Slow down

If there’s a season in which I remember to breathe deeply, it’s this one. Fall days are bright and clear and loose. They brim with opportunity, a slow, quiet unfurling. I know it’s not popular to luxuriate in the darker half of the year, but it’s here where I feel unhurried and at ease. I dance to the music on the radio. A smile comes to my lips more readily. I am generous with my attention and my time.

There’s a turning inward that autumn encourages. The sun rises later and sets sooner. We get up and lie down in the dark, alone with our thoughts and our routines. Lately, I’ve been practicing a morning routine that helps my days feel creative and grounded from the start. I wake up, brush my teeth, put in my contact lenses. I sit down on the couch and set a timer: 20 minutes of reading nonfiction. Right now, it’s Krista Tippett’s “Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.” I underline passages with a pencil, think about the words on the page after I read them. 

Yesterday morning, I read a passage that highlighted exactly how I’m feeling lately:

“But that (physical attractiveness), as the late great Irish poet and philosopher of beauty John O’Donohue helpfully distinguished, is glamour. I’ve taken his definition as my own, for naming beauty in all its nuance in the moment-to-moment reality of our days: beauty is that in the presence of which we feel more alive.”

It’s in these fall days that I see and smell and experience true beauty, ordinary moments that feel large enough to hold my ballooning emotions. It’s in the crisp air and the dark evenings that I feel joyous and calm and alive.

It’s become important for me to notice this and appreciate it, just as it has become important for me to be okay with spending 20 minutes on the couch in the morning. I know that comparison is the thief of joy, and yet my brain tells me, you cannot afford this morning luxury, who are you to take this time for yourself. It is persistent, that voice: don’t be such a contrarian, you whine too much about summer weather, does the changing light actually affect your mood or do you just want attention?  

I hear that voice, but I don’t listen to it. That voice is not wise or kind. When I slow down on these dark mornings, when I listen deeply, I know that there is kindness and wisdom in being true to myself.

Others can hold that fall is a brilliant flash, just a distraction before we fade into the despair of early evenings and icy winter months. That is not my truth. Others can prefer the snooze button or the gym before work. That is not my truth. 

My truth is my time on the couch, those moments of reading, followed by five minutes of prayer or meditation or contemplation. What I call it changes from day to day, as does my success at slowing down my thoughts and sitting with my breath and the early morning light. This half hour of kindness toward myself builds generosity and patience into the rest of my brisk, bright day.


Go for a walk

I am a creature of habit, a woman of ritual. After lunch, I go for a 30-minute walk in the business park where I work. There are no sidewalks for long stretches, so I crunch through the red cinder rock or walk the white line if the road is open.

The weather is changing, and while I don’t idealize the seasons, or at least I try not to, this one is my favorite. I love fall. On a lunchtime walk earlier this month, I realized there’s something about the low angle of the late afternoon sun and the crispness in the air that makes me feel like I can exhale for the first time in months.

My love for fall isn’t about scarves or boots. I’m not that excited to put squash on my stoop. I refuse to drink pumpkin spice lattes. I embrace this season because it gives me what I need. The heat eases and the sky deepens. In the past weeks, I have felt like falling to my knees with relief more than once. Maybe there’s some nostalgia in this, a twinge of rose-filtered longing for new pens and bright maple trees and sitting in classrooms. But there’s also something happening physiologically. The temperature is dropping, sliding back into the 70s and 60s, and I am achy and teary with gratitude.

In the summer, I often come in from a midday walk with my mind refreshed, but my body sluggish. I am overheated and feel soft and round and thick. I gulp water. The feeling eases, but it makes me want to lie on the cool cement floor of my basement. I am not energized.

This week, I have been coming in openhearted and loose and light. Goals feel closer. I can do more, give more, be more. I want to hug my friends and sisters. I want to hand out flowers to strangers.

I feel the cool breeze on my face and watch the sun sliding down the sky. This is coming home.

– – – 

After reading Teju Cole’s Open City a couple of years ago, I became enamored of the idea of taking long solo walks through the city. The city I live in is no New York, but it’s walkable and my neighborhood is friendly. Being habitual, I tend to stick to my neighborhood loop. On Sundays, I often hike up Mt. Tabor, a nearby volcanic cinder cone. Mt. Tabor Park is green and quiet and filled with trails.

Some days, I’ll put my earbuds in and listen to an episode of WTF with Marc Maron or Beck’s Morning Phase. On others, I am quiet, letting my mind spool out and dip into new thoughts. It’s best if I don’t have a destination. When I walk as a mode of transportation, I feel bogged down by time constraints. It takes too long to get places and I’m impatient. When I walk as a means of meditation, everything falls away and I can be brought back to myself, to the earth, to acceptance.