I once was lost, but now am found. ~Amazing Grace
I stare out the window in my office, smiling as a sudden gust of wind sweeps the leaves into a colorful cyclone. This weekend marks the Autumnal Equinox, the astrological moment when the day and night are of almost exactly equal length. This means one less minute of light each day until December 21, the Winter Solstice, when that cycle reverses. As a Leo and lover of all things summer, the march towards shorter, cooler days historically leaves me feeling nostalgic and melancholy. But this year feels different.
Firstly, I have a pair of EnChroma glasses that have helped to correct my colorblindness, so I am literally witnessing the leaves change for the first time in my life. I am overwhelmed with the beautiful shades of gold, auburn, and garnet, overcome with the majestic beauty of the sugar maples and dogwoods, mesmerized by the dance between the shifting light and the trees as they change clothes.
Secondly, I’m leaning into the beauty of loss this season. A lot of things have gone missing this year. I lost a friend to cancer. I lost my favorite socks in a Charleston airbnb. I lost my ability to care about the extra pounds that are accompanying perimenopause. I lost fifty bucks playing slots in Cincinnati. I lost sleep over an argument I had with my husband. I lost my temper, my dignity, my perspective, and my mind a few times. I lost hope more than once. I am keenly aware of how quickly the sand is running through the parenting hourglass; I am ever losing the sweet little girl that needs me to a beautiful young woman who doesn’t quite so much.
To be alive is to experience loss. Loss measures time, bookending life’s individual seasons. We lose jobs, loved ones, opportunities, our youth. We lose countless hours worrying about things that we might lose in the future. This anticipatory loss is no more than a figment of our imagination, yet the anxiety and grief that accompanies it feels all too real.
Our ability to gracefully navigate loss is the mark of a strong spirit. Loss leaves us wiser and more resilient. We lose something, but gain something on the other side. It’s like a cut on your tongue; you can’t forget that it’s there, but it makes the tang of a summer-ripened tomato all that more evident.
Perhaps it’s in the losing that we’re found.
Loss is the only thing we are promised. Humans are hardwired to hold tight to that which brings us pleasure, flee from that which brings us pain, and move on from those things over which we feel impartial or disinterested. Loss is the natural collateral damage from these evolutionary reflexes. To be alive means to change, but the unknowingness of change feels scary. So we cling to something – even if it sucks – simply because it’s familiar. Sometimes, life has to yank something out of our tight fist to bring us what is actually ours. No matter how much we love something – be it a person, a thing, or an experience – the eventuality of loss abides. Everything must come to an end. As a much-revered spiritual teacher of mine once stated, “Rust never sleeps.” The practice lies in being at peace with whatever outcome arises.
In Chinese Medicine, fall is considered the season of grief. Less daylight and cooler temperatures are thought to affect our lungs, the organ correlated with loss in this ancient system of wellness. If we don’t exhale deeply enough, it is thought that we similarly won’t be able to release our heartaches. So the breath becomes the practice. We watch it come and go, curious but detached, flowing with life rather than resisting it. In the practice of letting go, we also lose the need to control, can feel detachment take shape in our hearts. When we aren’t so attached to outcomes, we fall into that beautiful place of contentment.
The trees don’t despair of their falling leaves. Why should we?