Lessons From Fallen Leaves
"Fallen Leaves". Photo by CJ Shelton
The winds of November are nipping at us with winter’s first bite and have already laid a heavy blanket of snow across the fields, albeit perhaps a wee bit too early for most of us. November is typically my least favourite month because its barrenness has such a tragic quality. This year’s early snowfall and colder temperatures are making it feel even more so.
I find it fitting that Remembrance Day occurs in the fall. Although the eleventh day of the eleventh month officially marks Armistice Day and cessation of hostilities in World War I, its timing is resonant with the bleak desolation of November's trees, now stripped naked and standing starkly against grey skies like battle-weary soldiers. At their feet lie the tattered remnants of their formal dress - crumpled brown oak leaves, yellow and burgundy fans of maple, and golden ovals of beech and birch. Their colours are like the dying embers of summer’s fire … and life itself.
During the summer, a tree is energetically shaped like the alchemical symbol for the element of Fire, an upward pointing triangle. Its pyramid of branches helps support the leaves as they reach up to absorb the sun's rays which, through the process of photosynthesis, are transformed into life-giving energy. In the fall though, that life-force ebbs and returns to the tree’s roots, energetically forming a downward-pointing triangle, the alchemical symbol for Water. It seems even in Nature the fires of idealism must inevitably give way to the waters of emotion.
"Standing Ones". Photo by CJ Shelton
While we may lament the loss of all that visible vitality, it is important to recognize that the tree’s work is every bit as important now as it is during its boisterous growing season. Those fallen leaves will protect the soil from being washed away by winter snows as well as be a veritable feast for a multitude of micro-organisms who will gradually break them down into nutrients to feed the roots of the trees. Out of death comes life.
There are many lessons to be learned from the fallen – human and otherwise. In Nature there is a constant flow of energy that doesn’t cease, it merely changes into a different form. Trees show us the importance of releasing past experiences, knowing that each, the good and the bad, has the potential of enriching the soil of our soul. Like a tree, we too must remember and honour the past, but then let it go. This is of the utmost necessity if we are to continue moving forward into the next life-giving cycle.
As one of my favourite Celtic authors Mara Freeman writes: “The fire of the great Spiritual Sun that powers our evolutionary journey through countless lifetimes now goes deep within to be absorbed and transformed in the cauldron of winter … this cauldron is stirred by the Cailleach, the Dark Goddess, and it is through her alchemy that we are ‘cooked’ to provide nourishment for another cycle of soul-growth.”
The time of the Cailleach or Dark Goddess may not be quite here yet but her forerunner, November’s tragic beauty, seems to be fanning the fears that are running rampant in our world right now. Many people are opting to turn a blind eye and retreat to their warm dens to hide, but at the same there are many who are actively stirring up a windstorm and speaking out, perhaps a little too loudly and with little thought to the consequences. Somewhere between those two extremes lies what the Buddhists call the Middle Way.
Essentially, the Middle Way describes the way or path that transcends and reconciles duality in all its forms – light and dark, good and bad, life and death. The Middle Way is the Buddha’s enlightened view of life and the actions or attitudes that will create happiness for oneself and others. Searching for this Middle Way should not be viewed as just a Buddhist precept but a universal pursuit - the quest for a way of life that will give the greatest value to human existence and help relieve the world of suffering.
Trees provide us with the example of a life lived following the Middle Way and are often respectfully referred to as the “standing ones” by indigenous peoples. While human beings and other animals relish in the freedom of not being rooted to one spot, trees know the benefits of thriving in place … because freedom can easily turn into restlessness and agitation while likewise, stillness can fall into apathy and loneliness.
Somewhere between the two is the Middle Way – the way of the Tree; the way of being alive and well-rooted but flexible and strong, able to withstand, in a quiet and enduring manner, all that the winds and storms of the world might throw at it. A tree practices non-resistance and flexibility through bending, rather than breaking.
"Tree roots in the Elora Gorge". Photo by CJ Shelton
Although trees may appear to stand alone and in silence, we are slowly discovering that they are vitally interconnected with other trees in communities that engage and talk to each other through their intertwined root systems and other methods that science is only just beginning to understand. Trees speak … but mostly they listen.
If one tree among them becomes ill or undernourished, the others will all divert their own resources to collectively assist and protect the one that is in danger of falling. We humans could learn a great deal from this, how to become much better at listening deeply for what is truly needed in a given situation, then basing our responses accordingly and for the good of all.
“In this modern age, more and more emphasis is placed on the role of speaking out, but few people take time to truly give of themselves by practicing the forgotten art of listening to one another. The deeper implication being that we have forgotten how to listen to ourselves, the wisdom that comes from our heart and our connection to nature ...
An old Italian proverb says, ‘From listening comes wisdom’... In addition to listening to others, this intimate art develops a willingness to listen within, to the ever-present forces of the conscience of the soul, and the voice of Mother Nature. There is no place for loneliness if we allow ourselves to truly listen to this wisdom.”
As November’s desolate winds blow and buffet both us and the trees, they also carry the promise of hope and renewal that will arrive with the Winter Solstice and the Christmas season. But rather than focusing on the hype and commercialism that will also be running rampant over the next few weeks, why not choose to be more rooted this year, like a tree, listening wisely to “the ever-present forces of the conscience of the soul, and the voice of Mother Nature”.
We each have a choice as to what voices we will listen to and what winds we will allow to blow us hither and thither. Or, at the very worst, what we will let ourselves succumb to. We can practice the Middle Way by standing in place and choosing to bend, but not be broken.
My wish for our planet this November is that we remember the fallen – both human and tree - and what they have sacrificed for us. Because, our day will come, soon enough, when we too must fall to the earth and become sustenance for the next cycle of growth. Being more conscious of our actions in the here and now will ensure that the next cycle not only survives but thrives, well beyond what we can even begin to imagine.
So when you look out on the barren trees and the greyness that is November, listen to the trees. They may appear to be weeping for their fallen but know that they are also anticipating what lies deep down within their roots - new growth, new life and new hope.
It’s already Christmas at the Alton Mill and our halls are beautifully decked out as we officially usher in the festive season. Our annual Holiday Open House is this weekend but you can drop by anytime over the next few weeks to pick up a few “art-full” items for your Solstice or Christmas gifting.
Along with prints, cards, pendants and pillows my studio has beautiful journals featuring some of my most popular images and, new this year, my “Seeds of Life” Mandala Colouring Calendar.
I also have my annual favourite Winter Solstice Wishing Candles workshop coming up in December which can help you start a new tradition for welcoming the return of the light. Continue reading to see what else is happening at the studio as we finish out 2019.
Have you been missing out? You can sign up to receive weekly little "soul snippets", delivered every Sunday morning to your inbox. Each “snippet” features an inspiring image and a quote, plus a few questions to contemplate throughout the week. You can check out a sample "snippet" and sign up here.
May you enjoy the dance!
CJ Shelton - Artist, Instructor & Facilitator
Dancing Moon Designs
Illuminating the Creative Spirit through
the Symbol of the Circle ...