How to be in season

On one of our daily walks last week, I realized suddenly that the wildly-colored trees Dana was pointing out weren’t flukes.

In other words, it wasn’t that a few outlier trees had begun to change and I happened to be catching the beginning of something special.

It’s actually everywhere.

Autumn (in the Northern Hemisphere) is a thing that’s happening now.

It’s well underway.

I’m trying to notice more, not because I’m not naturally observant (I am), but because I have a tendency to really sink into a season just as it’s being traded in for the next one. This is a desperately nostalgic way to live—and nostalgia is fine, good even, in the right places and doses; but when it comes to living my life, I want to be all in, right now. Full-on presence is my ultimate objective.

Anyway, herewith are a few tips I’ve noodled on to help myself realize the right-now-time of my existence. Take any that resonate and apply liberally.

Make a list of fall flavors. I’m not talking pumpkin spice, unless it’s your thing. (It’s not my thing.) What I’m thinking about are those more timeless, pre-Starbucks flavors. The fall flavors of my childhood and young adulthood. The flavors that have specific memories linked to them.

I’m making my list, then I’m scheming up ways to get a taste of each one between now and December 1st (when I might allow holiday flavors to take over).

  • Apple cider—pick up a hot cup roadside while driving up to Door County on a Saturday.

  • Apple cinnamon—try my hand at these baked apples.

  • Cranberry—American Thanksgiving is right around the corner and that’s when I get my fill of cranberries for the year.

  • Pecan—again, Thanksgiving’s got me covered here.

  • Maple—pick up some local syrup and add it to my morning oatmeal…maybe with some sliced apples and cinnamon, too.

  • Pear—I’m not a big fan of salads in winter, but I can absolutely get on board with a fall salad like this one; I’ll get it on the meal plan for next week.

  • Brown butter—I’ll ask my mom for her recipe for ravioli with brown butter—and sage!—and kill two birds with one stone; after a cold week, it’ll be the perfect Friday night dinner.

  • Sage

  • Cloves—maybe it’s time for another batch of homemade Masala chai?

  • Butternut squash—an easy soup to make and pair with crusty bread for lunch this week.

Bring out favorite fall accessories and hang them where they’re accessible. I’m a scarf person. Well, I used to be a scarf person. Back before we lived in the motorhome, when I had my own little apartment and a way of storing and displaying my accessories that made me more inclined to pick them up and wear them—rather than look at them longingly through a clear plastic tote.

This month, I’m picking out the scarves and handbags that scream “Fall!” and hanging them up on the pegs behind my closet door—so that when I’m getting dressed, I can pull from the colors and textures of the season. Plum-colored messenger bag? Check. Jewel-toned hand-knitted infinity scarf? Check. Olive green jacket with military detailing? Check.

Collect fallen leaves and make a temporary garland. I did this last year with just a single pass through City Park, a few blocks away. In ten minutes, I collected enough bright red leaves to make a garland for the double windows in the dining room and for the little window-paneled door in my office. And all I needed were about two pockets’ worth of leaves and a couple lengths of baker’s twine. Once hung, it was especially curious to watch the leaves go from hanging straight and supple...to curled and crunchy, all in the span of a few weeks. Because I attached them to the twine by their stems, the leaves actually retained their brilliant colors through the early winter, when I finally took them down and replaced them with snowflake-themed banners and bottle-brush trees.

Anyway, I’m making a new leaf garland this year, to hang from a light fixture (in a golden palette—should look great with all that light hitting it), and this week’s my week! Leaves are falling like crazy.

And if you’re going to look ahead... It’s tempting for me to look ahead, to plan and plot and figure out what’s next and what it’ll look like and how to prepare for it. But then I lose sight of the only thing I actually have, the only time I’m actually assured of: right now. In the coming weeks, I’ll be using some of what I’ve written above to remind me of this moment, to bring me back to it, and to settle the part of me that’s trying to live out tomorrow or that’s clawing ahead to next year.

The other thing I’ll be using is a little strategy I’ve cooked up just recently: When I want to think future, I’m allowed to think future—but only if I’m willing to start those plans now. For example, what fall traditions do I want to create for myself and my family? Do I want next fall to feel differently, or to have some added element? Great! I’ll begin incorporating it into my life now. This now-ness eliminates the tendency to put off what I want or dream about until some future, not-promised-to-me date. Oddly, it also keeps me focused on what’s right in front of me, even as it allows me to envision the future.

All right, friends: Tell me below if you, too, struggle to realize the right-now time of your existence. Does it affect your appreciation of the calendar year, of the seasons? Have you found any helpful methods for grounding yourself in the month at hand? Share in the comments.

Your first distinction for making the most of September

September isn't messing around when it calls itself Self-Improvement Month: Already, tomorrow, we have Fight Procrastination Day.

(Not sure what I'm talking about? See last week's post for the full scoop, but in essence, we're using the month of September to bust our mental blocks—you know, those thoughts, belief systems, and inactions that stand between us and our creating the thing we want to create before the end of 2017.)

How fitting, then, for me to introduce you to the first distinction of the month:

The Procrastination/Awareness Distinction

Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. You know this. I'm not telling you anything new there.

Have you ever considered the purpose of procrastination, though?

To avoid discomfort.

The discomfort of starting something new or finishing something difficult, the discomfort of being a perfectionist who might not be able to do the thing perfectly, the discomfort of working on an undertaking that elicits some level of stress.

Understandable.

But there's often a bit of a fight against procrastination. We do it and we self-flagellate at the same time. We know it's not serving us to procrastinate because we're not getting any closer to completing our tasks or achieving our goals...and yet, we can't seem to stop ourselves from avoiding the discomfort that we know the work, whatever it is, will entail.

So, we have a problem.

When we perceive our procrastinating on a project as problematic, we believe there's something to be fixed. We need to find a solution, some tool or trick or tip that will make us do the thing we're actively avoiding.

Or we need to just push through our resistance by forcing ourselves to take action.

Although we don't want to feel discomfort, we also don't want to feel guilty, lazy, inadequate, or undisciplined—and those are our other options if we go the route of procrastination.

What I'm proposing this week is to bring some awareness into the picture.

Instead of procrastinating blindly, thoughtlessly...

And instead of railing against your procrastination—fighting it, obsessing over it, trying to force your way through it...

Shine a light on your procrastination. Focus your awareness on the why of it. Examine it—as well as your perceptions, sensations, thoughts, and emotions about it—without judgment.

When you notice yourself picking up a novel to read instead of researching that grant that could finance your painting career for a full year, do just that: Notice it.

When you keep telling yourself you'll begin writing your website copy just as soon as you've cleared out your email inbox (but you haven't yet put down that novel in order to tend to the email, let alone the web copy): Pay attention to yourself.

This awareness will become habitual, inserting itself earlier and earlier into the chronology of events, so that you'll start to observe yourself as you're following the distractions and avoidances, not just after the fact.

Then, you can introduce some gentle inquiry to your procrastination-in-progress:

Why am I avoiding this thing?

Where is there discomfort for me in this undertaking?

Am I sure there's discomfort, or might it be just that I'm fearing possible discomfort?

And that's it. No cajoling or strong-arming necessary. This focused awareness is enough.

Now, for your challenge:

Think of that project, big or small, that you want to bring to life before 2018 is here. Now, bring into your consciousness the associated task you've been procrastinating on thus far—no matter if it's the first step or the hundredth step of your particular project—because you're avoiding whatever discomfort might come along with it. This week, your mission is to begin this task.

Between now and next Tuesday, direct your effort toward accomplishing it, just this one step...and see what comes up for you. Welcome the procrastination, if it's there, but remember to shine your awareness on it, too.