about this turn inward. I invite our readers to consider ways to take the time to bathe in the emotional palette of this season and reap the benefits the harvest has to offer.
Buy a new scarf or shawl.
Drape yourself in something you love. Let it be both your blanket and your protective shield.
At a time when our emotions and schedules can blow us around like a fallen leaf, eating is one of our primary means of self-regulating. Feeding yourself at relatively regular intervals keeps us grounded, nurtured, and less vulnerable to anxiety and irritability.
Internal martial arts.
What I mean is, going into the flow of what’s hard instead of defending against it. Fall is a beautiful time for psychic surrender, forgiveness, and moving toward our pain instead of against it, thereby expanding our capacity for gratitude and compassion. Therapy, journaling, opening up to a person you trust, and contemplative practices can support this process.
Your body’s way of experiencing grieving. Let your tears water your “crops,” distilling what you truly value as you prepare for winter hibernation.
+ If you live in a place with a dramatic season change, at this very moment you probably want to start something new and lay down for a nap simultaneously. How do you like to self-care this time of year? Feel free to add your autumn rituals to the comment section below!
We may not be able to integrate all the “Yellow Emperor’s” advice. Maybe we can’t retire early and get up with the sunrise, nor can we keep our desires and mental activity quiet and subdued, but what about the happy secret? That is a gift of fall I’m grateful to be in on.
Melissa is a therapist in private practice in Greenwich Village. Her work is grounded in psychoanalysis and Jungian theory. She specializes in working with artists, creatives, and men and women struggling with eating disorders and body image issues. She has presented on topics such as dream interpretation, mythological dimensions of eating disorders and appetite, and fairy tale symbolism. She is a candidate in psychoanalytic training at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP) in NYC.
Lead illustration by Erica Prince.