Here we are . . . the first full day of autumn . . . seasons changing, nature and her cycles: metaphors for life and transformation . . . autumn represents the end of a cycle, completion, harvest . . .

The Tao Te Ching says,

The unfinished becomes complete,
The crooked becomes straight,
Empty becomes full,
And what is old becomes new again.

IMG_3757-2bI like the idea of old becoming new again. Autumn also represents aging. The leaves at the end of their cycle have grown old, they turn to gold and red, and while newness may not seem apparent to us, there is certainly beauty. What did Albert Camus say? “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

After the leaves turn colors, they fall the ground to become compost that helps other plants to grow and they become food for worms, then the worms become food for ants and beetles – a continuous cycle.

With completion, there is also continuation. When we come to the end of a cycle, a new one begins.

So it is with the ebb and flow of life.

We might ask where, within the seasons of life, is there fulfillment? Surely, there must be some measure of satisfaction and happiness that accompanies completion . . . Where do we find it?

But sages like the Buddha and Lao Tzu, the author of the Tao Te Ching, would tell you to wait for it.  They’d say that when we seek fulfillment, it will often elude us. Satisfaction and happiness come when we simply go with the flow. That sounds like a rather worn out cliché, and it is, but it is also true. Buddha taught that the inclination to seize, to cling and contend was the chief source of conflict and suffering. Nagarjuna stressed  the term “non-contentiousness” (anupalambha), the very heart the Buddha’s dharma. And Lao Tzu ends Chapter 22 of the Tao with this:

Because sages do not contend, no one can contend with them
When the ancients said, “the unfinished becomes complete”
Were they speaking empty words?
Become whole, and all things will return to you.


Autumn Thoughts

It’s been years since I’ve seen a real autumn – I mean a fall of orange and red leaves, when the mornings are crisp, and birds wing south in arrowed columns across the azure sky in the afternoons, and the nights are soft and as sweet as apple cider.

In Southern California, autumn typically means a continuation of summer heat, and smoke from wildfires. The leaves do not change colors, and we have to wait until spring for any leaves to fall, when the lavender flowers on the Jacaranda trees bloom and soon thereafter drop to cover the lawns and sidewalks like purple snow.

For some reason, this year I have been longing to experience a true autumn, like the Indian brown and golden wheat-field autumns of my youth in Kansas. Perhaps, I am simply pining for some change. When you live in an area with a Mediterranean climate, the changing from summer to autumn and winter to spring can be so subtle that you hardly notice. The sameness grows tiresome. Now the days are growing shorter and the shadows are longer, but it seems to be the identical sun and matching sky each day, day after day . . .

Yet there is constant change. It’s easy to forget that not a single moment is like any other. Moments are subtle, too.

Last week we had a day of rain, the first since April, but just one day. By nightfall, the clouds had moved on, and we have returned to the monotony of clear skies and relentless sunshine.

It’s important to maintain a balanced perspective, so there is much for us to keep in mind. Seasons changing cause me to reflect that we humans have no dominion over nature; we only participate in it. When I read how our mind’s aptitude is such that we can build probes to travel to the edge of the solar system, and when I see that our sense of adventure is bold enough for men to fall from the sky faster than the speed of sound, I am awestruck and proud, but I also try to remember that our deficiencies and misadventures are as numerous as leaves scattering in the wind.

It’s similar to what the Chinese poet, Lu Yu, wrote in a poem titled “Autumn Thoughts”:

Great fame can be obtained
By routing an army
With oxen carrying
Burning straw on their horns,
But, after all, it is no more important than
The track of sandpipers on a wave washed beach . . .
Autumn has come
To my withered garden.
I decide to climb to some
High place to enjoy the view.
But I can only manage
The hundred steps of the
Yuan Hung Pagoda.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred Poems From the Chinese, New Directions, 1971