On a recent visit to my favorite forest and stream, just past the autumn equinox, the feeling was one of satisfaction, of waiting, of being balanced. An in-between time, quiet. Even the sun felt still. No leaves were falling, they were just waiting, happy to be basking in the early autumn sunlight. The air, no longer having to hold the weight of the summer heat, had a sparkle, a brightness that the sunbeams sliced crisply through. The leaves were mostly still green, although a few outliers had already turned yellow or brown and formed the first new layer of food for the dirt beings on the forest floor.
The late afternoon sunlight, low in the sky, radiated through the tree trunks that crowned the hillside. On this particular afternoon, even the squirrels seemed quiet and contented, perhaps enjoying their own satisfaction with the nuts they had already gathered. In the valley below, the stream was clear, reflecting the trees and sky with a symmetrical balance and mirroring the sun’s radiance.
The fall equinox, when the days and nights are equal in length, is of course a natural balancing point in the year, but this is the first time I have so deeply felt what this might actually mean in my body, especially when it was a few days past the equinox, and I wasn’t thinking about it. This day, as I was walking among the trees, I was trying to sense what was “going on” in the forest and struggled to sense the message, because I was looking for movement.
It is so pervasive, this striving we do as human beings, always looking for what is changing, where to move next. And nature herself is also usually on the move with myriads of activity such as spring growth, the coming winter, making seeds, animals looking for food, the shifting weather, streams rising and falling, and newly popped mushrooms.
But this day defied my normal lens of looking for the movement. I felt a sense of contentment wash over me instead – the forests’ contentment. This day was about ripeness and fullness. Desires fulfilled. Not the exuberance of joy. Just contentment that was emanating a longer lasting feeling of satisfaction and gratitude. And I realized I was struggling to fully sink into it, to allow myself to feel that same complete contentment.
The fullness of ripeness, the fullness of the year’s growth – the word contentment kept washing over me. And I realized, how hard is it to just feel truly contented? For a moment, not so hard. But for an hour? For a whole day? A whole week even? Sitting in the forest this day, experiencing its fullness, emphasized to me the difficulty of feeling truly contented. Not striving, not expecting, not looking forward, not remembering. And I realized, I was overcome by gratitude. Perhaps we must be able to feel gratitude to fully experience the contentment. And vice versa.
This is the contentment the sunflower must feel when her seeds are ripe, what the bluebird feels when her babies fly out of the nest and how the apple tree feels when her branches are loaded with apples. This is not complacency, and it is not the joy of exuberance and celebration. But just simply the deep contentment and gratitude of fulfilled desires.
What if we could deeply feel and allow the satisfaction of holding the culmination of a day’s work. A season’s work. A life’s work. And set aside our striving. Yes indeed, the trees in the forest that day were bursting with the contentment of fulfilled desire – their desire to dance all summer in the mystery of the sun and rain and dirt and create new life, and now they pause to hold that fullness for a breath, for a day, for as long as it lasts, before starting anew.