October Journal

One morning I turned from the path
And, uncertain as to my destination,
Stepped into the unknown 
With a lifted chin
And a faltering confidence.

Uneven under foot
I continued undeterred
For I saw You in the crest of every hill
In every stone,
In every passing cloud.

And as the air grew crisp,
Even the breath from my lips rose to greet You.
In great billows its proclaimed Your glories.
Just as the birds sing for You,
And the wind whistles. 

On the silent hillside
The grasses bow down,
Flat to the earth they lay themselves
At Your feet.

In the orchards,
Shimmering in the misty morning light,
The branches hang heavy
Dripping in ruby offerings for Your table.

In the forest,
The trees carpet the cool, damp earth.
Their scent an incense
To sweeten Your passage
Along paths carved out by diligent creatures
Under the watchful eye of the sage-like owl.

‘I See Thee Better In The Dark’: Visits with the Self

The equinox has passed and with it that brief moment of balance. The harmonius equilibrium of day and night meeting as equals. That fleeting day where the inner and outer world match in weight, in gravity, in import. And now the balance weighs on the side of darkness. The months of frivolous sun-bathed adventures have faded into the twilight of the year. But in the darkness the real exploration can begin - for that which basks in the light is plain to see, but the shadows and the inky night require more careful observation.

Just as the character of a particular park or street or mountain is completely altered when darkness decends, so too can our inner and outer landscapes be completely foreign from one another, although they are partnered for the span of a lifetime.

Emily Dickenson’s “I see thee better in the dark” is a love poem comprised of examples of seperation used to demonstrated her unwavering love for her beloved. To me the poem reads as a love letter to the Self. To the eternal within us that we are constantly seperating ourselves from due to a bewildered attachment to the material and transient, yet the underlying Truth that is the undying Soul remains despite our forgetfulness. ‘I see thee better in the dark’ I say to my eternal Self. In the dark. Undistracted by the pretty and fickle trappings of material life. In the inky solitude of timeless autumn - the evening of the year. In silence. In prayer. In love and despair. These are the times I can see myself best.

Autumn is such an exciting opportunity to tune back into our relationship with our internal and external landscape. By this I mean cultivating a real understanding of the environment in which you live - both within the body and without. And if you live in a city, taking any opportunity that presents itself to take to the wilderness, even briefly. It is a time for easing ourselves back into a deeper internal exploration. Cultivating grace, stillness and peace. Taking stock of the seeds sown and the harvest reaped. What has been fruitful this year and what has not? Seeing all from a state of equipoised acceptance. Neither grieving what did not come to pass nor self-congratulating for what did. Simply becoming the witness and staying firmly rooted in the present moment.

Heightened creativity and elevated thoughts come with the dusky autumn. Vata dosha presides. The air element. Dry, cool, mobile. The mind begins to whir with ideas of a higher nature. With childlike curiosity we are inspired to ask the questions that only experience, prayer and centred contemplation can answer. We look to the environment as a teacher, parent, lover and friend, as we see in it all the vast expanse of universal qualities - the beautiful, the frightening, the powerful, the vulnerable, life, death, decay, widsom, poison, medicine... In it too we experience the unmanifest. The formless. The eternal. Like a child watching the dance of flames we sit in awe of Nature’s unstoppable force and majesty. We sit bewildered and enthrawled by the hand of God - so evident when we remove the blinkers of conditioned perception.

I see thee better in the dark, I cry to that which frightens me.
I see thee better in the dark, I yell to the stars who enlighten me.
I see thee better in the dark, I tell the underlying Peace.
I see thee better in the dark, I warn my weary mind.
I see thee better in the dark, I whisper to the Almighty. 

Walking: Spiritual Regeneration

“Keep close to Nature’s heart... and break clear away once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
- John Muir 

Walking has long been a means through which to purify, to restore balance where it has been lost, and to let go of self-definitions, to identify with the self on much deeper, spiritual platform. Whether it be a pilgrimage, an adventure embarked on with the hopes of ‘self-discovery’, or the five minute walk around the block you take to decompress after a stressful meeting; walking is the humble means of regeneration.

As we walk in nature, keeping the mind in the present moment becomes more accessible as we notice each phenomena as it arises. Rather than continuing on the whirring internal thought cycle, attention is focussed on the subtle transitions of the natural world and our movement within it. If you are able to walk without shoes, this sense of heightened awareness is more tangible than ever. We gain insight to a world below the feet. A world we so often close ourselves off from. 

Autumn light is my favourite of the year, and as the sunrise creeps later and the sunset earlier, there is less excuse than ever not to enjoy them. Rising before the sun and greeting the morning light as you walk is a beautiful habit to form this time of year. 

Practice... walking as meditation. Whether you live on the side of mountain or in the heart of the city, commit to spending some time in the green everyday as an integral element of self-care. Walk consciously. Not for excercise nor as a means of reaching a particular destination. Walk as a meditation. Walk for the experience of walking. For recharging your spirit body. For the absorption of your surroundings, the stilling of the mind, the washing clean of your spirit. Walk in silence, treading light upon the Earth as you observe her qualities and her mood. Engage the breath in the service of deepening connection. The inhales inviting Nature into you, and the exhales offering some of yourself back. When you return from your walk, stepping back into home, office, car, where ever, feel yourself as changed. As recharged and sensitised. Any contaminations of the mind have been washed cleaned and fresh perspective can be reached. Allow a cool clarity to pervade as the silent energy exchange you experienced with your surroundings continues to nourish you throughout your day. 

Taking to the Woods: “these Plantations of God”

“In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perrenial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, - no disgrace, no calamity, which nature cannot repair.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Nature’

Whilst spending time in any sort of natural environment is beneficial to the health, woods are particularly healing and rejuvenating. It is no coincidence that holy men and philosophers have taken up residence in forests throughout history to aid in their spiritual and academic pursuits. Trees have much to teach us. Graceful in all conditions, their lofty heights are only a small projection of the deep expancive root system beneath. The trees are ever wise and knowing. They stand witness to the changes of time and bare the scars and wounds of human and animal intervention without a complaint. Trees have a fundamental role in the native and folk traditions and reverred in all cultures to some extent.

In Japan, the benefits of forest bathing (shinrinyoku) have been touted for years, and doctors even prescribe time in the woods as valuable medicine for certain patients. The exchange of energy with trees is one of the most tangible non-linguistic conversations, as both on a subtle and a more physical level we are literally exchanging breath, creating life force for one another. Not only that, but the living canopy gives off organic compounds that strengthens the human immune system and promotes the production of cancer fighting cells. There are numerous health benefits to spending time in the woods, mostly concerned with stress reduction and its associated symptoms. However, the reason spiritually inclined people are attracted to forests likely has more to do with it’s subtle qualities. It has been clinically proven by scientists in both Japan and South Korea, that spending time with trees has a massive impact on our ability to communicate on a spiritual level with the world around us. Intuition and mental clarity is increased. As is our sense of stillness and the amount of prāna (life force) we take in.

If autumn is considered the time of the year to turn our focus to the natural world and to our relationships with the self and the divine, it would seem that spending time in the woods is particularly supportive.

The ‘Inward-Facing Path’: Reaquainting with the Internal Landscape

The third chapter of our four part year - Autumn is the return movement. The embarkation on the journey back inwards. This return movement carries great potential for spiritual awakening. For the shedding of the Unreal, and the revealing of the Real. If we imagine the year as an entire life time condensed, the autumn is representative of the gentle move into old age. Outward life slows down as more focus is placed upon the internal world, and there is a disidentification of consciousness from form. This period should be highly valued for its action in blossoming consciousness. A time of home-coming. The igniting of the fire inner purpose in alignment with our unique means of Awakening. 

To step out of society, to turn away from politics, to head for the hills, the woods, the wild, as a means of spiritual regeneration. And not to consider this a form of retreat but, as Thoreau considered it, “a sort of crusade... to go forth and reconquer this holy land from the hands of the infidels.”

To reconquer the holy lands. To resituate within the Self. To crusade, boldly, turning away from the elements of society that do not serve, in order to reestablish Truth. It takes real courage to seek for the unconditioned self. To begin that journey of remembrance of our true nature. It can take lifetimes, but once the spark of devotion has been lit, the process will continue to unfold.

The contemporary climate is invested in constant media bombardment and sensationalising current events to the point of causing deep distrubance of the consciousness. In the summer months the energy of the Fire element and the dominance of pitta dosha makes us better able to process this onslaught. However it is neither productive nor healthy to engage in. As the autumn draws us back into ourselves, we are encouraged to take a step back from interest in matters outside of our sphere of influence. Instead cultivating a strong sense of self. Navigating our internal landscape to come to an understanding as to who we are, what we are here to do. In this way we lose sight of the things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Material consciousness loses its hold as illusion is dispelled.

But be in no doubt, it is a battle. The conditioned mind craves the ‘connection’ to the outside world. It has strong attachments to the bonds and shackles that restrain us. Thoreau recognised this as he compared his journey into the woods, his journey into the soul, as a crusade. Where there is habitual behaviour or attachment to material objects or superficial relationship, there is an underlying fear. A fear of loss. Loss of safety. Loss of identity. The reality is that we HAVE to be couragous and go forth to reconquer the Self from the mind in order to fulfil dharma. In order to experience bliss.

It is of course easier said than done, but the autumn season invites us into a more introspective space. The longer periods of darkness encourage more time spent in meditation or contemplation. The body asks for more rest and nature invites us to explore her quietly shifting appearance. It is a nice time to reduce time spent on media or looking at screens. Instead read more books, write a little. Allow your creativity to broaden with the encouragment of the qualities of vata dosha, which predominates during the autumn and winter seasons. 

Refocusing Internal Reality: Developing Space Consciousness

Most of our lives are preoccupied with materials things and thoughts. We put a lot of value on the physcial space we inhabit. The objects we acquire. Even the nature of our relationships with one another have become so debased that true connection comes only secondary to the possibility of social or material advancement. For awareness and sanity to be restored, for the mind to find balance and peace, it is important for us to develop space consciousness. When we become conscious of space, attention is turned from objects to the space that they inhabit. It is the same process within the mind. Rather than focusing on thoughts, become aware of the space, the consciousness, in which the thoughts arise. Become the witness to the thinker. Become conscious of consciousness.

When turning our focus inwards, the first things we naturally become aware of are the thoughts, emotions and sensory perceptions that exist within the internal body. We sensitise to feelings that may ordinarily go unnoticed, or that are buried deep within the psyche. It is important to visit these regions of the mind. To give attention where it is needed and to digest thought, emotion and experience. However we must do so from a position of non-attachment. Aware that the ego still operates within this space and works to suck us into unhelpful patterns of suffering. Ultimately, cultivating space consciousness takes us beyond the mind and into the undercurrent of awareness. It teaches us how to feel our own presence. To become free of the ego and free from a dependancy upon the mundane things of this world - instead developing a taste for spiritual matters.

This does not mean giving up all of your material comforts or objects, but allows you the freedom to enjoy them without dependancy or attachment, which ultimately will only result in suffering. You can enjoy the world without placing unreasonable demands upon it, or depending on it for your sense of self or happiness. Most self-created suffering comes as a result of looking to the objects of this world to define us or give meaning to our lives. The world cannot provide those things, only we can, and therefore if we put an end to the search for material definement, we end the cycle of self-perpetuated suffering. Again we must return to the lesson that no one and nothing can teach us who we are. That conversation is between ourselves and God. 

“What man thinks of himself, that is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.”
- Thoreau

“I was held back not by the fetters put on me by someone else, but by the iron bondage of my own will.”
- St. Augustine

Zen Transmission: Non-Linguistic Communication

Language is constructed by humans for humans. It is a means of rational and linear thinking. A shared means of attempting to understand one another, the world around us, and, ultimately, ourselves. Whilst language might suffice in expressing our needs to another, or allow us to enter into relationship with others to a greater or lesser extent, the problem comes when we look to language to define the most intimate experience and relationship. Namely our relationship with the Self and with the Divine.

The inadequacy of words to penetrate the inner most depths of the human experience has been touted for centuries by far more qualified and enlightened sages, philosophers and linguists than I can even aspire to, so you can take their word for it not mine. Spiritual texts highlight the shortcomings of language probably the most vehemently of any. The great Lao Tzu even chose to open the Tao Te Ching with: “The Tao that can be told // is not the eternal Tao”. The Bhagavad Gita teaches that the empiric philosophers and mundane scholars will not attain liberation with the speed and assurity as the Bhakti yogi - the devotee who’s life is joyfully given entirely to the service of God, not for any desire for spiritual progression, but out of a deep and indescribable love. More simply put, no amount of book reading, study and rational thought can compare to the deep love that has no material ties and does not necessarily “make sense” in the rational sense of the word. This is not an instruction to give up study, for undoubtably a keen intellect can help to nuture the seeds of revelation within us, but it should not come at the cost of intuitive knowing and soulful expression.

Non-verbal communication is difficult to write about exactly because it cannot be conveyed in words. Rather it could be described as an experience, a sensation. Unspoken and unrationalised understanding. In Zen Buddhism this non-verbal communication is described as a subtle and quiet transmission that takes place between master and student. The knowledge and intuition being passed on could not be recorded in books or treatises because it resides in the realm of personal experience.

As we are now firmly in the autumn season, our energy is drawn back inwards, closer to Home, as we connect with the natural world around us and prepare for the darker days of introspection ahead. We are entering into a relationship (with nature) that cannot be established through language, but purely through experience, feeling, and innate knowing. As we go about our days, walking under darkening skies, crunching through fallen leaves, let us be in a place of internal quiet. Make no attempts to put experience into words as you allow energetic frequency and sensory intelligence guide your ‘conversation’ with the world. You may find the experience deeply moving. Your connection with the world becomes spiritual rather than mental. Where there are no words there are no definitions. No identities. No need to BE anyone or anything other than yourself in the most raw form.

Once we become comfortable in this non-verbal relationship with nature, experiencing energy exchange as the means of understanding and being at peace, we can invite this practice into our human relationships as well. When we become very still and quiet around others, we are able to cultivate a sensitivity that creates space for much deeper communication and understanding than the shallow and mundane conversation that we usually employ as a ‘space-filler’. I am not suggesting just silently staring at your friends and alientating them. But with the people you are closest to, just witness the nature of the conversation that naturally arises. See if you can avoid meaningless or mundane subject matter that has no purpose but to suck energy. This will likely result in more periods where chatter is replaced with silence. After a potential initial discomfort, you may come to relish these periods of quiet and consider them the most initimate part of your exchange. Creating space within your conversation allows for deeper levels of communication that can only be expressed experientally and leave room for reflection and expansion. You may find that naturally during the autumn you communicate with a smaller circle of friends than during the summer, when you are open to more socialisation. As we are moving closer to introspective winter, the communication we look to have with people is of a more weighty and philosophical nature. Superficial chit-chat and frivolous exchanges hold little interest as the attention turns to matters of a more spiritual nature. 

October is the heart of autumn, and as such it is a magical month for connection to earth and self. Still benefiting from the harvest bounty, we are encouraged to turn attention a little deeper inwards to nourish and nurture our internal relationship. It is a time of softening. Of feeling. Of connecting. Our awareness is heightened as we look to nature as teacher, friend, and medicine. May your October draw out your explorative side as we adventure through both the internal and external landscapes.

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