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Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

  • Dawn

Leaves Falling...On Us

Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: Turn Your Head S-L-O-W-L-Y

If you've had the chance to watch a newborn infant in what is known as the "quiet alert" state, you may have noticed that they sometimes turn their head s-l-o-w-l-y from one side to the other. And then, perhaps, back again, quietly looking around, taking everything in.

That's what this exercise offers. Stand or sit, and try turning your head very gently from one side to the other, more or less parallel to the plane of the floor, with your eyes open, as far as you can reach without straining. Take maybe 7-8 seconds to go from one side to the other, though you could do it more slowly if you want (don't count; this is just to give you an idea of the pace). Keep your head turned for a couple of seconds, then go back all the way to the other side, rest for a few seconds, then move back to center again.

Gently observe as you go: Is it safe right here, right now? Is my life okay, just for this moment? Yes...I think maybe it is, right in this moment.

You can do this once or a few times, but always pause between--there's no need to rush.

Leaves Falling...On Us

Along about now, Lawrence and I begin to remind each other about one of our annual traditions: watching the leaves fall. We aim for a sunny and somewhat warm but breezy afternoon after the leaves have started to drop but while there are still quite a few left. We dress as warmly as needed, and drag a tarp, pillows, hats, and dark glasses outside, along with our ancient but still inflatable backpacking mattresses.

And then we simply lie down on our backs under or near a tree, depending on the direction and strength of the wind, and look up. As the breeze picks up, leaves come down. But no two ever follow exactly the same path to the ground. One leaf twirls rapidly around and around and around the vertical axis of its own stem. Another swoops and flares like a ballerina. The next one wobbles a bit then sails off--yards and yards away, the next falls straight down and the one after that starts out with a lift, twirls and finally flutters to the ground. Sometimes they fall on us--that's always fun--but they rarely land exactly where we think they will.

There is, of course, some melancholy about the end of summer and the coming winter associated with this ritual. But in general, it leaves us with a lovely feeling--calm, grounded, refreshed. We're always glad we took the trouble.

I expect that part of that positive response is related to the repetitive random motion of the leaves, those on the tree and those falling, which is very soothing to human beings--think tropical fish swimming in a tank, snow falling, water playing over the stones in a brook, waves on a beach. In his book, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do (long title, that!) marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols refers to "soft fascination--something that is interesting and that holds your attention, but not in an information-rich way.”

Some of that good feeling might also be related to the positive effects of negative ions that are so prevalent on the surface of our planet. In a 2012 article in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health the authors note that, "mounting evidence suggests that the Earth's negative potential can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems." Walking or lying on the ground seems to reduce anxiety, promote better sleep, improve mood and reduce blood pressure, though scientists aren't sure what other factors may be at work besides the negative ions. See Feet On the Ground, my post from a couple of weeks ago, for more on this.

Alas, not every one has the opportunity to lie on the ground in safety and comfort. We are blessed with a lawn, old trees, enough physical flexibility to get down onto the ground (and back up!), and plenty of time. But we also make choices about how to spend that time, and pay attention to things that help us feel more peaceful and less anxious in this crazy world.

See if you can find some time to lie down somewhere and watch the leaves fall this year. I think you'll be glad you did.

Until next time,


Photo credits:

Baby, Henry EN, unSplash

Trees "on fire", Yue Xing Vidhna Wang, Getty Images

Tree from the ground up, Lucas George Wendt, unSplash

Boy and leaves, Sander Weeteling, unSplash

Leaves on the ground, Timothy Eberly, unSplash


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