Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Autumn: Grieving, Sorting, Letting Go



Autumn is my favorite season. I love the color in the leaves, the chill in the air, and the natural instinct to burrow in and nest. But I always find myself going broody and a little melancholy just as the summer heat gets that tiny tinge of coolness. For years, I chalked it up to the memories of school starting, year after year, in my childhood--the end of the freedom of summer, and for me the anxiety and discomfort of being an introvert thrown into a more social climate. 

While those memories may be a part of my "autumn blues," I now know there is a much more powerful reason I have these feelings, and why so many share them. In Chinese medicine, each season is associated with an element, which also relates to different parts of physical and emotional health. Autumn deals with the Metal Element, which is represented in the body by the Lung and Large Intestine systems. These systems deal with your immune system and breathing. But they also have an emotional component. They deal with the process of grief, of knowing what to keep and let go, and have a place in affecting how we organize our lives and set our boundaries.

Just as the leaves shed their leaves and begin to hunker down for the winter, drawing their nutrients inward, so we humans feel an urge to turn inward as the weather cools. Autumn is commonly a time for introspection and review. We look over our year, our relationships, and our homes, deciding what works well, and what does not, and letting go of those things that no longer serve us. We pack away our summer clothes, pull out the comforting shield of our sweaters and blankets, and review our yearly plans. And many of us, for reasons we cannot quite understand, feel the need to pull out old hurts, old problems, or old memories, figuratively running our fingers over our life scars.

This behavior is perfectly natural, and can be beneficial. When we suffer a loss--whether it's a loved one, an injury, a financial setback, or just a vision of ourselves we fail to live up to--we need time to process the change in our circumstances. We grieve a death, or a breakup, or a new reality after illness, and move one. But as a year or two or ten goes by, sometimes we find there are still issues to process. We reach the age of a parent when they died, we find a new romance, or find our health deteriorates further--or, sometimes more frighteningly, improves, bringing new opportunities but also new responsibility. We have grown and changed, and now we need to revisit that old hurt. Is there something new to learn from our old experience? Is there some new way to let go of a limiting belief or behavior? If we do not revisit our story, we may never know.

Of course, everyone has a friend who is stuck in time. They pick a moment of their life, either for its joy or pain, and refuse to leave it. They dress too young, or continue to make teenage choices into adulthood, because growing up threatens the safety they feel in their perceived youth. Or they keep a room or wall or life revolving around a loved one who has left, or died, unable to accept a new opportunity because they cannot let go of the past. For these people, the natural need to grieve and release has gotten bogged down. Sometimes they obsess on the grieving process; other times they avoid it, distracting themselves with work or vacations or play. If they let their mind go blank they risk the pain of memories welling up, so they choose distraction after distraction to avoid discomfort. For either approach, getting help to grieve properly is important. A mature friend or counselor can help stuck grievers go through the process of sorting memories or circumstances and deciding how life has changed around them, and also how to make changes so they can move on to the next stage of life.

Autumn is still my favorite season, even tinged with grief as it can sometimes be. The other side of grief is nostalgia--a happy memory of earlier times that can be a firm foundation from which to launch an amazing life.




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