Autumn has arrived, and with it the scent of, well, death. While that sounds morbid, it’s really just nature doing its thing. Fallen leaves return to their original home, mixing with the soil and other plant material to create humus, the decaying matter that eventually becomes new life.
You might notice that the word humus sounds a lot like humility. Indeed, humility comes from the Latin word humilis, meaning “low.” So too, the word human comes from the Latin word humus, meaning earth or ground.
We can take from that the realization that to be human is to be part of the earth, to be human is to be humble, to return to our roots, to the ground, again and again, like fall leaves. To become compost and change form into something new. To die and be reborn again and again.
Nature simply does not consent to anything staying the same. Change isn’t just a part of life. Change is life, and it’s happening whether we want it to or not.
Every September and October we behold the beautiful unfolding of change. Life gives way to death gives way to life without us having to do anything at all. Without our permission, beyond our control, triumphing over our yearnings for things to stay the same.
Indeed, every year the return to autumn is a little bit the same, familiar in its beauty and predictability. And it’s also a little bit different. Through the turn of the season, change reveals its myriad faces. Often, it stops us in our tracks, demanding that we notice our surroundings in a new way. Other times it drops us to our knees in humble awareness. Sometimes it leaves us well enough alone and just goes quietly about its usual, simple business.
Change is in every single moment, whether we notice it or not. Sometimes we welcome it. Other times we admonish its presence and cling like mad to the familiar order of things. That’s okay too, because to be human is to want what we love and cherish and know to remain just as they are.
Close your eyes for a moment and notice the change in your body as you breathe in and out. The changing sensations in your hands and feet. The belly pulling in and relaxing out. The sounds in the room arising and falling away. Where is the control in that?
No doubt that the past two years have irreversibly altered our relationship with change. And how differently each of us have experienced that shift. For some, it has been a time of activation – an incredible opportunity to build something new. For others it has been a time to quietly return “home” and discover deep down what’s most important.
Wherever you are at this turn of the season, from summer 2021 into fall, may you take a moment to stop and appreciate the big wonder inside all those changes, big and small. Even on a bad day. Even when you have a headache and the kids are pestering you. Even when your plans aren’t working out. Even when you’d rather do nothing else than lie down and rest your tired body.
Here I share with you some simple contemplative words about change from literary masters. Words that may offer some solace in times of loss or sadness. Words that may bring forth a new perspective, ignite a new fire within you, or guide you home at just the right time. Words that may take your hand and lead you lovingly through the inevitable changes that life bestows upon you.
These words are about big change and small change. Change on the outside and change on the inside. Change that alters the world we know and change that touches the heart in the most intimate ways.
I’ll start with simple words from the humble Indian sage, who happened to be just a regular joe raising a family and became one of the world’s more revered gurus for his perspective on what it means to be, just be, amid the whirlpool of change.
Enjoy the journey through crisp fall leaves and darkening days, cozy evenings, and the wide open expanse of possibility as we, again, collapse into nature’s never-ending cycle of life-death-life.
12 Timeless Quotes to Welcome Change
“The mind creates the abyss; the heart crosses it.”
– Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (author of I Am That – a book you could commit your life to, I just might!)
“There is a lovely root to the word humiliation – from the latin word humus, meaning soil or ground. When we are humiliated, we are in effect returning to the ground of our being.”
– David Whyte
“And all at once, summer collapsed into fall.”
– Oscar Wilde
“And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees and changing leaves.”
– Virginia Woolf
“Only lovers / see the fall / a signal end to endings / a gruffish gesture alerting / those who will not be alarmed / that we begin to stop / in order simply / to begin / again.”
– Maya Angelou
“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.”
– Emily Brontë
“Autumn is the hardest season. The leaves are all falling, and they’re falling like they’re falling in love with the ground.”
– Andrea Gibson
“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”
– Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
I’ll leave you with this, my favourite….
“What must I give more death to today, in order to generate more life? What do I know should die, but am hesitant to allow to do so? What must die in me in order for me to love? What not-beauty do I fear? Of what use is the power of the no-beautiful to me today? What should die today? What should live? What life am I afraid to give birth to? If not now, when?”
– Clarissa Pinkola Estes