Forget Bah Pumpkin! Hallowe’en is just a handy excuse for life’s good stuff

And this amazing witch confections aren’t even one of those three reasons!

This week I’d like to offer you three reasons to love
Hallowe’en.

There are lots of reasons to not like it, I know.  Commercialisation, for one.  The shops have been full of Hallowe’en
merchandise and special offers for weeks, making the day seem like some kind of
weird kind of mini-Christmas based upon its worst aspect (in the same way that
Britain seems to be adopting the Black Friday tradition without the joys of
Thanksgiving).  There are also concerns
around crime and safety when you have lots of people disguised in masks
approaching others’ homes.  In the UK, some
also object to Hallowe’en on the grounds that it is a regarded as a US cultural
import that seems to usurping some home-grown, more traditionally British
seasonal occasions.

Okay, so there are three reasons to not like Hallowe’en and
I’m not going to deny or try to counteract any of them directly.  I used to share this kind of Hallowe’en
equivalent of ‘Bah Humbug’; let’s call it a ‘Bah Pumpkin’ attitude.  But no more!
I’m now the kind of person who not only owns some special Hallowe’en
earrings but is *really* excited at the prospect of wearing them and wondering
how soon is too soon to get them out.
Why the change?  Well here are the
three inter-related reasons why I’ve had a change of heart:

 1)     
Creativity

As the popularity of Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest best-seller,
Big Magic, demonstrates, creativity
is inherent to the human condition.  It
is not something exclusive to writers or designers or other arty types.  We all have the capacity to be creative and
when we give licence to that, it can be a hugely joyful and life-affirming
experience.  

From fancy dress costumes to decorating our homes,
Hallowe’en gives us the perfect excuse to indulge a playful approach to making
and creating.  It is an opportunity for
entering into the creative process without the pressure of a big occasion or
the need to produce award winning results.
Childish and silly and a bit wonky are par for the course.  And unlike say Christmas, where there is a
lot of other stuff going on too, at Hallowe’en the costumes and decoration are
a focal point; you don’t need to cook an amazing meal or deliver perfectly
wrapped gifts too.  You are free to play.

2)     
Friendship

We are about to enter the holiday season, with a whole host
of other occasions soon lining up in November and December.  So why on earth do we add another event to
the mix?  Surely we’d all be better
staying in this Saturday, saving our money and our energy for the crazy
festivities ahead?

Bah pumpkin to that!
Besides, who do you spend Hallowe’en with compared to the other
occasions?  Times like Thanksgiving and
Christmas are often about seeing family, which is grand, but there are often
other important people in our lives as well.
Hallowe’en is not only a chance to see them but also to celebrate with
them in a way that everyday life doesn’t provide much scope for.  Who hosts a party for no reason?  No-one.
We might throw the odd birthday bash or a housewarming or new year
shindig, but probably not regularly.
Hallowe’en presents another opportunity, again one with less pressure
than the big red letter days, to have fun and celebrate with others.  One could choose to have a party on 15th
October or 10th November instead, one without skeletons and spiders
and spookiness.  But generally we
don’t.  Hallowe’en gives us a prompt, a
purpose, even if that is just a convenient excuse for something that would be
pretty awesome to do anyway: get together with people we love and have fun.

3)     
Community feel

Most of our holidays and celebrations are private affairs,
taking pace with a select group of family and friends.  As our societies have become more diverse and
more fragmented, many communal traditions, such as gathering in public spaces
for carol singing, have died off.  But we
haven’t lost the basic human need for community.  Hallowe’en again offers a great opportunity
in this respect.  As a secular event,
divorced from its religious origins, it lacks the boundaries of exclusion.  It also encourages engagement with other
people.  As well as the parties, the
other obvious example of this is trick-or-treating: when else do children get
to interact with neighbours in their community?
(Anything that supports connection across generations is good in my
book).  Even adding a bit of Hallowe’en
decoration goes some way towards the same effect; walking down my road earlier
this week, I noticed pumpkins on a few doorsteps and in doing so I felt
immediately more connected with those households – as if by placing these items
outside their entrances they were signalling their desire to participate in a
chance for community too.  Sometimes this
goes large scale.  A friend always takes
her children trick-or-treating down a nearby street because, in her words,
‘they all really go to town’ with Hallowe’en stuff.  In doing so, the residents are forging a
special moment for themselves, a break from ordinary time and ordinary life,
creating a community spirit that others want to be part, fulfilling our oft
thwarted human desire to connect with others around us.  

This year, I’ll be going with my friend: funny costume, her
and the children’s company, seeing this street where ‘they all really go to
town’ – what more could I want?  Why
would I refuse an excuse for creativity, friendship and community?

What do you think?
What aspect of Hallowe’en would you like to seize upon and
encourage?  Could you use some more
creativity, friendship and community?  

Is there anything else I could add to that list?  I’ve been wondering whether to include ‘fun’
as a separate item but figured it featured in the other three.  No doubt there are other things too, both
good and not so great.

Don’t forget to share your reflections on this week’s theme,
including any pictures or thoughts about your Hallowe’en, either via the A Life Of One’s Own
Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Instagram and/or
Twitter.

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Week Five: Rest

It is late afternoon on a clear, crisp October day.  The light is beginning to fade and so am
I.  The clock on my screen says eighteen
minutes past.  I glance at the cyclamen
on my desk for what seems like a few seconds, then suddenly I notice that the
clock now says twenty-five past.  I am
struggling with motivation and energy at towards the end of a long day.  I’m lucky enough to largely set my own work
schedule and I tend to focus on more challenging tasks in the morning because
that’s when I’m at my best.  I know that
a lull always hits around this time, yet still I try to push on; still I try to
do more of the hard things that I began earlier in the day.

I glance away from the screen again, this time gazing at the
view outside the office window.  The canopy
of the old oak trees is dwindling more with each passing hour.  The ground is covered with fallen leaves and
crushed acorns.  The scene reminds me of
so many sights evoked during this The
Fourth Quarter
autumn journey: trees, plants and hedgerows offering up
their goods before laying themselves down for the quieter months of
winter.  During this dormancy, it can
seem like nothing is happening but that is far from the case.  Nature is not dead, simply resting.

Oh what quiet!  Isn’t
that what so many of us long for?  The
pause, the interlude, the break from our frenetic, frantic pace of life.  Even if we don’t crave the quiet, often we
need it.  Our hearts, our bodies, our
souls try to get the message across.  Our
computers crash, forcing us to sit still patiently (or not) for a few minutes
whilst its system reboots.  We get ill,
forcing us to stay in bed for a few days whilst our system reboots.  This,
comes the whisper, this.  This is
what we need. Rest.  Rest.  Rest.

The entire ecosystem is in on the act too.  The scenes outside our windows at this time
of the year join in this whispered message.
Each tree, each bush, each plant is telling us the same thing: it is
time to rest.  Lay down as much as you
can, strip yourself back until only the bare bones of your essence remain, and
rest until spring stirs new life within you.

Even the much-maligned dark nights can be interpreted this
way: what if longer nights were literally a sign that we need more sleep right
now?

So that is what I offer you this week: permission from the
universe to get some rest.  And because I
can feel the resistance to this emanating through the ether, I even offer some
specific suggestions as to how:

#1 This weekend sees the end of British Summer Time in,
well, Britain obviously.  This means the
clocks go back an hour on Saturday night/Sunday morning.  Think of this as bonus extra sleep time!  And if you’re not in the UK, then sleep an
hour longer anyway and think of it as international solidarity.  If you let us know when your clocks change
then we can return the gesture.  Maybe it
could become some kind of new peace movement!

#2 Use this shift out of official ‘Summer Time’ to change
your sleeping patterns more broadly – perhaps move your usual bedtime earlier
by an hour.

#3 If the second suggestion seems a bit much, how about
getting aboard ‘the Ten O’clock Angel Train’ for a few nights instead?  Yes, you did read that correctly.  I did just use the phrase ‘the Ten O’clock
Angel Train’.  Those of you who have
worked with me before or did my 24 Days Before advent journey last December already
know that I’m a bit obsessed with this amusingly named concept.  Some years ago, as I began my A Life Of One’s Own journey, I
worked my way through pretty much every self-help book in my local
library.  On its shelves was a copy of Happy For No Reason by Marci Shimoff. I don’t remember much else about this book
except for the concept of the Angel Train.
To feel happier for no reason, Shimoff recommends that you go to bed for
ten o’clock for three nights in a row.
She promises that by the fourth day, you will feel better.  She also gives reasons for this based ancient
Indian wisdom, including the proverb that an hour’s sleep before midnight is
worth two after.  Shimoff claims that she
and her husband are huge fans of this idea, and labeled the practice as
catching the ten o’clock angel train.  

The phraseology has given me many chuckles in the time since
I first read it, but wording aside, I can vouch that it really works.  Whether this is because of circadian rhythms,
I don’t know.  What I do know is that I
always feel better for it – thus this suggestion to you.  

Try it.  See if you
can get to bed for 10pm three evenings this week – or at least an hour or two
earlier than your usual bedtime.  Even
better, try it for three nights in a row.

Remember that it isn’t just me that is suggesting you should
do this.  Right now, the whole universe
is conspiring to tell you, me, us all, that we need more rest.

Don’t forget to share your reflections on this week’s theme,
including letting us know how you got on if you tried any of the suggestions,
either via the A Life
Of One’s Own Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on
Instagram and/or Twitter.

An apple for the teacher?  Apples are the teacher

From the Garden of Eden to the I-Phone, from attracting a
teacher to repelling a doctor (‘an apple for the teacher’ and ‘an apple a day
keeps the doctor away’ respectively), from the wicked stepmother Queen in Snow
White
to the humble, homespun American Pie, is there any fruit as laden with
myths, metaphors and meaning as the humble apple?

Whether symbolically or literally, many of us hold an apple
of some kind in our hands on a daily basis.
They are all around us, red, green, shiny, round, crisp, crunchy, sweet,
sour (or rendered in white plastic with a neat bite mark taken).  Never are they more common than at this time
of year, where even in towns and cities it is possible to find trees straining
under the weight of their ripe juicy goodness.
For me, as I mentioned in Week One’s reflection, there is no surer sign
that autumn is here than being offered a bag of home-grown apples.  Of all nature’s fall bounty, it seems that
apple trees are the most generous givers.
They shower their owners (or the volunteers who gather for the
increasingly common community harvests) with gluts of fruit – branches and
branches and branches there to be picked and devoured, lest they go to waste.

Lest they go to waste…With this abundance comes a sense of
responsibility, a feeling of duty towards the offering set before them.  Every person I know with an apple tree seems
to suffer the same sense of guilt if each and every last one is not harvested
and put to good use.  They become
obsessed with giving them away by the large bag load – you can never take just
a few.  ‘Take more! Take more!’, the
owners cry, ‘Give them to your mum/your nan/your friends/people you work with!  Please.
PLEASE.  YOU WILL TAKE MORE!’  

And so even those of us far removed from possession of an
apple tree begin whipping up all manner of apple-based culinary goods: pies,
crumbles, sauces, chutneys, cakes, even fruit leather.  Stodgy desserts that we haven’t eaten all
year suddenly become appealing.  This may
be in part because of the cooler weather but I’m convinced that it is also
because in homes the northern hemisphere over there are two dozen cooking
apples sat on the kitchen worktop that one feels morally obliged to use up.  Childhood echoes of ‘there are starving
children in Africa’ ring in our ears if we even think about chucking them
out.  We become as frantic as the tree
owners themselves: the apples must get used up!
Buy the corner shop’s entire supply of custard – we’re going to need
it!

Thus we find ourselves in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up and
hands busy peeling, chopping, slicing, mixing.
The light outside begins to fade and the windows steam up with the heat
from the oven.  We keep checking on
cooking progress because we can’t quite remember if we’ve done it correctly – I’m
sure those were the ratios my grandma used to use – oh if only I could ring her
up, she’d definitely remember – of course they didn’t have fan ovens then, I’m
not sure I’ve accounted for the different cooking times correctly – does it
matter that I’ve used ordinary rather than caster sugar? – I don’t think it’s
important – is it flour or sugar that you sprinkle on the top? – it seems like
so long since I last made a crumble, now when was it?  Must have been last autumn, you know, doesn’t
the year pass quickly…

Here we are again.
Peeling, chopping, slicing, mixing, just like last year and the one
before.  Just as our forebears did.  The seasonal glut of apples connects us with
those who went before in the same way that it links us more directly with the
source of our food than the usual reliance on industrial agriculture and mass
consumption.  

The seasons of the year and the seasons of life were
well-known to earlier generations but they no longer shape our lives to the
same extent.  Modern living provides many
advantages that we should be grateful for, but in losing our link to the
changing of the year we have also lost our sense of interconnectedness to each
other and the world around us.  Yet the
autumn apple brings it all back to us.  They
evoke particular memories along with something deeper, a more ethereal sense of
remembering.  We may not be able to put
our finger on exactly what it is, but as we peel and chop and slice and mix, it
slowly comes into focus: the depths of existence, glimmers of what lies beneath
the surface appearances of life.  

And when we have remembered what it is that we always knew,
we get to eat the fruits of this profoundly spiritual labour.

****

This week, then, let us learn what the autumn apples have to
teach us.  Pick some up, whether from a
friend, road-side stall or your regular shop, then get curious about what the humble
fruit has to offer you…

Maybe experiment with meditating about your apple.  If you uncertain about doing this ‘freestyle’
then there are some instructions about how to go about doing so here.

Whether you love baking or loathe it, how about cooking your
apple in some way?  See what the
experience brings up for you in terms of memories or associations (it could be even more interesting if you don’t like baking).

Get out your journal and set a target (say twenty minutes or
three pages).  Then put ‘apple’ at the
top of the page and start from there, simply writing whatever comes to
mind.  It may begin as a list or
capturing a particular moment that comes to mind, but who knows where it will
go from there.

Play apple-bobbing!
Children are not required but it would probably be fun for them too 🙂  There’s the hanging from string version or
head in water version (I was never a fan of the latter).  

And don’t forget to share your responses on the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page or via
the #fourthquarter2015 hashtag on Instagram and Twitter.  

Week 3: Life. Death. Nature.

image

Are you still spotting the signs of autumn that we looked
out for in Week One?  It’s pretty hard to
not notice, whether it’s the pleasant stuff such as pavements strewn with
conker shells and acorns or the less pleasing aspects like the encroaching dark
nights.  Nature and the changing seasons
throw it all at us, often at the same time: things we think of as positive and
those we label as negative.  We can’t
have one without the other.  Those
gorgeous crisp starry nights also mean cold and frosty mornings.  There is the riot of glorious technicolour as
the leaves turn and then fall.  And on my
word, how good are they at the minute?
Talk about going down in a blaze of glory.  Some trees are so beautiful at the minute
that remembering to breathe – or keep my eyes on the road as I drive past – is difficult.  This spectacle is soon is followed by the
sludgy mulch of decaying foliage on the paths, treacherous and icky – and if
you live in the UK, also the cause of annual ‘leaves on the line’ train travel
disruption (really this is a thing in Britain.
I’m not kidding).  Then the trees
stand bare and brown through the dark cold months when we would welcome a blast
of colour and joy.

This is the paradox of nature.  Life and death intertwined…and inevitable.  The two ultimate opposites, coexistent and
concurrent.  Life and death are constant
themes in nature but never are they more visible to us than at this time of
year, when the trees, fields and hedgerows offer us their bounty and their
beauty for a fleeting moment before apparent dormancy takes hold.  In a few weeks, it will be hard to imagine
the lushness of autumn was ever with us.
At times it may even seem hard to believe, to trust, that life will ever
flourish again.

We can’t cling on to all that we are enjoying about the
season right now any more than we can turn the world on its axis to avoid
darker nights and colder days.  Wishing
it were otherwise can be tempting but is ultimately frustrating and certainly
futile.  But we can learn, slowly perhaps
at first, to accept the turning of the year just as we accept the rising and
setting of the sun.  They are the rhythms
of life, and those of death too.

Not clinging does not mean, however, that we can’t
celebrate.  Let us enjoy this blaze of
glory for those precious moments that it is with us.  It will be gone soon, which is all the more
reason to embrace and enjoy it now rather than simply skipping to mourn for
what will follow.  The crown of autumn
may be fleeting but perhaps that is part of the challenge, part of the allure –
it makes us present to this very moment, these very weeks.  We have to be present centred, not day
dreaming about our summer holidays or worrying about the festive season ahead –
the past and future are merely distractions that rob us of the jewels we
possess right now.  Here.  In this place.  In this moment.

Gather these jewels whilst you can.  Start a nature table, create an altar, give
over a shelf to celebrate and recognise autumn whilst she is with us.  It doesn’t have to be big; I love the little
collection gathered in a bowl, as pictured, which a child put together during a
garden working party I attended last Saturday.  Simply pick up tokens that catch your eye.  Conkers, acorns and leaves are the obvious examples, but there is really no limit.  The adventurous (and suitable knowledgeable) amongst us could forage for all edible items.  Or if you can’t get out into nature, how about bringing to you by searching your books & the online world for evocative descriptions or amazing images?  And please do share your collections, your creations, your responses, either on the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Twitter or Instagram.  I’ll be adding further thoughts and (hopefully!) inspiration through those streams across the week ahead.  I’d love you to share with us too.

Worship the amazingness that is the natural world in autumn.  Be in awe of what is happening around us
right now, because before we know it, it will be gone – as surely as day is
followed by night, and life is followed by death.

Harvest-home

A random assortment of tinned food in a painted wheelbarrow
can only mean one thing: it’s harvest festival time.  Like Proust’s Madeleines, for me harvest
festivals come laden with nostalgia.
Growing up I always loved these events: the dappled evening light on the
display of produce; the smell of bracken filling the room; counting the copper pennies
to see if I had enough to buy the can of crème caramel dessert in the sale of
goods afterwards (I’d have gone for the giant loaf of bread baked to look like
a wheatsheaf but my mum said it was only decorative, not to be eaten, so what
was the point of that?!).

Perhaps most evocative is the phrase ‘harvest-home’.  As a child, it intrigued me. What did it
mean?  And why did my eyes well up every
time I uttered it?  I’d stand by my
grandmother singing non-conformist hymns about reaping and garnering and
bringing in the sheaves that I didn’t really understand but I liked the jaunty
and sometimes dramatic tunes (‘They shall rise up with wings…They shall rise up
with wings like ea…gles!’).  Then there
would be a line such as ‘Raise the song of harvest-home’ and I’d unwittingly
respond: a chill down my spine, a flush to my cheeks, tears in my eyes.  I could never figure out why.

Twenty-odd years later, I’m still not sure.  According to the Oxford Dictionary,
‘harvest-home’ is ‘the gathering in of the final part of the year’s harvest’ or
‘a festival marking the end of the harvest period’.  These definitions seem well and good, but
they don’t explain why the phrase evoked such a strong visceral reaction in me
– and continues to do so today.  

The saying ‘harvest-home’ touches a deep part of me,
somewhere beyond logic and reasoning and rationale.  It reaches down into a place of knowing, a
place where understanding isn’t about words and explanations but experience and
connection.  It also reaches out, out
across time and space, through centuries and surpassing borders, giving me the
sense of gratitude and reassurance that surely touched all those workers who
over the centuries felt relief when the harvest was safely home for that year.

Harvest-home tells me there is enough, there is plenty,
there is abundance.  Everything I need is
gathered and stored, available for me to access when I need to over the cold,
dark months ahead.  I don’t have to keep
working for it or striving after it; whatever nurtures me is now home.  I can rest.
There is enough.  

This isn’t necessarily a religious message, although it
could be interpreted that way.  For me, harvest
and its harvest-home culmination are not simply part of the natural cycle,
although that is important.  Their symbolism
goes beyond what they literally mean, representing much wider metaphors about
life.  From ripened hedgerows brimming
with berries to tinned food freely given to help those who need it most, collected
in a painted wheelbarrow, they speak to generosity and satiety and fulfilment.  Harvest-home reminds me that there is enough.  

In a world where we are endlessly encouraged to consume and
compare and continually crave more – always more – to recognise that there is
already enough is a radical move.  And my
call for this week is to do just that: spend the time recognising where there
is enough in your life, both literally and metaphorically.  From food in the fridge to petrol in the tank,
moments of connection with strangers to times of intimacy with those you love,
let’s sink into the enough-ness of our lives.
Let’s recognise when we have enough, then treasure it, celebrate it and
share it with one another.

Let’s raise the song of harvest-home.

Share you voice on the A
Life Of One’s Own
Facebook page
or via the #fourthquarter2015 hashtag on
Instagram and Twitter.  

Hi Rae Just come home after a lovely week in sunny France, and can’t remember if I signed up to the Fourth quarter or not, please add me to your list if not! thanks Maureen

Hello Maureen, just seen this message – not sure when you left it!  There’s no need to sign up for The Fourth Quarter, you can just follow along and join in via the weekly posts on the blog (every Thursday) and the daily posts to the Facebook page (and Twitter & IG if you use those too).  If you follow the Facebook page you’ll never miss any prompts though as will share everything to there.  Hope you enjoy it!