Looking ahead and embracing the seasons…

Autumn is the time to plant bulbs in the knowledge that in the Spring those actions will be rewarded with wonderful colour and new life. And we also ‘take stock’, we create the conditions for how our gardens can thrive next year and we take time to rest.

This October, join 4D’s Matt as he looks forward to Autumn and opportunities for new growth…

On the 30th September 1859, Abraham Lincoln recounted this story:
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words:

 

 

 

 

“And this, too, shall pass away”

 

How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

It has been a very tough year for all of us. An extraordinary year in many ways. And whilst you MAY have used this time to be creative, learn five languages and become a sourdough-baking-genius, the chances are that you may have had quite enough of home-schooling, one-way systems and mask-wearing and have been looking forward to the steady return of normality.

So, if you are living in a country that is experiencing ongoing, or the recent re-imposition, of restrictions to our lives this can be a disheartening experience. It is easy to slip into melancholy, perhaps even despair, that hope, happiness, frivolity, joy – some of the emotions that really make life worth living – will ever come again. The challenges may not be so much the specific constraints on our life (my time of going out with ‘the lads’ until 2am are long gone) but that when we thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel it now seems much further away.


And this is also literally true as we enter Autumn across the Northern hemisphere – the days are getting shorter, the temperatures cooler and (certainly in the UK!) the promise of grey and rainy days to come. Autumn is a time that can be disheartening for all sorts of reasons, the darker evenings and mornings encouraging us to hunker down for the months of dark and gloom ahead of us.

 

 

 

At the centre of the 4D2C model is the Intentional Dimension. That dimension that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom – the ability we have to act with an awareness of the likely impact of our actions on our future selves and those with whom we interact. This is our blessing as well as our curse – being the only species on the planet with a heightened consciousness about ourselves, our actions and our future.

 


As Dean Buonomano tells us on the first page of his book, Your Brain Is a Time Machine: The Neuroscience and Physics of Time.

“The human brain is a time machine that allows us to mentally travel backward and forward, to plan for the future and agonizingly regret that past like no other animal”

And when the future is highly unpredictable it can be extremely disorientating. Our life normally consists of a degree of predictability, of exciting plans and hopes for the future so when we are robbed of this it can affect us profoundly. Buonomano goes on:

“And it’s the ability to see the long-term future that I think is distinctly human. It’s impossible to overestimate how important that is, how much of your life is future-oriented….And one of the most transformative inventions humans have ever engaged in was agriculture. The notion of planting a seed and coming back a year later is something we take for granted now, but it’s hard to think of anything more important than that ability.”

Farming provides rich metaphors for many aspects of our life, from the building of healthy habits to the ability of leaders to patiently enable autonomy and time to grow.

Indeed, many of us have found joy connecting with simple things during this period – whether that’s baking, cooking or, if you’re lucky enough to have one, time in the garden.

Autumn is the time to plant bulbs in the knowledge that in the Spring those actions will be rewarded with wonderful colour and new life. And we also ‘take stock’, we create the conditions for how our gardens can thrive next year and we take time to rest.

As a keen gardener myself I follow the methods of British expert Charles Dowding. Dowding’s philosophy rejects the use of fertilisers and chemicals to feed plants. Instead he focuses on feeding the soil to create the conditions in which plants can flourish. In the autumn we spread a layer of compost on the beds and allow the worms to do their thing, drawing it into the soil and breaking it down. According to Dowding by not digging over the soil we preserve its structure enabling it to nurture our plants better. And it’s a lot less hard work!

One of the other things we also know about Autumn is that Spring will come again… That, despite the cold, the darkness and the drizzle, there will be daffodils once more, sunshine, lush grass, and new growth.

And it’s not just about looking to the future and ‘getting through’ the next few months. Some of the cultures that face the harshest winters have adapted their mindset to embrace the opportunity that winter brings. Health Psychologist Kari Liebowitz spent the Winter in Tromso, Norway in 2014/5 and found that she could predict the ongoing wellbeing of residents during the winter based on the way they responded to statements such as…

  •  There are many things to enjoy about the winter
  •  I love the cosiness of the winter months
  •  Winter brings many wonderful seasonal changes

Our mindset makes an enormous difference to how we see the world and respond to the challenges that new seasons, political decisions and tough environmental challenges present us with. By being more conscious of our mindset we can also be more conscious of the behaviours and actions that will bring us solace. That doesn’t mean we have to learn Russian or write a novel, but that we take greater control of our attitude and focus on the small actions that can bring us growth and comfort.

What can we nurture now in ourselves, and those we love, to carry us through these next few months? This year more than ever might be ideal for fully embracing the Danish quality of ‘hygge’ as we spend even more time than normal at home.

One of the challenges of this period is the lack of control we feel over our own life and the future. If, as Buonomo argues, we are ‘prediction machines’, then the inability to predict the future, let alone a future of happiness and joy can be very damaging to us.

Francesca Gino and Michael Norton in their 2013 research, Why Rituals Work, explored how human beings respond to rituals. According to Gino and Norton:

“Humans feel uncertain and anxious in a host of situations….Creating personal rituals can help people take control of otherwise out-of-control seeming situations.”

Whilst you may not quite want to go as far as creating full blown rituals, concentrating on small things that you can predict and control can increase our sense of agency and leave us feeling less buffeted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that are affecting us all.

When other people and the environment are impacting on us like never before, how might we employ our physical, intellectual and emotional choices to maintain control over our lives?

Whilst the future remains so unpredictable it can be hugely valuable to concentrate on the now. To bring the torch beam in from a hundred metres away to what is right in front of our feet so we can navigate one step at a time.

What Intentional activities and behaviours can you commit to through this time? Consider all three dimensions. For example:

 

  • Physically – your diet, exercise, rest and time outdoors to stock up on Vitamin D
  • Emotional – who are you spending time with, how are you finding joy? Can a discipline like conscious breathing, meditation or mindfulness help to keep you on an even keel?
  •  Intellectual – how are you spending your precious attention? How is your work/life balance? Notice how what you consume impacts your mood – especially in the news and social media.

As well as helping to bring you through challenging times these ‘seeds’ that you plant now may help you to flourish more in the Spring.

As we at 4D have said throughout this pandemic it is also worth remembering not to be too hard on yourself or expect too much. This is an unprecedented period, the most extraordinary of our lifetimes, and, taking care of yourself and your relationships really is enough.

Spring will arrive, joy will return, Covid will no longer be front page news.

We’ll all have been changed by this period, for better and for worse… but this too shall pass.

 

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Matt Beresford
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