I’m entering a new chapter. It is not unusual for me to be more introspective during the autumn months. It is often during this season that I become less focusing on getting things done and start having a more open awareness of everything that going on in and around me. I make connection that I hadn’t before. I notice details that once slipped past me. You could say that I engage with my life with full-on interest and attention. And it always brings clarity. That clarity took the form of me realizing that in November I will receive my Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) qualified teacher’s credentials through the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. But this feeling that I’m entering a new chapter is surprising because while I’m entering a new phase of teaching and writing, wellness is already a core part of my life, so it’s new and not new at the same time.
Recognizing a new chapter
From babyhood to old age we are always capable of learning and it’s always happening on some level or another. The first step is information gathering. This stage is called learning. During this period we develop competence in certain areas of our lives and we make the smallest changes as we can as we accommodate new information. People in general don’t like change. Then we interpret what we’ve learned and those lesson shapes how we view and engage with the world. During the next stage, we settle down and live, make decision based on what we’ve learned. From childhood to old age we cycle through this process, learning new things at each stage of our lives. But at a certain point in our lives we all reach a point where we re-evaluate our lives. We step back and look critically to see if our lives are fulfilling. We ask ourselves, is life still exciting, interesting and engaging? Does my life have meaning? If life is good, we relax and enjoy it. If life is less than we’d hoped, we have three choices:
- We both stop here and accept life as it is. This is the human default response.
- We make a course-correction. That is to say, we figure out were we’re off track and adjust accordingly. Remember we don’t like change, so we make the smallest isolated changes possible.
- Or we take their lives in a totally new direction!
Change and uncertainty
These steps seems all very clear and orderly. But each of these choices starts with some sort of uncertainty. It happens human beings have evolved to pay a lot of attention to uncertainty. It is thanks to this special skill that we’ve survived as a species. But when faced with any kind of uncertainty, even good uncertainty, we have a tendency to do nothing unless we must make a change. Consider it a safety valve. That doing nothing sometimes takes the form of nostalgia. Research shows that nostalgia is universal and most likely to happen during periods of transition. It’s our bodies’ way of signaling that change is on the way. While I wonder what kind of wonderful is about to unfold, I do feel a certain nostalgia.
Turning toward our experiences
But instead of ‘turning away’ from the little ache in my heart in avoidance, I’m gently ‘turning towards’ what I’m experiencing. I bring a caring open attention towards the wise and sometimes wounded parts of me, so I can make wise choices about how to respond to what’s unfolding. The paradox is as I turn towards my emotions I find relief from them. These unwanted emotions act as signposts about what’s going on around me just as much as the wanted emotions, but I have to make a special effort to listen to the unwanted ones. Today, in turning toward my internal guidance systems and as it turns out, it’s reassuring me that nothing wrong and instead reminding me to appreciate everything that I love about today. What a gift, I could have easily bypassed. This practice helps me benefits from nostalgia’s heads up about impeding change without letting me get seduced into romanticizing the past and not moving forward. Sudden burst of nostalgia are our minds way of prepares for the change because from an evolutionary standpoint change is interpreted as scary, even good change.
Accepting that changes abounds I’m embracing it and giving the next chapter will be about living artfully. So now fully feeling the unfolding of this new chapter, during these soulful autumn days, I actually start to dream the dreams that will ultimately become my future. I often plant the seeds of my new year’s resolution this time of year. This year is no different. But usually my dreams are wrapped in obvious next steps. But today I feel that my dreams are on the brink of changing the quality of my life, not the quantity of my life. This is very different from the course correction that started in 2009! This time I looked at my life and said, this is good, so I’m doing just a like a fine-tuning, but no major changes. And more than ever, I am determined to create a life that I love. Sounds fun, huh?
That annual autumnal feeling “…left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air … Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.”
―Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
In these cool autumn days, soft afternoon sun, quiet moments sipping tea, everything feels so right. Everything happens for a reason. Whether it’s a feeling a stronger pull to walk the pups in the forest, or feeling more sensitive, there’s comfort in sitting with all our emotions. They are our greatest teachers and the source of our strength. And we must pay attention in the moment because emotions go as quickly as they came. But this year feels a little bit different. Yes, this new chapter sounds like a wonderful world with a focus on living an artfully, purposeful and intentional life.