We need the darkness to appreciate the light. As I write this, it’s shortly before 7am and it’s dark. I’ve avoided the electric light and am using candles- candlelight is beautiful, which is why I’ve chosen it, but I’m not sure how useful it is for writing on paper and so here I am, despite the contradiction, resorting to the laptop so that I can see what I’ve written!
Autumn is a beautiful time of year, no doubt about it, but it does bring with it the short days and long nights. The clocks will go back on Saturday night, and then we are into darkness at 4:30- fine if you get the chance to snatch some daylight at lunchtime, but less fine if you’re busy in your indoor job and you often arrive at work in the dark and leave in the dark, only seeing daylight on your days off. It makes it more important than ever to take the opportunities offered to see the sun and appreciate the light- while also understanding and accepting the different opportunities that the long evenings might offer, to turn inwards, to cherish your home, to meditate, to read, to settle in on the sofa with someone you love…
Meanwhile, autumn also brings the chance to examine and work with the Yama of aparigraha, sometimes described as letting go or non-clinging. As the trees shed their leaves, it can be a good time for us to let go of what no longer serves us. That might be clothes that we’ll never wear again (no matter how much we think we’ll get back into those 28″ waist jeans one day) or thoughts, or attitudes- perhaps that same thought about the jeans: instead, embracing our bodies as they are, rather than as we might wish they were (and why?). Or a job, or a relationship. It could be as simple as taking a different spot in your yoga class. It’s always a question worth asking- what am I clinging on to? Why am I? What does it bring me, and does holding onto the old thing mean I miss out on something new?
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction.” Krishna is suggesting that we try and stay focused on what we are doing, rather than the anticipated result of what we’re doing: enjoying the process, not worrying about the outcome. In the physical practice of yoga, this might look like concentrating completely on the practice we are doing, instead of comparing ourselves to the person on the next mat, or pushing ourselves into that tricky posture just to indulge our ego. Rather, by focusing on the immediacy of the practice, enjoying what it brings in and of itself, we develop the ability bit by bit to access those more challenging asanas- and we gain the immediate benefits of being present in the moment, without feeling dissatisfied about what we’re not doing.
Compassion can help here. We are often very compassionate towards others, but not to ourselves- for a myriad of reasons, including feeling that it might be self-indulgent, or that we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold others. However, compassion isn’t pity, and compassion towards yourself isn’t self pity or self indulgence. Rather, we might think of it as parenting oneself, or being the adult- seeing the bigger picture, giving permission or advice, and allowing kindness. For example, if you are exhausted after a long week, compassion might be allowing yourself to have a takeaway, or fishfingers for dinner instead of cooking something from scratch. On the other hand, if you have had a week of wine and takeaways on the sofa, the compassionate thing might be to go for a long hike up some hills and then make a healthy meal to nourish your body properly. It’s about being honest, recognising needs, and allowing ourselves to meet those needs- or to ask others to help us to do so.