In the last couple of weeks, I have found myself comforted by the change of season. Sure, it’s nice to live in perpetual summer-basking in the sun’s golden rays, feeling warmed from the outside in, playing yearlong in the evening hours outdoors; but, the coming of autumn this year has ushered in a change of pace and a welcome time of reflection for me.
The smell outside has turned to a sweet, moist, comforting memory of my years growing up in New England. Signs of autumn are all around: wafts of fires coming from chimneys, dense clouds overhead with buckets of rain waiting to fall making the air heavy and expectant, dying leaves slowly roasting under gentle rays of indirect sunlight, southern exposure bringing patches of light unseen in earlier months, the sky displaying full constellations until late morning and a spooky stillness lingering around every corner. Everything this time of year makes me pause and notice the changes-the environment becomes a subject of constant meditation.
It is no wonder then that autumn has traditionally been seen as a time of reflection and inward momentum. The cold causes restriction and contraction within the physical body, the prolonged darkness of night causes one to retreat indoors, the withering of plant life and stillness in animals become contagious qualities to us humans.
Even in California, the land of summer loving, the leaves change color and fall to the earth, creating a protective layer of soil for life to germinate over the colder months. The ground has darkened a shade from its signature golden brown to dull tan and the sound of footprints crunches undertow. The hummingbirds have stopped by less frequently for the floral nectar of our still blooming bushes and summer’s lullaby of grasshoppers that rings throughout the night has left the theatre, leaving only an occasional owl’s hoo and the ignition of a heating furnace.
Because of the constant fire- figurative, political, environmental-that 2017 has brought, this autumn feels like a most welcome change to the hullabaloo. The aging process has also left me quieter, more willing to embrace and welcome in deep, still times of reflection. November could not feel more perfect curled up on the couch with the dog resting, the candles lit and the quiet seeping into every cozy, internal corner of my space.
This time of year, our ancestors traditionally celebrated Sahmain, Dia de los Muertos and All Hallow’s Eve. They followed these traditions to mark the seasonal change and spiritual transformations taking place in the earth’s cycles. As the earth dies, so too does a part of us, in order to allow for the natural cycles of death and rebirth to take place within as without. Part of this natural process is taking stock of, or harvesting the collected energies of those who have passed on in life-the honoring of the dead.
In Ayurveda, the Indian science of medicine, Tarpana is a ritual performed once a year (typically in September) to cleanse the body and spirit. Derived from the sanskrit word trpti, meaning satisfaction, Tarpana is a process of sating our ancestors. Each one of us inherits genes and thus traits, as well as energetic patterning from our ancestors (sometimes unsolicited or unresolved, sometimes beneficial and strengthening). In order to honor, renew and cleanse these energies, one performs Tarpana.
The ritual begins with preparing a food item that is reminiscent of one’s ancestors, such as something that the eldest member of the family would cook on special occasions. Then, one conjures up the spirits of each deceased family member in memory, sits with each spirit individually, offers up assistance to help satiate any remaining earthly desires they may have in the spirit realm and then offers food and drink, including the specially prepared item. Many of the world’s autumnal holidays have the same tradition of offering food to the dead-providing closure, reverence and remembrance.
Tarpana, as with Halloween, is a reminder that the people who have touched our lives and passed on are still living inside of us. They can be family members or simply good friends. By “sitting” with each one of their spirits, or the projected images that we hold of them, we are also facing parts of ourselves-maybe a habit picked up from a parent, a physical resemblance to a family member, a passion picked up from a friend who introduced you to it when you were younger, or a pet that was your soul mate and shared your personality traits. When we honor the deceased, it is a relief not only for them, but also for ourselves-a pardoning and ultimate demonstration of love for all of the little parts that make up a whole, complete person in a wholly united world.
In the dark, cold hours of night, do you feel the presence of anyone in particular? Is there something in you that comes out with the stillness of autumn and slowing down of life? I like to think that the invisible comes to light in the dark of night. Whether by dim candlelight or the strong rays of a heating lamp, this time of year we are being asked to look deep into ourselves and meet the invisible with open arms, a warm drink and some sweet treats to reconnect to the essence of life. Let us not be afraid of things that go bump in the dark and greet the change of season with the same warm welcome that we would extend to an old friend or relative visiting for the night.