The celebration of transience and letting go
Winter is officially still far away and yet Germany setting the clocks back a week ago only added to me being very much aware of the hours of light waning for astronomical reasons. Every day around 5pm I look out through the windows wondering where the day has gone. Back at the equinox I was pleased with the trees starting their colourful autumn spectacle. Now a large portion of those leaves are on the ground slowly transforming into a brownish slush. The air smells of fungi and compost and the only crop left over in my vegetable patch is the curly kale I am keeping in there for a winter harvest. The trees in my region run the whole gamut from basically still green through golden but already mightly ruffled to mostly naked. The level of nakedness is not only due to the species of tree, some lose their foliage earlier than others depending on location and wind flow.
The current theme is obvious: Directly opposite the happily fertile Mayday, nature now showcases its powerful process of disintegration. The evolution of species and entire ecosystems is based on other species and individual beings dying. Life without death would soon use up the space and resources of a limited planet. As important as the fresh combination of genes is as a theme for spring, we also need organisms to decompose and release their matter as building blocks for coming generations of beings. Marriage and decay complement each other as perfect opposites.
Traditions all over the world and throughout human history
Even in socially distanced 2020, Halloween was widely celebrated. This rather modern custom of celebrating everything spooky always happens just before All Saints‘ Day and All Souls‘ Day, even though in some regions Protestants commemorate the dead on the last Sunday before Advent called Totensonntag. The Day of the Dead in Mexico is an especially lively version of celebrating human transience but some kind of historical custom is very plausible for other regions of the Earth as well. Even though the Celtic and Germanic peoples of old may not necessarily have called their festivals Samhain or Álfablót, the seasonal conditions and the necessity of reducing their herds down to a size manageable during winter made Death very much visible in early November and very likely a welcome occasion for celebration.
The power of letting go
Some things we easily let go of because their time has just come, some other things are snatched from our hands. Some people seem to be taken from us much too early and some relationships unexpectedly wilt in front of our eyes. We can influence some things (especially our attitude towards letting go), others are beyond our control. Time does not stop for anyone however much we would wish it to. To me, the current times are reason for a lot of gratitude and not the one I feel because of a rich harvest. What makes me grateful is thinking back to all beings who went before me. There is a reason the symbol I chose for this day also evokes pictures of family trees: Millions of years ago there were pioneer organisms leading to beings like me. Much later my more or less direct ancestors existed whose genes make up large sections of my own DNA. And then there is the cultural history of humans which means we do not always have to go back to square one at the start of life. Those who went before us left us inventions and knowledge and they fought for the implementation of rights that today I benefit from.
As sad as a bare tree might look, it has not died itself, just the leaves decomposing at its roots. Anything that is not strictly needed in Winter is shut down and removed. The trunk and limbs stay back, resilient and prepared for the cold times to come and ready to make use of the compost in Spring. In a similar way, the beginning of November is a good reminder for checking the resilient parts inside of me. What is going to remain after the loose parts of my personality have been pulled off by the storms of Time? Where are my own solid backbone and my strong roots?
What about you?
How does Nature currently present itself where you live? Are there still any animals to watch outside? What is the ratio of trees still in leaf versus the bare ones? Which qualities did you inherit from your ancestors? What would you have liked to keep, what are you mourning for? Where do you see the resilient backbone part of yourself? What is your general position towards the transformation of things we mistakenly feel are ours into fertiliser for other people in the future? Which parts of human history make you feel especially grateful?
Meditation and looking forward to the wheel spinning onwards
I have uploaded a short meditation about looking at what is really essential for you to try another approach to this holiday. You can find it here.
This post refers back to this main article and is part of a series on each of the eight holidays of the year. During 2020 I will write another post for every one of those dates so stay tuned for the 21st of December!