Learning lessons from changing leaves

I love autumn, I really do, it’s all big scarves and cosy candlelit nights – what’s not to love?! But it is a season where I struggle with a feeling of scarcity. Over the weekend I went for a walk in the woods and found myself rushing ahead in my mind to winter. I was imagining the bare, leafless trees and the naked, bleak forest whilst looking at leaves that are only just beginning to turn the most amazing colours.

I was seeing what was in front of me as an indication of what was to come, and completely missing the opportunity to enjoy the beauty all around me. This for me is the perfect example of what it means to stay present.

When I first began meditating I used to struggle with the idea of remaining present. Surely that wasn’t something anyone could do? We all live complex lives that require processing what has happened that day whilst simultaneously planning for the day, week, year to come. I was frustrated by the insistence that I needed to be mindful and present, surely that only worked for monks on a mountain top who don’t need to do weekly food prep, prepare presentations and plan social calendars?

But the more I practiced the more I came to realise that I had this idea of “being present” all wrong, and that I was losing so much in the process.

If I think of the example of standing in a gorgeous autumnal wood and seeing that beauty only as indication of the cold and bleak months to come, I can see clearly how I was refusing myself the opportunity to feel joy at what was right in front of me. As we rush from place to place and task to task we so seldom see what is right in front of us and enjoy the moment for what it is. Sure, it could all be about to change and the moment could be fleeting but that’s even more reason to get the most out of it.

Being mindful allows us to find a stillness within which means we can pause and experience the moment, in all its fullness. And this opens up the world around us.

I still do food prep and plan my weeks out in advance and doing this doesn’t mean I’m not mindful; it means I am prepared (which helps my pain-related anxiety enormously). Where I find I’ve unlocked the ability to be in the present moment it’s in noticing small things as I go about my commute, small instances of beauty in the unexpected or even just the sounds of the kettle boiling. It’s also crucially in learning to harness the power of the breath to anchor myself to the present moment and this has been the most powerful tool.

The first step I teach in my programme to support women to live more balanced lives in pain is exactly this, it is how to begin to step out of automatic pilot. Once we learn how to do that we open ourselves up to so much.

So, for now, if you want to begin to be more present start by noticing and enjoying the amazing change of season. Nature is such a wonderful way to learn this as she has her own schedule, totally uninterested in ours, and if we want to enjoy her beauty we better be ready to do it in any given moment!

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Kate McGoey