I've always loved Autumn. I am charmed by the shifting light, the Sylvan colours and russet tones of the trees, the scent of damp earth and moss and the abundance of nourishing sweet root vegetables and berries.
It can also be a time tinged with melancholy as the evenings close in and the sense of summer begins to ebb. For some, this melancholia can tip from poetic beauty into a deeper sense of anxiety or even palpable dread at the impending longer nights and potential looming isolation of the Winter. My brother has always loathed September, haunted by residual childhood memories of returning to school after the freedom of summer holidays. And he is also particularly sensitive to the diminishing light. Our eyes are the body's receptors to light and as daylight hours become shorter the body produces more of the hormone Melatonin, which controls our sleep and wake cycles, signalling the body to prepare for rest and repose. New research shows that as many as 1 in 3 people suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder, experiencing low energy levels, low self esteem and anxiety, making it very difficult to work and think clearly. Couple perpetual low cloud coverage with the gathering cold and we begin to hide our body's away under layers of clothing and scarves, commonly resulting in insufficient absorption of Vitamin D from sunlight. Deficiency in this vital vitamin can lead to unexplained fatigue, disturbed sleep and aching muscles.
So how can we embrace this beautiful season, keep our spirits lifted and support ourselves both mentally and physically? I have found acknowledging my own changeable elemental nature (with its internal weather system) and having a compassionate strategy in place to support these peculiarities is invaluable. Some people are more robust than others and our sensitivities need to be handled with tenderness and care. I am quite a private person and my natural desire for hibernation can subtly dip into loneliness and isolation if I don't stay connected to my body, my friends and those little rituals that keep me feeling open and receptive.
My strategic support revolves around shelter, sustenance, kith and kin.
Connecting to the natural world can be very nourishing at this time as it reminds me of my animal body and my need to journey through different seasons within myself. I live in East Sussex and as I walk my dog out into the countryside and along the River Ouse I watch and learn from the wildlife preparing for the winter. Hedgerow, meadow and riverbank are busy with tiny feet clearing, gathering, burrowing. We are warm blooded mammals and our instinctive response to the colder weather is to slow down and conserve energy. Our busy lives do not always give us the opportunity to slow down to the degree that our body's really need so finding a practise that encourages stillness can be deeply restorative. Meditation, yoga, massage are all wonderful ways to drop into our animal body and experience its quiet purring.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. - Mary Oliver
I know my animal body needs warmth and cosiness during the Autumn and Winter months otherwise I contract and become rigid so my home becomes a snug sanctuary for my son and I. We light candles, cover the sofa with sheepskins and create a natural garland using seasonal flowers and leaves around our large gilded mirror in the living room . Even my choice of music changes rhythm as I want to tune into quieter and more spacious sounds. I relish picking wild mushrooms in misty woods and foraging for sweet chestnuts, blood red berries and crunchy seeds, returning home with a swag bag of natural nutritious loot. The need for hearty sweet seasonal food gets stronger and we are spoilt for choice with robust squash and pumpkins, aubergines, kale, tomatoes and a cacophony of apples. I enjoy cooking up a storm in the kitchen, staining my fingertips with the indelible juices of elderberries and hawthorn berries whilst making immune boosting concoctions to power me through the pale winter months. Sharing pot luck dinners with friends at the weekends brings a sense of occasion and celebration to the long evenings invoking the feast days of old. Autumn is also a time of reflection and assimilation of conversations, inspired ideas and creative projects that have taken place over the more active months from spring to autumn, a time taking stock of what works and what doesn't, and of harvesting the fruits of intentions set earlier on in the year. As most gardeners know it is also a time of clearing and preparation, planning ahead for the coming Spring and visioning what needs to be planted now so that it has the potential for life next year.
As an aromatherapist, I turn towards scent to nourish and transform my day to day living. In the Autumn months I instinctively work with essential oils with sweet pungent, citrusy and resinous aromatics to bring clarity, solidity and reassurance.
A Citrusy aroma is perfect if you are experiencing poor concentration and mental fatigue. Essential oils such as, Cypress, Grapefruit, Lemon, Melissa, Lime, Lemongrass refresh the mind, give clarity and stimulates the senses.
A Resinous aroma is helpful where over-thinking and mental anxiety is prevalent. Essential oils such as, Frankincense, Benzoin, Vetiver, Spikenard offer consoling, strengthening, solidifying therapeutic qualities.
A Sweet-pungent/spicy aroma bring balance to worried or 'stuck' mind where nervous indigestion may be present. Essential oils such as: Cardamon, Coriander seed, Fennel, Black pepper, Patchouli and Ginger are gently stimulating, warming, reassuring, enlivening. (Gabriel Mojay - Aromatherapy for the Spirit)
Suggested blends: 2 drops of each essential oil (8 drops in total) into a diffuser/atomiser
Comforting and grounding blend: Grapefruit, Cardamon, Frankincense and Benzoin.
Invigorating and clarifying blend: Ginger, Frankincense, Lemon, Cypress
You can also make up a beautiful room spray using 40ml of lavender water and 5-10ml of vodka. Dilute the essential oils into the vodka first so they disperse evenly once they are added to the floral water. Blend a combination of essential oils of any of the above oils totalling no more than 36 drops per 60ml. Please be aware that less is more with the dense base oils such as Patchouli, Vetiver, Spikenard and Benzoin.
As a gift to myself each Autumn I create a new natural perfume blend, one that reflects my inner warmth and sensuality. I cloak myself in its aromatic robes and feel romantic, bathing in an intimacy with myself that reminds me of golden sunlight on my skin and walking barefoot over warm sand. The power of our imaginations is infinite and generous. Honouring and listening to our animal body's as we move through our annual and life-cycle seasons reveals rich intricate stories of interconnection with the natural world and our own unique rhythms within that ever changing landscape.
I find Autumn such a romantic season, an overflowing feast of the senses, and I love how poetry nudges me awake to see the world with a new perspective. So finally, I want to share a deliciously scrumptious and wildly sensuous poem by two of my favourite spoken word poets, Salena Godden and Rachel Rose Reid:
You handsome man you,
all conker and russet,
you golden leafed hunk
You wet moist sea-mister,
salt-faced tide twister.
Tongue tingling whisky snifter
I want to run my fingers down your foggy cloak,
to kiss your damp mulchy mouth,
Autumn, you stain my heart blackberry
Blueberry, cloudberry, sloeberry
Howl every rooftop raw and
sing your rasping song to me
Your fat chestnuts take my breath away,
your yellowing corn,
Apple crumble me,
oh Autumn love
Light-up your smoke stacks,
turn the clock back,
leafcrunch the sodden tracks with me
For all summer long
I searched for your embrace,
Oh my darling dumpling stew,
so butternut sweet
So brittle bark and fat woodlice.
You came back to wrap me round in warmth
and whisper tangy truths to me...
Our love is
the fireworks that
light up my sky,
Our harvest moon,
Our love is the steeping,
down into the soil,
sweet and sticky,
my maple syrup,
this love is a poem
that will go on…
A love letter-poem to Autumn written on twitter on October 8th 2012
© Salena Godden & Rachel Rose Reid 2012