Harvesting the Richness of Life

By Sandra Ladley

The light is changing, the temperatures are cooling, and the leaves are crisping. Autumn is approaching in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s a late September day today, and I’m preparing to make applesauce from nearby apple trees. What riches do we have that we can put up like fruit in glistening glass jars? What will help us prepare and make it through the winter? 

Sorry to remind you, but dark times do come, and we can think we’re the only person feeling so awful. ‘Autumn anxiety’ is an established seasonal syndrome that can manifest as trepidation at the start of the work and school year, worry that we won’t accomplish enough, and fear of entering a cold winter with dark moods. We can feel we’re to blame somehow, get depressed or frozen in numbness or other moods, and forget the resources we have. We can feel lost and bereft. 

In Karuna Training, we actively work with tapping into and supporting the riches we tend to forget we have, especially when we’re in pain. 

Here I’ll highlight a few of these riches based on my personal experience. We’ll have a chance to explore this together at the Karuna Live! on Saturday, October 15th, from 10-11 AM Mountain Time. I hope you’ll join me.  

Outer Riches (Physical, Environmental) 

We can start with attunement to and appreciation of the seasons, not resisting them, as a ground for this exploration. Simply put, sowing seeds in the spring, getting out and active in summer, celebrating and harvesting in fall, and retreating and deepening in winter. Separating ourselves from these earthly rhythms and getting caught in our screens and machines as if these rhythms didn't exist can make us sick. Noticing these cycles and getting outside into nature and away from our laptop or couch is good medicine, regardless of the time of year. 

I told my good friend and travel-mate Carl I was writing this article and asked him what he stores up to help himself through dark times. He immediately responded that he and I don’t look at the photographs of our travels enough and that looking back at these good memories helps him in dark times. Similarly, Melissa Moore and I recently facilitated a Karuna Training class Coming of Age: Rituals of Life Review. We took the time to go through the phases of our lives weekly and looked at photos, journals, and keepsakes from each phase. We shared our reflections in class and found this helped each of us to have a more honest and appreciative perspective on our lives. So, another resource is spending time with the things that remind us of our inspirations, companionship, and learning. 

The riches we have also include our self-care rituals and routines. What things help you come into your body-mind in the present and cheer you up? For example, you might … take a walk, dance around, exercise, tend the garden, walk the dog, pet the cat, cook something, listen to music, sing, draw, journal, take a bath, take a shower, take a nap, meditate, pause, breathe … Scheduling time for these things into our daily calendar, just like we do for our work and household commitments, can keep us from slipping into personal darkness.   

Inner Riches (Emotional) 

In Karuna Training, we strengthen our resilience by tapping the wellspring of openness and compassion that is our birthright as human beings. Love comes first for all of us. This is easy to forget as we now navigate the toxic muck of hatred everywhere. How can we find the courage and an open heart and mind?  

Finding safe spaces to listen, feel, and share is essential for riding the waves of our emotions, whether talking with a trusted friend or family member or sharing in a beloved community.  Becoming familiar with our danger zones and recognizing the signs when we need to ask for and get help from friends and professionals goes along with this. 

In Karuna, we turn to the contemplative tradition’s deeply rooted and time-tested mindfulness and compassion-based practices. Mindfulness and awareness meditation affords us the space to settle down, experience the changing weather of our emotions, and notice the stories we tell ourselves. Meditation opens a window to the space of mind beyond the mind and our limitless hearts. Compassion-based practices like Tonglen, where we exchange ourselves for others, can help us recognize that others feel just as we do and that we can extend kindness and warmth. 

Awakening our inner activism and offering service through volunteering can bring us lonely. We can work together toward shared goals. It feels good to orient toward making a difference, no matter how slow or incremental progress may be. There are many opportunities to make calls, write postcards, walk our neighborhoods, and call our congresspeople about the issues that mean something to us. Activism can also be daunting and overwhelming. Self-care and balance are essential here to keep us from getting disheartened or bitter.  

Spiritual Riches (Mind and Spirit) 

Many people use slogans and affirmations from trusted traditions and sources to work through difficult emotions and circumstances. I turn to the Mahayana Lojong slogans of Atisha from the 11th century again and again. Pema Chodron and many other Buddhist teachers have taught on these over time, and they remain relevant, at least to me. Here are a few of the 59 slogans that I contemplate and take to heart regularly: Be grateful to everyone, When the world is filled with evil, transform all circumstances into the path of bodhi (awakening), Change your attitude but remain natural, Train without bias in all areas, and Don’t expect applause. I remember my mother working with slogans and bible verses to recover from alcoholism. She imparted these to me when I was a teen, and though I resisted at the time, as a teenager does, some have stayed with me. Are there slogans or affirmations that help you through difficult times?    

Speaking of Change your attitude but remain natural, in Karuna, which is rooted in the Vajrayana tradition, we work with changing the hateful attitude we tend to have toward those areas of ourselves that we wish we could hide, change or remove. If only we didn’t tend to get too angry, passionate, ignorant, jealous, or envious, then life would be just fine, right? 

In Karuna, we see emotions as energy patterns and a source of richness. We train in attuning to the wisdom of the energy of our emotions and the possibilities they hold for learning and healing. For example, the source of our anger is often clear mirror-like seeing, but then we take a rigid stance of I’m right, get impatient, and inflict our anger on others. After that, there is maybe some relief but also remorse and regret. Each of the emotions can be seen in this way. Once we start to see and work with energy patterns, insights come to us. We find more malleability in our behaviors and create less harm for ourselves and others. Every difficult circumstance holds possibilities for reflection and transmutation. 

There are many riches we tend to forget, and these are just a few. I hope you’ll come to the Karuna Live! Session on October 15th, where we’ll have time to compare notes, harvest, and experientially store our riches like good cinnamon-scented applesauce through the winter.  

Article written by Sandra Ladley

Related Posts

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram