Migrating through, the grackles descend in a flurry of iridescent black, turning up the fallen leaves like a high school color guard squad. They’re on their way south, as are the geese with their flying arrow.
Here in the north, the days grow sadly short, the light weaker. We begin to take down our garden, before it is hit by the scythe of the frost. The trees are aflame with color – scarlet and gold, orange and brown, the oaks holding on to their green like the stalwarts they are. Autumn is a time of great beauty and great preparation for all creatures, from the perky chipmunk to the feasting bear preparing for her sleep.
And with this final harvest, we prepare for another year. The Celts began the year cycle at Samhain, summer’s end and the onset of winter. Similarly, they began their day at sunset, as Áine sinks into the western sea. Being a lover of summertime and daylight, I prefer to think that they were getting the hard part out of the way first!
Lightheartedness aside, there is deep value in beginning with silence, with meditation, with the fallow field. We turn over the fertile soil of ourselves, in anticipation of the coming seeds. In the silence, we come to know ourselves and our place in things, our relationship to all that is and all that surrounds us.
In silence, we also come to know what we are not: roles and jobs, ribbons and awards, words and arguments and should-haves and oughts. We are not our youth or our age, the silver in our hair, our freckles and birthmarks, our politics and positions. We are not the flickering stream of thoughts that distracts the moth of our attention.
Like many of you, I have a tough time with meditation in silence; the flickering of my thoughts attracts my moth-mind every time. The closest I can come is with shavasana in yoga, as taught to me by my first yoga teacher. At the end of asana, or postural practice, we lie in shavasana, which literally means corpse pose: utterly passive and supine, with arms and legs splayed.
At first, focus on your body. Notice the little tensions, and let the power of your attention melt them into dust. Then, focus on your breath, changing nothing, but simply noticing the inhale and exhale. Focus on your breath, your breath only, for a long time – and longer still. Time is never as long as we think in meditation.
Then notice the flickering light of your thoughts. Don’t follow them, but simply notice their existence, their endless motion, akin to waves driven by wind and unseen currents. If you begin to follow them, no worries; simply pull back and focus on your breath.
And finally, in that place of darkness and stillness, notice who and what is watching your breath and the flow of your thoughts. Ask yourself: Who is watching the watcher?