The Northern hemisphere is well past Equinox and moving toward the shortest day of the year.

I have long struggled with this time of year. Although the brightly colored leaves are beautiful and everyone becomes more grateful for the sunny days, I always have a sense of sadness and foreboding… here comes the darkness. Cold, wet, depressing darkness. Some of you will understand well what I’m talking about.

Being a mental health therapist I am well aware of the impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), when depression becomes an even more common and debilitating issue. To combat SAD some people begin antidepressant medications, some seek the support of a counselor, and many simply become amotivated and unproductive, wiling away the hours watching Netflix and sleeping. In years past I have tried all of these in all combinations. But I could never rid myself of that sense of sadness and dysfunction. The medication came with too many side-effects, the counseling didn’t make a lasting difference, and trudging around feeling sorry for myself definitely didn’t do me any good. If all my training in psychology and resources in the mental health system couldn’t help me, what hope is there? What was I neglecting?

Nature. What if we could turn to Nature for help? What if we could deepen our understanding of this time of year and find meaning in it? Understand where we come from and what our ancestors knew about this time of year. What if we could bring spiritual health into the mix?

For me this healing process began with learning. Learning what fall is for. Learning about the natural and ancient purpose that winter serves. Learning about the symbolic as well as practical applications of these seasons in the life of a human. I learned about my personal connection to winter and darkness. In my death-denying culture nobody had ever taught me that there is purpose and beauty in it. This is the time of year when the tree releases its leaves and acorns, and the acorn is embedded and incubated under a blanket of snow, a necessary process in order for the seeds contained inside to germinate next spring. I began to see the application of this in my own life.

In this culture of busy, productive, consumption nobody ever taught me the importance and irreplaceable value of resting. I think you’ll agree most of us are taught to take extra vitamins, get a bigger coffee with an extra shot of espresso, and in various other ways try our best to ‘cure’ our need for rest. But there is no avoiding it. We are Nature and we still cycle with the seasons and the Earth no matter what expectations are placed upon us. When we strip away the shame, the impatience, and the expectations and accept our need for rest as something whole and right and good, we change our relationship with the darkness and, for me at least, layers of sadness and sickness fell away.

This time of year is for gathering together in the darkness, remembering our ancestors, and putting faith in the wisdom of Nature and the feminine energies for renewal. It is about understanding that rebirth begins with death. It is about understanding that the sprouting seed of Spring began much earlier, with the dark incubation of winter.

Fall is about letting go of whatever no longer serves us. It is a time of transition. It is a time to slow down, to deepen into ourselves. Fall is a time for preparation. The seeds of what you are creating can be incubated over winter, as if in the womb. Your work at this time of year is to be intentional about what you will leave under that blanket of snow and what you will rake away during this transitional season. In letting go and clearing, trust that things you don’t need right now will be available to you when you do. You don’t have to hang on to everything. Where are your big YES’s and NO’s right now? “Maybe” can feel like a safe option but it’s just an excuse to cling to everything… with “maybe” we sacrifice depth and opportunities for growth and healing. Wield your scythe bravely and let your YES’s and NO’s be known.

There is room at this time of year for sadness, letting go, and grieving, without the need to label it as a disorder. As I learned (and continue to learn) about the beauty, purpose, and wisdom of this season and the winter to come I began to feel, for the first time in my life, at peace with the darkening days and the long frosty nights. It’s easier now to allow myself to slow down, turn inward, light a little fire in the dark and welcome the stillness… without worrying that there must be something wrong with me. My hope is to share this with you.