Mindfulness in autumn – and a poem by May Sarton

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Autumn in Orton (c) Suzie Grogan

We have written recently about how autumn can be seriously good for your soul, and indeed it can. However, for many it is a melancholy time, when thoughts of loss, or of letting go are to the fore. Some of the words we associate with autumn can feel sombre and muted – ‘fall’, ‘decay’, ‘mists’  – and tones are ‘muted’.

But today, as we start work on our autumn programme and gear ourselves up for our latest mindfulness courses, we wanted to use images of autumn as a focus and see this time of year as an opportunity to celebrate and treasure what has been and then let it go. There are ‘autumn words’ that are lively and full of joy – the ‘boisterous’ winds, ‘warmth’ of first fires and ‘blaze’ of autumn oranges – and as the poet John Keats said in his ode to the season – ‘Where are the songs of Spring? Aye, where are they? /Think not of them, thou hast thy music too…..

But letting go can be difficult, and takes practice. You have to learn to take responsibility, forgive and cease blaming others. And you have to live in the present moment, rather than filling your brain with concerns about the past.

We often like to choose a poem for mndfulness on ‘let’s talk!’ and today we have found a wonderful ‘Autumn Sonnet’ by May Sarton, a prolific American writer who died in 1995. She was known for her honest, open approach to her writing and her thoughtful expressions of what it means to be human.

If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep),
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep,
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure – if I can let you go.

May Sarton

‘If I can let you go as trees let go….’ what a marvellous analogy, with the recognition that autumn can be a time of recharge and the storing up of energy for new bursts of energy in the future.

Do you like autumn, or find it a time of year that prompts feelings of sorrow and loss? We would love to  know what you think.

Mindfulness courses taken by our specialist, Miranda Bevis begin on 1st October 2015. See The Terrace website for full details. 

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Guest post: Words are tools of healing by Vivienne Tuffnell

41Z6WYh-WXL._UY250_Our thanks today to our guest blogger, writer and poet Vivienne Tuffnell, author of a number of wonderful novels, including Strangers and Pilgrims, The Bet and one of our favourites, Away With the Fairies, all dealing with the human condition in a mystical and spiritual way. Her short story collections are full of mystery, with supernatural elements and a deep questioning of what it means to be human. She has written and spoken of her own struggles with depression and has just published a fabulous selection of her prose pieces from her popular blog Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. These essays challenge, question and nourish the spirit, offering support to others in mental and emotional distress. Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking is available from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Just words

No one listens to me.
But then I have nothing to say
I have not said a thousand times before.
I’m dying for someone to hear
My silent screams
And offer help.
I’m searching for the words:
The right words
The magic words.
They’re just words;
They hold no power
To save or damn me.
Just words: no more.

I wrote this poem about ten years ago and I would say now: I was wrong. I wrote that poem before I discovered quite how powerful a tool the written word can be for self-healing. The process of reading and the process of writing have effects that I believe are much greater than we’re prepared to imagine.

I began writing almost before I could read; I used to sneak in to use my father’s typewriter, trying to write down my stories, believing that somehow the hitting of the keys would magically reveal the words. And words were magic of the finest kind, because they could transport you from a dull bedroom on a rainy November day when it’s too cold and wet to go out and play, to, well, anywhere in the entire universe. From being read to as a tiny tot, to trips to the local library twice daily during the long summer holidays, I devoured books. I started trying to create them too, from a very early age; I wrote my first novel when I was ten. I read English and Latin at university, which was so sobering I didn’t read much at all in the first year after graduating and it was another two years after that before I tried writing fiction again.

The other constant in all those years was depression. I experienced my first brush with it when I was about six. You might extrapolate that so much reading and so much writing were the cause of the depression, but it was more that they were the result of it. I read and I wrote to escape the yawning, gaping maw of the void that is depression. The times I experienced the most severe bouts of depression were ones where I could not (for whatever reason) read or write.

Recent advances in science have allowed us a sneaky peek into the human brain without slicing off the top of the skull; this means it’s now possible to have some clue about how our brains react to certain experiences. Most curious are fairly recent studies that involved MRI machines, volunteers, and sequences of words and pictures or sometimes other factors. These include  The emotion potential of words and passages in reading Harry Potter – An fMRI study and
Love, Pain, Money, Cocaine Light Up Same Area of Brain.

What is clear is that there are things going on in the brain that are beyond what we had previously thought. It gives great scope for pain relief and other beneficial results.

In the original version of the film Total Recall, memories are planted in a person’s brain to give them the illusion they have had a wonderful holiday. It’s a matter of an hour or two to create weeks’ worth of memories and the associated benefits on a person’s well-being that a great holiday would bring but without the need to travel or take time off. That’s what a good book can do, too.

As a reader, I crave books that can bring me relief from the inner darkness, but not by providing me with unremitting sweetness and light. There is something obviously false and unsatisfying about books that contain no conflict, no peril, no risk, because life isn’t like that. Some demand to be able to buy books with a Happy Every After guarantee (generally romance) but I doubt that this is a wise choice. Knowing beforehand a book will have a happy ending robs the reader of the experience of literary catharsis, of suffering with the main characters without being certain of relief. It’s the experience that brings the changes in the emotional state, not the outcome.

As a writer, I use my writing to explore how I feel and think, and the expression of my inner life in stories is one way I cope with my own sometimes fragile mental and emotional state. Yet there is both catharsis and a kind of creative synthesis that goes on, largely unconsciously, in the creation of a novel. When I write, quite often I don’t know how the book will end until it comes to me during the process of actually writing it. I often don’t know what the main themes of a book are until it is complete, and sometimes not even then. The feedback from readers sometimes brings me insights into what the book is about that I had no conscious clue about. One of the things I have found most rewarding as an author is that readers have found the books have affected them in profound and positive ways. It could be said that the books have been agents of healing and of comfort. It’s something that makes the process so worthwhile, doubly so, for the writing of a book is a process of catharsis and of inner healing for me; to know that it has this effect on readers enhances my own experience

613N30NIieL._UX250_Thanks once again to Vivienne. Do check out the links to her work and let us know how you feel about the ability of words to comfort and heal…

Vivienne’s Amazon page

Zen and the Art of Tightrope walking

How autumn can be seriously good for your health…

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Somerset Levels in autumn

We came a little late to this research, but as meteorological  autumn begins, and the nights start drawing in, we thought it was a good time to cast off any gloom at the imminent end of the British summer and highlight how wonderful autumn is, and how good it can be for your health.

In 2014 The National Trust undertook some research that showed how a walk in the colours of autumn can lift the mood, even as the health giving properties of the light fade.

The National Trust found that more than eight out of 10 (84%) people felt that bright autumn walks made them feel happier, healthier and calmer. About 70% of those surveyed felt a lowering of their mood as the days shorten but almost 50% admitted that they did not get out in the fresh air often enough

It is not just a matter of filling your lungs, however. Colour psychologist Angela Wright is quoted as saying:

“Natural colour schemes can inspire us and lift our spirits. Autumn, combined with the rich light at this time of year, is a flamboyant blaze of intense colours with each affecting us in a different way……Fresh air, exercise and the sense of getting away from it all play a positive role in improving our well-being. However it’s the colours that we experience which are the most powerful tonic to affecting our mood.”

Autumn is a time for reflection and taking stock and for many seems melancholy, heralding endings. Children dread the end of summer holidays and head back to a new school year and parents have to get used to packing young adults off to University. But it is also a time of great bounty as many enjoy a harvest festival and the hedgerows fill with nuts and berries, stored by wildlife to see them over the coming winter.

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Great Wood

The Trust drew  up  a list of some of the best places to experience the full range of autumn colours- those delicious reds and oranges through to exotic purples and deep evergreens. None of the suggestions, from Snowdonia to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire are close to Somerset, so we were curious to know whether there is a favourite local walk you like to take as the leaves turn. We are, after all, in a county with a wide variety of landscapes. One of our favourites is the Red Walk Trail in the Great Wood at Ramscombe in the Quantock Hills, where ancient oak jostle with spruce and fir and you can, if you are lucky, spot the occasional deer….

So on those beautiful, misty mornings over the Somerset Levels or on a cool, sunny Sunday afternoon, where do you head to kick over the traces and breathe in that distinctive musty autumn smell?

On the attraction of the inspirational quote…..

Here at The TIt is the chiefest point of happiness,errace we have recently been experimenting with creating images alongside some of our favourite quotations. This is not only an interesting creative experience, but apparently, when trying to get noticed on social media, an image grabs the attention more effectively than a simple text update. In our fast paced world it is all about the visuals; a shame perhaps but looking at a peaceful, meditative image can be a calming start to a morning so we thought it was worth a try, especially as we have recently taken the plunge into Pinterest, where the image is everything.

Inspirational quotes abound on social media. Some are sickly sweet, some inappropriate or distinctly lacking in artistic impact. Others are genuinely eyecatching, heartstopping and with the ability to stay with you all day. But you can be overloaded with them if you are not careful.

Anyway, we thought our regular blog readers might like to see some of our most recent creations, and we would love to know what you think. Do you find inspirational quotes on social media a positive way to stop for a moment and meditate on the message? Do they help you to be mindful? To be still for a moment? Or are they simply fillers on your news feed? Do get in touch!

And the darkness shall be the lightOne should take good care All men's miseries derive from not being Remember, when life's path is steep, to There is enormous happiness to be found Though my soul may set in darkness, it When you sit, let it be.When you walk,

It’s official – hugging a tree is good for your health…..

CLF - Olmstead ParksHere at The Terrace we are always keen to promote green business and are committed to being as environmentally aware as possible. We monitor our carbon footprint and source any products we use from ethically sound companies.

But being environmentally aware is about more than the business. It is, literally, at the root of what we do and how we seek to support the well being of our clients. We regularly run mindfulness taster sessions and longer courses and other therapies are based on a stillness and calm that takes us deep within our selves.

So it was with great interest that we read yesterday that researchers at the University of Exeter have found that those living in parts of London populated with a greater number of trees take fewer antidepressants than those who survive away from leafy lined roads and parkland.

It was a simple piece of analysis – data was gathered on the number of antidepressant prescriptions issued across London in 2009-2010 and then compared to the number of trees on the streets in the same area.The places with higher tree densities had lower prescription rates and although some of this might be explained by the greater affluence of some of these areas, and the reduction in respiratory illness in areas where pollution is filtered via the greenery, there is little doubt that being in touch with the seasons and with nature through the life cycle of the trees has a calming influence.

This news reminded us of a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver. Called In Blackwater Woods the rich imagery the poet uses takes the trees and turns them into a life force, energising and reminding us of the power of nature to heal. It also, I think, stresses the limits of the mortal life and the connection we have with the natural cycle of the world we are lucky enough to live in.

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go, to let it go.

There is a sense here of literally clinging to the tree trunks as pillars of light and life. What do trees mean to you? Do you notice them as part of the landscape, or see in them the spirit of life itself? They are, after all, our very breath…..

How does the weather affect our mood?

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The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.

Lodged by Robert Frost

For some of us, our mood seems inextricably linked to the weather. If you live in certain parts of the world, the weather can be relied upon, but in Britain even summer can be cold and wet, or one day hot and dry and the next cold and gloomy. As autumn takes hold the rain is falling, taking beautiful, bronzed leaves from the trees , making pavements slippery and sneaking under our brollies as a chilly wind blows huge grey clouds quickly across the sky.

Research suggests that the effect the weather – sun or rain – has on us is a very individual experience. For some, the heat of summer is unbearable. For others, like Robert Frost in the poem quoted above, a rainy, miserable day affects his human nature in the same way as it impacts upon the nature he sees around him. For many, winter becomes a time of unbearable sadness, literally, as ‘seasonal affective disorder’ (SAD) comes on as the amount of light fades and the days become shorter.

Edward Thomas, another poet of the early twentieth century, uses the image of rain in a quite different way. It is suggestive of solitude and loneliness, but it also has the ability to cleanse and to offer a new start….

From Rain

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into this solitude…

Edward Thomas

Perhaps it is how we look out upon the weather that is important. It isn’t simply the elements that cause our mood, it is part of a whole bundle of feelings and emotions. If we did not have clouds, we would not feel heartened as the sun breaks through them. If we did not have days of warm sunshine, the rain, when it does fall, would not seem so refreshing.

How do you feel about the weather? Does it directly affect your mood or simply heighten a feeling that is already part of your life? Do you have any coping mechanisms for days of weather that you find difficult to deal with?

We would love to hear your thoughts….