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Happy New Year

happynewyearWe were quite a sight that day, arriving at my youngest son’s elementary school for the annual “watermelon welcome”. A few people, seeing us hobble up the front walk, asked us if we had been in a car accident. No, we assured them, we’d just had a bit of a rough summer.

My husband, having crushed his arm in an accident back in early July, had six metal bars sticking out of his forearm (an “external fixator”) that were in plain view despite the thin sheath of gauze he used on such outings to spare people the full impact of his edward-scissorhand-esque arm. I donned a big gray boot on my foot, having broken my toe weeks earlier, but it packed quite a wallop visually because I had bedazzeled it with puffy paint that gave it sort of a cyborg-rocker vibe.

Needless to say, we were quite the pair.

The kids, happily, were healthy as clams and ran ahead to meet their friends as we hobbled behind and did our best not to let a wayward braid or a sticky toddler snag the metal bars sticking out of Todd’s arm.

When we arrived at the door, we were greeted by the principal and a bunch of parent volunteers who were holding the door, and managing the chaos with smiles on their faces.

“Happy New Year!” one of them said, as we finally arrived at the door, and we were given New Year’s tiaras.

I felt like Todd and I were the underdog team that had just completed an episode of the Amazing Race and were standing at the end of the journey on that little mat, about to find out – surprise – we were actually not eliminated this round. I literally remember exhaling at the entrance of that school, thinking “WE MADE IT.”

It felt like a finish line.

And as we crossed over the threshold into the lobby of that familiar school, wearing our tiaras and taking in all the fresh faces of the teachers and sharp new pencil smells of the hallways, it occurred to me:

September is the start of my new year. Always has been, always will be.

At first I used to think it was simply because of my conditioning as a student, always “starting” the new year in September, which gradually morphed into adulthood when I began to work in a boarding school as a professional in my first career. Growing up, most of my friends where Jewish, so I was accustomed to this time of year quite literally marking the end of one year and the beginning of the next according to their faith. Then I thought it was about becoming a parent, and how our entire year gradually started to rotate and revolve around the school year, starting in September and ending in June.

But now, as I’m hearing so many more people – like my friends and clients who don’t have kids – talk about their feelings about September, it feels like something more. It feels deeper than education and religious calendars. It feels… primal. And I know I’m not alone. There’s something about this time of year that feels “new”, and I suspect it has to do with leaving behind what was and charting a course for what will be – ready or not.

It’s the changing of the guard time of year, when grief and denial and dread of the summer being over collide with distinct hints of excitement and optimism and eagerness of a fresh start. It’s when playing hooky trades places with a do-over. It’s an in-between place, September…definitely not summer, but still not autumn. No longer there, but not yet here. Feet in one location, but head in another. Moving forward, and yet still holding on. Too cold for shorts and flipflops, but too hot for pants and leather boots.

So what was it, exactly? Where the hell am I?

Feeling a little battered and bruised to begin with this year, I entered September feeling disoriented and ungrounded.

So I did what I always do when I feel ungrounded: I read. In this case, I pulled out everything I had about the seasons, hoping to find something that would help to tether my understanding and right my ship that felt lost at sea. And I found it.

It turns out that according to Chinese medicine and Native American beliefs, there are actually FIVE seasons in the year – Winter, Spring, Summer, LATE SUMMER (ever heard of “Indian Summer”?), and Fall. I had no idea – where has this bonus season been hiding my whole life? It’s often referred to as the “five element theory“. Huh.

Late Summer is actually a distinct season – the shortest one of the year, lasting 4-6 weeks – and is associated with the earth element. That made sense as I read it, because I found I had this intense craving for “grounding” and “getting grounded”. Something in me must have instinctively known this, because I had already given up caffeine and pulled out my bracelets with wooden beads and had been applying really earthy oils like frankincense, sandalwood and patchouli.

Come to find out this season packs a wallop just like my bedazzled boot. Because of its shortness, it’s a time a intense metamorphosis in nature and within ourselves. It’s marked by extreme swings in weather (hot, cold, wet, dry, windy, stagnant, crispy, soggy), which consequently can be a mirror for our what’s going on in our internal environments. Apparently this is a season when things are in motion, both inwardly and outwardly, effectively disabling us from holding on to anything in particular.

Ergo the desire to stay grounded and centered lest things go into total chaos. Sound familiar?

Because while it’s all perfectly natural, it’s also pretty fucking scary when it’s happening. I know this personally, but also because of my clients who have been navigating these waters recently with me as their witness. Clients have used words like “stuck”, “stalled”, “overwhelmed” and “meh” as they are seeking to move toward something, and feel like the wind they were feeling so strongly in their sails just a short time ago has just…disappeared. As a consequence, things seem take a wee bit more effort and focus than they usually do, like trying to walk through a living room with a small child clamped around one of your legs.

So I’m sending this post out into the ether just in case you’ve been concerned it’s just you. Just in case you’ll feel like you’ve lost your way, used up all your mojo or don’t recognize yourself. Just in case, you’re feeling neither here nor there. Maybe you’re through it already and have burst out the other side with all your colors flying – in which case, good on you! But maybe you’re not quite there yet. In which case, sometime thinking in things in terms of “seasons” – especially when you find a bonus one! – can feel immensely soothing and entirely validating.

Like a bearing on a compass. Or a tiara on your head.


Want some more bearings on yourself this season?

  • Join me next Thursday night on the autumn equinox (Sept 22nd) at Sherman’s Books in Portland as I do a reading, give a talk and answer questions about making the transition from here to there. Starts at 6:30, completely free and open to all!