Falling Leaves

The Lesson of the Falling Leaves

the leaves believe 

such letting go is love

such love is faith

such faith is grace

such grace is god.

I agree with the leaves

--Lucille Clifton

Ahhhh….Autumn. We alternate between magnificent days when the sky is a brilliant blue, the light is golden and you can breathe deeply and the cold dreary the grey, still, heavy days.    The autumn is a time of  acknowledging the brilliance of the last year.  It’s a time of moving from the abundance of the late summer and all the growth and riotous goodness that came all through the growing season to the leaner, quieter, empty time of winter.   It’s the time of holding onto what is precious and letting the rest go.

The autumn is a time when everything in nature lets go of that which is no longer needed, when we get down to what is most essential.  Nature lets go so that it can focus on restoration.  It moves inward and goes quiet. But first there is a show of brilliance, like the changing leaves or the golden light or the magnificent sunsets that this time of year brings.   The fall is a time of acknowledging all that was beautiful before we let it go.

For many of us, the letting go in the fall evokes a quiet grief.  The abundant green leafiness of life dies. But this death is not only part of the cycle of things—its is absolutely necessary for new growth.  The dead leaves become fertile soil which brings forth new life.  

The Chinese classics tell us that living a full life starts with living in harmony with the seasons.  In Autumn, this means allowing ourselves more space, more quietude.  It means letting go of things that no longer serve us—be it old clothes, clutter or endless activity.  It means getting down to the bare essentials, focusing on what is most precious. It means trading in community BBQs for cozy family time around the fire.  And it means acknowledging the gifts we received from all that has come before.

Last week, my beloved teacher and mentor Bob Duggan died.  Bob was a force of nature and a magnificent human being.  He co-founded one of the first accredited acupuncture school in America, the Traditional Acupuncture Institute (later called Tai Sophia and now called Maryland University of Integrative Health) and was a big part of the movement to bring the gifts of eastern medicine, wisdom and philosophy to a western audience.  Bob made it possible for thousands of us acupuncturists to practice this magnificent healing art.

Bob was a profound healer who delighted in teaching.   He was fierce in the classroom and rigorous with his students.  Bob never pulled any punches and he would fearlessly perturb and push for the sake of healing.  Because of his understanding of how words impacts physiology, he demanded precision in our language.  If I was feeling small in my practice, holding back, he would admonish me, “What you have learned is a gift--how dare you hide it away!”.  If I was wallowing in stories that did not serve life he would call it out and demand I find a story “big enough to live in”.    He did this not only for me for thousands of students and patients alike.  And when we expressed gratitude for what we had received he would smile and say, “give it away…give it away…give all your gifts away.”

If I have ever asked you where you notice that in your body or if we have ever talked about setting your mood, making clean requests,  creating a bigger story, switching out the word “could” for “should”, heard me utter, “your body is wise and your symptoms are your teachers” or been urged to “take effective action or immediately let it go” or if we ever dwelled in curiosity, wondering what your body could teach you about living--that was a gift from Bob.

In the two weeks since I learned of his passing, I have been flooded with profound gratitude for the three years I studied with him, for all that I learned from him and for the transformation that I experienced in his presence.   While Bob made it clear that we each deliver the medicine in our own unique ways, I have been profoundly aware that I stand in his lineage and that I have the duty to carry on the beautiful wisdom which he taught me.   I am holding open the space and looking for more ways to “give it away.”  Stay tuned for more on this in the coming weeks and months.

If you would like a little taste of the wonder of Bob Duggan, here is a link to a talk he did at TedX MidAtlantic in 2009 and a recent interview he did with Dr Wayne Jonas.  

Everyday Bob set his mood to be one of “peace”.  Today I am also setting my mood for peace.  May you find great peace in the beauty of this autumn.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees

are turning

their own bodies

into pillars


of light,

are giving off the rich

fragrance of cinnamon

and fulfillment,


the long tapers

of cattails

are bursting and floating away over

the blue shoulders


of the ponds,

and every pond,

no matter what its

name is, is


nameless now.

Every year


I have ever learned


in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side


is salvation,

whose meaning

none of us will ever know.

To live in this world


you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it


against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it


to let it go. 

--Mary Oliver