Monday 30 July 2012

Living with the seasons - August approaches

It’s nearly August.  Almost before we know it, the year has ripened, come to its zenith and now arrives the harvesting season.  The Native Americans called the first part of August, the Ripening Time and then, as it slides into September, the Harvesting Time.  In the countryside these names come to life - the fields bustle with activity, combine harvesters lumber like dinosaurs through the golden acres, big bales of corn balance on tractors which rumble slowly along the high-hedged lanes. 

In the garden the pure blues and pinks of early summer are shifting into warmer tones - deep reds and yellows, the purple of Michaelmas daisies and the overindulgent overblown deep blue of morning glory clambering through the trees.  Rose bay willow herb flashes purple in the hedgerows.

Despite the activity in the fields August is somehow a lazy month.  Nothing can get any bigger, any fuller so for a brief moment you just luxuriate and enjoy.  It's a time of sensuality - a sense of ease should hopefully pervade the body and the emotions.  Properly speaking, with the festival of Lammas looming, it's also a time of thanksgiving, a time to think about your life with a sense of gratitude.  A time to ponder on what you take from life and what you can possibly give back in return. 

August is a gathering month in all senses of the word.  While the corn is being gathered from the fields it's also a time maybe to gather your thoughts in readiness for the next big shift of the year (Autumn, the season of mind and will); a time to start thinking about what you ask from life, from your body, from the people around you, from your self - and what you give back.  Maybe it's also a time to start to consider what you need to do to change?  If, indeed, you want to change.    

The festival of Lammas which falls on August 1st is the festival of Harvest.  In the Celtic tradition it’s known as Lughnasadh.  Lammas is a Saxon name which comes from Loafmas, the first loaf of the harvest, made from the new corn.  The old traditions suggest that – at this time of year - we think about what we take from life.  In order to live we all take other lives every day - even if we are vegetarians.  There's nothing wrong in this and no guilt implied - it's simply that this is a good time to give thanks for our life and the lives that are given to nourish us.  It's a little like a major version of a blessing before eating. 

Blessing your food before mealtimes is a lovely ritual that keeps this festival alive throughout the year.  Offering thanks for our ‘daily bread’ is a ceremony that is carried out throughout the world, in almost all religions.  It doesn't have to be a standard blessing - in fact it's probably better to avoid simply galloping through ‘For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful’ which has become pretty much meaningless to most of us.  Take it in turns to say thank-you in whatever way you like.  Children might like to find a short poem; adults might simply like a few seconds silence or a quiet thank you.  Extend your thanks to the cook as well.  But keep it short and sweet - no-one wants a cold supper.

Equally, give back to nature, to the special places you love.  There are certain places I visit which are very magical for me - small spots which always seem to recharge my batteries and give me a shot of love and courage.  It may sound silly or fanciful but they really do make a difference to the way I feel.  And I always take something with me - a daisy chain to lay on the water of a natural spring; a beautiful leaf or a speckled stone to set in the middle of a copse. If you’re of a more prosaic bent, you might like to clear some rubbish or do a bit of judicious weeding if appropriate.

The above is adapted from my book The Natural Year – a Seasonal Guide to Holistic Health and Beauty, in which I talk about my belief that we can all live more balanced lives if we work with the forces of nature, rather than pitting ourselves against them.  I wrote the book fifteen years ago and it was originally published by Bantam in the UK and Avon in the US.  Checking on Amazon, you can buy the original for $30 or so. Ouch.  But recently I regained the rights and, thanks to Kim Jewell who formatted it, it’s now available as a Kindle ebook for around £2 or $3.  I took the opportunity to update the text and to add in quite a lot of material that had to be cut from the original. 

The book has, over the years, had a lot of loyal fans and many people still write to me about it. 
Its reviews are lovely too.  This is the one I think I love the best…

You hear so often that a book changed someone's life... this book really has changed mine! Reading Jane Alexander is like sitting at the kitchen table having coffee with a friend.
The book is laid out by season, with readings and 'homework' for each month. It's all about living your life aligned with the seasons. For example: we all make resolutions for New Years Day, but really in the middle of winter instinctively we would like to curl up and 'comfort' ourselves and 'ponder' our lives. In spring, however our natural instinct is to clean up our homes, 'detox' our bodies and make some changes. We naturally become more active as it warms up outside and have a brighter outlook and are ready for a challenge (resolution)!
I have always felt most 'spiritual' when connecting with nature and living my life aligned to the seasons makes total sense! Reading this book has led me down the path my body and soul have been searching for - physical and spiritual alignment with Nature!
I re-read each month year after year and highly recommend this book!

Yeah, that made me smile a lot…


Elizabeth Musgrave said...

This is something very close to my heart. Off to buy the ebook.

Paul Freeman said...

God, just reading that made me feel closer to nature... shame I'm such a bloody heathen.

Exmoorjane said...

@Elizabeth - you should have written it... :)

@Paul - just imagine how the whole book would make you feel... ;)

Rob-bear said...

Here, across the pond, we are facing temperatures around 33°C (91F), and drought is the order of the day in so many places. The prediction of a failed harvest in many locations means that food prices will rise, perhaps very significantly.

All the more reason to give thanks for what we have.

Good post, Jane. Thanks.

Exmoorjane said...

@Rob - we have the opposite problem with the same result in the UK. :(
Strange times, huh?

Zoë said...

I loved this book when I read it a few years back, it was so in tune with my way of thinking about things. I have read it again more recently and it still speaks to me. I don't often say Grace at meal times, but when I harvest from the garden, the allotment, the hens, or the bees, I say thank you to them. Sure the rest of the crew think I am quite bonkers when I wonder around the hen run saying 'Thank You, Ladies' for each egg I collect.

I also think being mindful of the seasons, and closer to nature in any way that you can be is healing.

Rob-bear said...

Zoe: that's actually a very Celtic approach to life.