When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall - An Impromptu Contemplative Practice
The best contemplative practice is always the one that can be done now.
So let’s go. Find the nearest door. Step outside. Find a tree. A tall one if you can. Full of autumn color. Don’t think. Just look up.
This is impromptu contemplation. An adventure without an itinerary. A journey without a destination. Agile. Ad lib. Right now.
Watching those leaves at the top of the tree? Superb. How does it feel? The air on your face — is it cold? Your breath billows of steam? Did you forget your coat?
No worry. This contemplation doesn't have to take long.
(Besides, when you’re in the present, experience always matters more than duration. As Eckhart Tolle teaches, clock time is a mental construct. It’s a tool, not the truth. A measurement, not our master.)
Now, observe. Drop in to a calm place of noticing what’s around you. Maybe there’s a breeze. Maybe the air is still. No matter. Sit on a bench if you like. Crouch if your legs get tired. Just keep watching the top of the tree. Or if you have a vision impairment, try touching the tree — the bark, the leaves, the stems, the roots.
Is it raining? Pop open your umbrella. Flip up your hood. It’s always okay to care for yourself. Then back to observation.
Breathe long and slow as you do this. Smile if you feel the inclination. How are you feeling? Emotions. Sensations. As you monitor your senses, keep attention on all thoughts as well.
Are you worried about getting back to your desk? Let it go. When you get back, just tell your boss I gave you permission. Stay where you are now. Whatever thought comes calling, note it without judging, then release it.
What do you see, touch, intuit, discern? Describe it silently to yourself. Or tell a friend or a stranger. Talk to yourself aloud if you like. (I do it all the time. Discretely, of course.) Catalog in detail all the beauty you sense in this tree growing so close to you.
And while you describe, offer gratefulness for the tree itself — its beauty, its strength, its height, its service in offering us oxygen, its ability to inspire us by its stature and endurance and its stalwart, sturdy nature.
Any appreciation that comes to you, acknowledge it . Yes, take a moment and honor this tree. Honor the ground it grows in. Honor the air and the water it needs to thrive.
Are you chilly? Honor your own body’s natural ability to conserve warmth. Run your fingers over your goose bumps. Wasn’t that skin smooth just a moment ago?
Are you in warmer climes, sitting in sunshine? Can you feel the moisture your skin uses to cool you off, magically appearing through pores that make your skin simultaneously porous and waterproof?
Allow yourself a moment of wonder at your own body. Put your fingers on your neck and find the carotid artery. Feel the pulse of your blood. Yes, indeed. Be aware of yourself. Honor yourself. Be thankful for you.
Listen to sounds now, too. Air playing in the branches. The notes of distant conversation. The scuffle of feet. Ears! Dear, sweet ears. Take in and register the richness of all sounds. The breath coming out of your nose. The small gulp as you swallow. Even something gratingly loud — like the diesel engine of a garbage truck grunting as it lifts and empties a dumpster. Don’t judge. Witness.
And while you harvest your crop of awareness — not being critical, not evaluating, just focusing and accepting — something miraculous will happen.
A leaf will fall.
See it effortlessly detach and make its way downward — diving or fluttering, floating, capering, swooping, spinning. Isn’t that something? So ordinary and yet so wondrous and beautiful. Doesn’t it make you feel alive, vibrantly alive? From the top of a tall tree, the leaf can appear to meander as it trips and tumbles through the air — one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four...
How do you feel?
You witness this dance of descent. And you participate by witnessing. This makes a difference. How we attend makes a difference. The ordinary transforms into the sacred this way. All we have to do is give it our full, open attention. If we refrain from the pre-judging that pre-sorts our experience and turns off our awareness, we can see the spontaneous-graceful-peaceful movement of the leaf for what it is.
A falling leaf. A simple falling leaf. One of billions. Yet watching its gentle descent will lift our hearts.
What’s that inside you? That silent stirring — deep inside? Yes. Quite deep. Warm, too. That, my friend, is your heart singing. And yes, do take a moment and savor the feeling: the joy of engaging — through awareness — in the miracle of our planet’s changes.
When you’re ready, you can get up and go back inside. If you like. Or call someone and tell them that you’ll be another 15 minutes... or an hour... or the rest of the day.
Perhaps another leaf will fall and shape its descent in a completely different way. Maybe the wind will pick up and send leaves showering down in breathtaking abundance.
Never fear making space in your schedule for paying attention, for being present. Improvise contemplative practice wherever and whenever you feel it tugging at your attention, asking you to play or pray.
Your work, your study, your relationships will all benefit. Think of mindfulness as a spiritual annuity, one that pays dividends immediately and moment by moment for the rest of your life.
So simple: go outside, find a tree, open your senses, witness a leaf as it falls.
Autumn’s daily transcendence. Waiting for you.
Steven Crandell is SDI's Director of Content. An author with experience directing strategy and messaging for nonprofits, philanthropy and business, he now guides SDI's storytelling and education. He has responsibility our website, our blog, social media, our webinars, and "Discover" our free monthly newsletter. ( Sign up here: http://www.sdiworld.org/content/subscribe-discover-listen .)