Autumn Inventory

Autumn ~ A Time For Doing An Inventory By Caroline Myss

I love autumn. There is something nostalgic-inducing about watching the leaves turn colors as they prepare to fall off the trees. The leaves are beginning to pile up against the fence but I love it. I love the sound they make when I walk on them, especially in the evening with that chill in the air that is now carrying a hint of wood burning in someone’s fireplace. I adore the fragrance of wood burning in a fireplace. It’s cozy and the fire generates a quality of light and shadow that simply cannot be duplicated by artificial lighting, no matter how clever the angle of the lamp.

Halloween decorations have popped up all over my block – already. When I was a child, we simply carved pumpkins, but we put our heart into it. The ritual began with traveling out to the country to select our Halloween pumpkin – and believe me, that was a ritual. My two brothers and I would spend who knows how long carefully examining pumpkin after pumpkin, looking for just the right one. I can’t quite recall what standards we set that our pumpkins had to fulfill to qualify for our eagle eyes, but I suspect our search for the perfect pumpkin ended about the time my parents had enough of us running through the stacks of pumpkins that I can still see so clearly through the lens of my memory. Once we got home, we would have to make the “big” decision: What type of face would our pumpkin have this year? Would it smile? Would it be a grim pumpkin? Would it be a goblin? Decisions, decisions…ah, the great, big, huge size of those childhood decisions. And then the carving ritual began. What splendid memories, all of them.

Autumn and its nostalgic atmosphere inevitably lead me to wonder about the past. I always end up at that dead end no-answer question, “Where did all those years go?” They just went – just like that. Only as I think about the years now, I am feeling more and more like “fine wine”; older, wiser, less involved with this and that. I feel a stirring deep within me that I thought was the result of far too much travel for one year. Yet, I’ve felt post-traumatic travel syndrome before and the hectic confusion that I feel the days during re-entry. The unpacking of the luggage happens while re-packing the refrigerator, a cold machine grown even colder by the absence of activity. And the house has that feel of needing to be “melted into” warmth again, after having been abandoned for so long. Mail is stacked feet high, phone calls are backed up, emails number into the hundreds – re-entry can be as exhausting as traveling in its own way.

The addition of autumn nostalgia has introduced an unexpected factor, however, in that I expected to be adjusted to my home by now. Admittedly, traveling for most of the past six months through 13 countries is a rigorous trek but even I have been baffled by why I simply have not been able to return to center, as the expression goes. And then I realized that one just doesn’t “return to center” just like that, especially after months of being away from oneself. As I reflected upon what and how I’m feeling, I realized that I am not in a crisis, I am not in a trauma – no, that is not at all what this sensation I am experiencing is about. I finally concluded that my exaggerated reactions to nostalgia combined with my anguish over not being able to find my re-entry point into my familiar life pointed only to one thing: It’s time for me to take inventory of what is bubbling up in and around me. I am obviously in the process of losing something, saying goodbye to something – but what? – Thus, it is equally true that I must be developing a new appetite for something – but what?

As I thought about these indicators this morning, it occurred to me that I might not be alone in my little sojourn. Perhaps many of you can relate to the experience I am describing, one that is “autumnal” in archetypal theme but deeply spiritual in its transformational nature. I thought, therefore, I would share a bit of the “Autumn Inventory” with you.

Autumn Inventory Guidelines:

First of all, I am not an expert on doing a personal inventory. I am just following my own instincts, my own inner needs. But through that, you’ll get the picture. What I am certain of, however, is that doing a personal inventory is not a simple, one-day ritual, like choosing a Halloween pumpkin. It’s a methodical process in which one clear observation, such as, “I don’t have time for that type of thing any more”, leads to yet another clear observation, such as, “But I am going to make time for this.” Inventories are about observing the choices you are making and evaluating them:

* What choices create the structure of your life?
* Do the consequences of your choices satisfy you?
* Define satisfy. Now here’s an interesting challenge – describe exactly what you need to satisfy you. That challenge alone opens, oh, how many doors? How many parts of your life can you possibly satisfy with one or two choices?

You will ask yourself many questions during a personal inventory. Through the process, it doesn’t take much time to realize some questions pack more of a punch than others. Questions such as the three above, while they are highly significant, don’t become “show stoppers” until you recognize that collectively they represent a theme in your life: Your values are changing. And that message is a real showstopper, or to put this in the more popular lingo, a game changer.

Few people consciously wake up one day and say to themselves, “I think I’m going to change my values today. Yep. That’s what I’m going to do.” Yet, our values change – so how does that happen? If we are not changing our values, consciously, carefully, then what or who is doing that for – or within - us? A spiritually organic process matures and refines what we value in our life, somehow changing the lenses through which we view the world that is our life. We don’t order up a lens change; it just happens organically, as if a natural part of the mid-life crisis. Only a value shift happens more than once: in our late 20’s, in our early 40’s, in our late 50’s, and then perhaps in our mid-70’s or so. These are passageways in which life calls us to pause and evaluate:

* Who you were
* Who you are now
* Who you need to become
* Who you are no longer called to be

And in keeping with those game changing questions, what becomes essential to us with each different passage changes. A younger person has more time than an elder; an elder has more wisdom than a younger person. A middle-aged person still has time but its value is now becoming the most precious commodity of all – time, health, and family. So an inventory of values requires a deep period of reflection in which you recognize:

* What are my values at this stage in my life?
* What do I need now that I never needed before?
* What do I no longer need?
* What do I need to do now?
* What do I no longer need to do?
* Who do I need in my life?
* Who needs me in his or her life?

I, for instance, have realized that taking care of my health and the use and distribution of my time have become my most precious commodities. Though the “truth” is, we can just as likely die today as 25-years from now, we still think more conventionally than mystically when it comes to life and death. As I look through nostalgic eyes, I realize I have less time ahead of me than behind me and thus, each year, each month has gone up in its value for me. I value my time because I value my life and I value how I use my time.

The next stage of your personal inventory is the most delicate by far because it requires the evaluation of relationships. Some, if not most, relationships continue to move forward with you in life – and get better as the years go by. With luck, your close friends get to know you better and you them. Imperfections cease to be obstacles and their ego’s fade, giving way as the years go by to the ever-deepening beauty of their souls. But in some cases, goodbye’s are essential.

* Is this a relationship that empowers me?
* Do I empower this person?
* Do I value this individual in my life fully and completely?
* Do I want to nurture this relationship and if so, what will that require?
* Does this person value me?
* Does this relationship require hard work or does it bring me great delight? (I’m from the ‘I’m too old to work that hard’ school of charm these days.)

Next, what are you doing for you and you alone?

* What do I value about myself?
* What am I doing to take care of myself?
* I value my personal life.
* I value my time now and as a result: fill in the blank
* I value my health and as a result: fill in the blank
* My personal life now requires this: fill in the blank
* My spiritual life now requires this: fill in the blank

I am doing this inventory and changing my life because it’s time. These are not exercises I am just suggesting; I am doing them myself. If any of you decide to do an autumn/personal inventory with me, send an email off to me to let me know how you’re doing. My hunch is that the real reasons we so often experience the heaviness we feel or the lack of connection to our life have more to do we unconscious shifts taking place within us of this magnitude than the small, petty things we look for on the outside as a false target. These shifts of values, purpose, meaning, and our inner dynamics are the substance of our life and this is the part of us that requires constant attention.

As for that nostalgic feeling – it’s always an indication that something is coming to a close and something new is beginning. And that’s life - the archetypal wheel of transitions and transformation continually spins in our life. But doesn’t it help just a bit to know how to work with that wheel? I sure hope so…

More next month...


2009 - Caroline Myss is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Anatomy of the Spirit, Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can, Sacred Contacts, and Entering the Castle. Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond the Bounds of Reason, will be published by Hay House in October 2009.
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