Seasons of the Soul

The calendar has driven us, once again, into the bracing arms of autumn. Northern Hemisphere residents are inhaling the snappy chill of the late-afternoon air, wrapping their dangerously exposed necks in magical Hogwarts scarves, exclusively eating and drinking things that taste and look like pumpkins, losing their children in elaborate corn-mazes, and unabashedly participating in the creepiest-sounding of all autumn activities: leaf-peeping.

Meanwhile, here in Santa Barbara, California, it’s 70-something degrees and sunny, and everyone is at the beach. Just like every other damn day of the year.

I’m not foolish enough to try to elicit any sympathy for my life in a Mediterranean climate. For a century, people have moved to Santa Barbara precisely for the therapy of sun and salty ocean air. No one in upstate New York will shed any tears for me when they’re shoveling themselves out of 11 feet of snow in January and I’m unironically wearing shorts.   

Yet, while I am happy to call this place home, I miss seasons, sometimes desperately. No doubt retailers play a role in my angst; they have conditioned me, rather brilliantly, to associate dates on the calendar with particular products and activities. When the bell of the autumnal equinox rings, I start salivating for pumpkin-spiced whatever—like the most annoyingly hipster Pavlovian dog…and I don’t even like sweet things. Most of it is influenced by nostalgia. I grew up in Seattle, and autumn evokes childhood memories of driving with my dad past the sprawling local pumpkin patch on drizzly Saturday evenings and returning home to the fire after University of Washington football games.

But it goes even deeper. Seasons are not only realities that occur outside and around us, in the skies and in the trees. I believe seasons are also internal and personal, interwoven into the fabric of human life. We are designed to transition, to change, and to vary. Our souls have seasons.

When there are few changes in the outward seasons, it is easy to neglect the shifts required by our internal seasons. When you live in an unchanging climate, it’s tempting to try to match it with an unchanging life. External seasonal cues can remind us to transition into something new and to live differently. The reason why people historically have celebrated the month of October so extravagantly is not only because it’s harvest time, an ancient time of gratitude, but because they sensed on a primal level that the world was slowly closing, the sap was gravitating back toward the soil, the darkness was encroaching, and the natural world was going dormant. They knew their daily lives were going to change along with it: it was almost time to go inside, build a fire, and wait out the winter.

My longing for seasons feels like a desire for the permission to change, to slow. I don’t believe we are built to move at the same pace, do the same activities, and feel the same feelings all year round. Humans, just like the natural world, are meant to cycle through seasons of dormancy and new life, activity and contemplation, celebration and sadness, blossom and harvest, openness and closedness, austerity and abundance. I believe the seasons serve as a lesson book for the soul, instructing us when to move fast and when to slow down, when to act and when to rest, when to focus on the world outside and when to hibernate and go down deep. If we ignore the lessons of the seasons, we may feel the pressure to try to be “up” all the time—always going, ever energetic, constantly gleeful. We may find ourselves restless and exhausted without having any idea why.

Living in a climate of seemingly endless summer has taught me some valuable lessons. First, the seasonal changes are there, but you have to discipline yourself to pay attention to the subtleties. Seasons are exercises in attentiveness. The radiant glow of summer modulates into the beautiful sadness of autumn, but it’s delicate. The marine layer persists just a little bit longer in the mornings, and the air warms up a little slower in the morning and cools down a little faster in the afternoon. The clouds linger on the peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains into the afternoons. The light falls differently and casts longer shadows, and the loud pink rays of the summer sunset are brushed aside by the amber and burnt orange hues of fall’s curtain call.

Second, seasons are now something I choose. Here, autumn is something you resolve to do. I love that the word deciduous has the word decide embedded in it. Although I live in an evergreen climate, I have resolved to lead a deciduous life, for the sake of my soul. I allow the encroaching darkness of the fall to drive me inside earlier in the evening to read, to write, to reflect. And sometimes, you just have to put soup in the crockpot when it’s 80 degrees outside. I want to let the seasons, and their inherent gifts, rhythms, and offerings, teach me how to live and to be more human.

There is a growing trend in our country of eating in season, enjoying the produce that particular season has to offer rather than trying to eat a plastic tomato in the middle of February. What if we extended that idea to living in season? What if we stopped trying to live the year at a dead sprint and instead let the seasons teach us about how to move and how to live?

Share your thoughts.

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  • Kim l’ecouteur

    what a beautifully deep expression of your soul. thank you for these thoughts and observations.

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  • Leah Cecil

    Important question: where is this picture taken?

  • Rhino

    I’ve lived in southern Cal all my sixty-something years. I find difficult weather—-difficult. Not desirable. As a native, I’ve always recognized the seasons of the year. As Adam should know by now, our weather does change. Appreciating the subtleties of our climate leads to a mindful and respectful relationship.

  • ThistleCoveFarm

    If I slowed down any more, they’d put me in a pine box! Living and working on a farm means I work in the moment while planning for tomorrow. Autumn is in full glory here, now, and I’ve no wish to unpack winter. It’ll come soon enough, in its own time. In this season of my life it’s time to be here and now…just as it is every other season of my life. Living fast, or slow, is a choice. Choose wisely Youngin’.

  • Shani

    “What if we stopped trying to live the year at a dead sprint and instead let the seasons teach us about how to move and how to live?” – Yes, a thousand times! Each season inherently has so much to offer, to explore, to support, to entice, to influence.
    So many times I’ve found myself inspired to explain that I love Autumn so much because it feels like ‘permission to be an introvert’. And when Spring emerges, as it has begun to here in the southern hemisphere, I feel a sense of delight at the emerging sunshine and longer, warmer days, but at least equally as reluctant to ‘have to’ come out of the wintry, reflective den of the previous six months.
    The expansive, joyful pepperings throughout Spring and Summer are a blessing when embraced; an aid to nurture social relationships and/or enjoyment of a change of scenery, supported by the warmth and sunshine, and perhaps to enjoy more relaxed, explorative thinking. And yet… when that autumn sun line creeps back, for me it’s always accompanied by a quiet smile and an excited ‘homecoming’ feeling. Permission granted once again.
    Appreciate and resonate completely with this piece, thank you Adam!

  • Lynn Piontek Schroeder

    This is a fabulous blog post! You’ve summarized my internal “dilemma” with the changing seasons quite well! I’ve never been quite able to put my finger on what was going on in my head and heart this time of year…you nailed it!

    • Janice Mauk Enzone

      Yes, I agree & you said that well.

  • Mon

    beautifully written on a subject I have many times thought about. I have myself moved from Scandinavia to the west coast of Australia and here I have to note spring and autumn as the weather offers us warm weather or warmer weather. I also fully agree that it is so important for us to live in a circular fashion with the seasons, after all, we are all mother natures creature and have the same needs.

  • Adrian Borjas

    Greetings! Great article! I share your idea about the seasons. I think there’s seasons made by social movements, human movements, and some of that movements are positive or negative, is up to us to see between the lines and learn the lessons. Greetings from Venezuela.

  • Andre Burki

    Wonderful invitation to let go of the robot in me and welcome the waves of nature and life. A brilliant eye opener and delicious soul feeder.
    Thank you Adam & QuietRev-team
    From warming Perth, Western Australia

  • Becc

    Your article really struck a chord with me, Adam. Recently, I’ve been contemplating the idea of internal seasons. Where I get stuck is ‘work’. As an employee (or even a business owner) how do you make peace with seasons? I think employers fight seasons as only summer correlates with profitability, and employees fear seasons could cost them their jobs. What do you think?

  • Kelsea Stanton

    Speaks to the soul. Thank you for your calming words!

  • BellaTerra66

    I lived in both Southern and Northern CA for 50 years. For the past 10 years, I’ve lived in New Mexico. CA’s weather became very boring to me, and there were few days when staying inside was necessary. I LOVE the (rather mild) change of seasons in NM. One of the reasons is that the seasons remind me that there are seasons of the soul and seasons of life.

  • Thank you. Every word resonated with me. And while I live in Western New York, I might be a little bit jealous of you for wearing shorts when we have snow 😀 We lived in Alaska for a time and the midnight sun in summer and long darkness of the winter really played havoc with our internal clocks. In the summer it was go go go! and in the winter it was sleep sleep sleep! No in between or transition. Or so it seemed at the time. I’m glad that we live where we have 4 distinct seasons and can take the time to enjoy the subtleties of each one. As the fall arrives and we anticipate winter, we find ourselves enjoying the golden light, the rustle of leaves and the crispness of the mornings and evenings but still with warm days in between. We’re stocking the pantry, looking at soup cookbooks and looking for all the lost mittens.

  • Beautiful! I live in Massachusetts where the seasons can change by the minute (it was 80 a week ago and today it’s 45). I don’t like it when it gets colder and darker, but it can also be a time to slow down and reflect.

  • Mike

    Great article! Beautifully done! I love the change of seasons here in north Texas.

  • Debra Maruo

    Thank you, Adam, for such a beautiful article and reflection. I live in the San Francisco Bay area and, while have a little more noticeable change in the seasons, it’s quite different from the east coast where I grew up. Around this time of year, I find myself longing for more interior time and a slowing down. And if I don’t pay attention and honor this longing, spring comes and I feel unready to jump back into the growing season. Thank you for the reminder to honor the seasons of the soul and allow my being the fullness of expression we see in the outer seasons.

  • Quiet Revolution

    Do you think “our souls have seasons”? What inner season are you experiencing right now?

    • Debra Maruo

      Yes, I do. My inner season is turning to a time of reflection and introspection, slowing down, and nurturing my inner world.

    • Mary Fung

      I am in the autumn of my life .. ☺️