Autumn has always been my favorite season.
But, much to my dismay, Miami doesn’t exactly represent the idyllic picture of fall that most of the East Coast looks forward to when the year’s latter months roll around. The closest equivalent to a falling leaf that comes to mind is a giant palm frond falling into the road and causing minor traffic jam.
The thought of stepping on a nice crunchy leaf right about now makes my Virginian heart heavy with nostalgia and a large dose of FOMO.
The crisp yellows and deep reds don’t make appearances this far south either, and while my college friends are bundled up in pea coats and infinity scarves, I’m sweating after the 90-second walk to my car from my front door.
Though I make a valiant attempt at sporting fall fashion in the Sunshine State, when it gets up to 84 degrees by midday, my beloved booties and cardigans just don’t fly.
Sad as I may be to miss out on the signature elements of my favorite season for the third year running, the real reason that autumn has always spoken to me on such a visceral level is deeper than anything we can see.
It goes far beyond earthy colors and cozy garments. I’d even venture to say it’s more poignant than that first sip of a perfectly cinnamon-topped pumpkin spice latte.
Mother Nature teaches us a profound lesson in the closing months of the year: she shows us how to let go of the things in our lives that are no longer serving us.
As the trees change color and eventually let go of their dry, dead leaves, they release the weight of what no longer gives them vital purpose. What no longer supports them in their health and wellbeing is lovingly released to the earth, where it can be of greater benefit to the ecosystem as a whole.
Love and joy are not typical emotions that we associate with releasing things from our lives. For me personally, letting go is often accompanied with anxiety, guilt, and apology. We can tend to perceive letting go of people as hurtful, letting go of things as wasteful, and letting go of toxic thought patterns as just too damn hard.
In reality, letting go of what no longer serves us is one of the most loving things we can do. It doesn’t mean we don’t love whatever it is we are releasing. It means that we love it and ourselves enough to acknowledge that we are both called onward and upward into the next phase of our evolution.
Mother Nature shows us that in order to grow into the next best version of ourselves, we must first shed the extra weight and enter a time of introspection.
That time of introspection is vulnerable. When we shed our leaves, we are barren. Naked. Cold.
But it is also a magical in-between. In that seeming darkness, seeds are sowed deep within us that lead us to blossom into something more beautiful than we could ever have imagined. If we are committed to self-betterment, to more joy, to more connection to our inner power, we must shed.
We must drop our leaves.
In the spirit of vulnerability, I want to share with you the leaves that I have been lovingly releasing to the earth this season. My leaves are low self-worth and the negative self-talk that comes along with it.
Over the past few months, I’ve been mining my inner landscape in hopes of finding the source of the low self-worth that’s plagued me for the majority of my life. Instances that date as early as my young childhood have resurfaced in my memory. Times when people spoke to me unkindly, laughed at me, and made me feel like my voice wasn’t worthy of being heard.
For example, I spent the majority of my high school years madly in love with a deadbeat baseball player who cheated on me numerous times. One autumn day in my junior year, as I sat in the back row of French class, I got up the nerve to tell him just how lucky he was that I stayed with him through all of his bullshit. (Now I understand that I should have been realizing just how STUPID I was to stay with him, but I digress…) His response was, “That’s a joke right?”
Thinking about this interaction now makes the goddess in me puff up her chest with calm but radiant strength, pat this small soul of a man on the head, and run fast in the other direction.
But 16-year-old me couldn’t see it that way. She didn’t know about the goddess inside. The sting of those words became lodged in my body. They went into the vault labeled “reasons I’m not worthy,” not to be processed for many years.
This instance and numerous others have snowballed into a battle with shame so formidable that it’s impacted my physical voice. My ability to sing. My ability to allow my voice to be heard.
For years, I’ve given my power away to others because I simply didn’t believe that validation could come from within. If I’m as little and insignificant as these instances made me feel, why would I rely on myself for validation? I relied on it from others for a very, very long time. To an extent, I still fall into that trap. But with diligent and loving internal work, I’ve started to reverse this deeply-ingrained pattern.
What’s more, I’ve learned that without doing this internal work, I will remain stagnant. I cannot evolve without changing the way I approach my life: How I speak to myself, how I respond to others who do not see my worth, and how I understand the unchangeable nature of my own value. I will not grow unless I change. And inevitably, change means letting go of our old ways.
In reflecting on the changes I’ve been making in an effort to let go of negative self-talk and low self-worth, I’ve compiled a list of 5 ways to recognize and lovingly assert your worth to yourself and others on a daily basis.
1. Mantras. Working with mantras has been hugely helpful for me. Whenever I feel myself slipping into a spiral of negative self-talk, I return to the mantra I’ve created for myself: “I am worthy, I am strong, I am loving.” You can use this mantra or another of your creation. You can put it on mental repeat all day long if you choose. Write it on a sticky note and attach it to your mirror or desk. Even if it doesn’t feel true at first, the more your body hears these loving thoughts, the more it starts to believe and respond accordingly.
2. Notice and lovingly redirect negative thought patterns. Outside of mantras, there are other ways we can gently notice and coax ourselves away from negative self-talk when we sense it arising. Gabby Bernstein refers to this as the “Holy Instant.” The instant you realize you’ve chosen unkind thoughts about yourself, you can choose again. Redirect. Take a deep breath. Think of 3 things you are grateful for. Think of 3 things you’ve done well today. Compliment yourself. Call a friend to redirect your focus outward. The possibilities are endless.
3. Allow past traumas to come up and be processed. As Michael Singer teaches us in “The Untethered Soul,” traumas will get lodged inside of us unless we consciously keep our hearts open and allow them to pass through us. The hurtful event I mentioned above remained unprocessed for many years. In my recent work on self-worth, I finally allowed the emotions of that event to pass through me. It was painful. Agonizing. But for just a moment. And then it passed. That event is no longer stuck inside me and has no power over me. I am free from the limitations it tried to place on me.
4. Practice saying no. Saying no to situations or people that don’t serve our best interest is equivalent to saying yes to your soul. Practice self-love by saying no to people who do not make you feel like your highest self. Practice self-love by staying away from that social interaction that you know will be depleting. Practice self-love by saying no to social media if you know it’s suffocating you. Practice self-love by saying no to old thought patterns that falsely make you feel unworthy. And most importantly, practice saying no to the guilt that can tend to arise from saying no. There is no need to feel guilty for holding space for your personal growth.
5. Gratitude. Ah, gratitude. The mother of all spiritual practice. Instead of focusing on what you feel is lacking from your life, retrain yourself to focus on what you do have. Remember when you dreamed of having the home, the car, the relationship, the job, the life that you have now? Step into that perspective. Give thanks for your ability to speak, think, create, move, dance, and feel. Your body and mind are so much more capable than you give yourself credit for. Focus on that capability and you will foster it. Unlearn what the world has falsely taught you. Train yourself to see your intrinsic value through gratitude.
Today, we enter a season that has become all about more. More food, more material items, more people on our guest list. What would happen if, even in one small way, we made it about less? About shedding the weight of what no longer serves us?
Could you go through your closet and shed the items you don’t love to make room for the new ones that make you feel like your most authentic self? Could you bring some canned goods or Thanksgiving leftovers to a local shelter instead of keeping them all for yourself? Could you have a loving conversation that creates distance from someone who is not supporting the highest version of yourself?
The more we shed what doesn’t grow us and allow ourselves to enter the vulnerable, magical in-between time of sowing seeds that we can’t yet see, the more breathtaking the results will be.
And even though the holiday season tries to teach us that fulfillment comes from more, more, more, you just might find that the opposite rings much truer on a spiritual level. By shedding the weight of what doesn’t serve you, you might just become freer, more joyful, and more grateful than you ever thought possible.
And that’s what this season is all about, Charlie Brown.