Return to Your Senses
The poet Robert Frost often wrote about the seasons. In his poem “November,” he described the subtle beauty of late fall. The poem also captures the mood of a quiet interlude between fall and winter, a time when we start preparing for months of cold and ice. November, for those who live in the upper Midwest, invites us to a silent space within our homes and our hearts.
Each of our seasons speaks from its own mystery
Each reveals a message about life’s passages and the inner flow of time. In late October and November, the mood changes, leaving autumn’s brilliant colors behind. The days take on subtle shades of earth and early darkness directing us toward inward thoughts and self-reflection. Though November signals the dying of a year, it does not mean the dying of adventure or the end of growth. November marks both the death of summer and the birth of life’s retreat to its roots in search of new energy. November is about becoming recharged for the next blooming. A look at my own garden reveals this, as the maple trees and lilacs have already set their buds for spring.
Thanksgiving provides a perfect time to pull on warm clothes and set out for a walk with my dog Winnie. For years, we lived and walked in our neighborhood of 1950s bungalows, statuesque churches, and tree lined campuses of Macalester College. Our walks featured naked oaks standing guard along the boulevards, braced against a sky that hinted at snow. Gray squirrels scampered through the dry leaves packing acorns for the coming months. Highbush cranberry framed the austere skyline and empty campus.
Strolling through the silent streets and alleys, I remember stopping to study the first glimmers of lamplight inside a stately home. The neighborhood was beginning to wake up. Watching households emerge filled me with a sense of closeness to all those who stirred inside. I imagined them shuffling about in their bathrobes, feeding the cat, or sitting at the kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee. Some might have prayed, or worried, or simply read the morning newspaper. Within hours their houses might be overflowing with family and holiday guests. Or, maybe it would be a day of rest and quiet. In either case, it reminded me that life after November makes a true transition.
We are, in some ways, products of our earth’s seasons
The fall calls us to reach into the depths of our lives and examine our courses. Or, perhaps redirect them. We move indoors and enter the interior recesses of our hearts. It’s a season of watchwords such as “wait” and “listen.” Wait for snow. Wait for cold. Wait for spring. Wait for wisdom and peace of mind.
Meanwhile, we do our waiting in a world that persists in doing and accomplishing more than it considers the implications of its actions. Technology has become the scribe of our society, recording at warp speed our deeds and discoveries. Rene Descartes, a sixteenth-century French philosopher, often receives credit for creating our present worldview. It’s a philosophy that has fostered the tremendous growth of science and education. Cartesian thought combined with the introduction of the printing press brought the spread of ideas and literature throughout Europe. With the establishment of this way of observing the world, knowledge became information aboutthings and people rather than a personal encounter with life. Knowledge was gathered and recorded a fact at a time. The journey from printed words to head spinning technology and data collection had begun.
Before this, we lived in a sensuous world in which people relied on the ear and all the sense organs. Reality was experienced by sight, touch, smell, and taste. The oral story held a position of great importance to cultural health and history. A November walk into darkness could be trusted to reveal important truths. Though none of our senses disappeared with the introduction of science and technology, the world about which they tell us has become suspect. If we can’t provide hard evidence and the metrics to prove its value, it might not qualify as truth. In today’s world of battling truths, the soulful experience rates as questionable. Yet, personal reflection and self- awareness are much more than gauzy time-wasters. They’re trustworthy sources of truth that can help heal our world. They tell us that how we care is as important as what we know. A walk in the dark on Thanksgiving morning reminds us that we must never be ashamed of the heart and all its implications of forgiveness, gratitude, and loving kindness.
Some say todays’ quest to recover ancient healing traditions serves as a reaction to Descarte’s world
Many of these traditions attempt to recover some of the vital acoustical senses within our life encounters. This is important because despite its value, Descarte’s worldview defines life merely as what is material and observable. From where the dog and I are walking this morning, his worldview defines life on very stingy terms.
A fellow chaplain once said to me following a particularly tense meeting, “I hope that I’ve learned to never miss an opportunity to keep my mouth shut.” So, in the month when the earth and her inhabitants settle into violet stillness, I will silently observe today and know that it’s life itself that waits for us to return to our senses.