Van Gogh painted this autumnal scene, ‘Leaf Fall,’ after he admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital in 1889. His correspondence at the time suggests he went through several psychotic episodes, but the trees, with their vibrant colours and contours, soothed his shattered soul and inspired him to paint.
A few weeks ago I attended an autumn retreat facilitated by my friend and fellow psychotherapist Amelia (ameliawhitecounselling). Our theme was ‘letting go.’ Amelia took us through a guided meditation which focused on the ways in which trees so beautifully and simply relinquish their leaves. We were invited to consider what thoughts, beliefs and feelings we were holding onto, and what we might like to let go of.
The notion of letting go can feel spurious. It can embody a kind of toxic positivity whereby we can ‘move on’ from anything, no matter how devastating, provided we just put our minds to it.
This is not the kind of letting go therapists like me (and Amelia) have in mind. Consider the ongoing impact of Covid-19. Covid has forced many of us to let go of things that we treasure: jobs, routine, travel, and most painfully, people. It has shown us that we cannot maintain our grip on the familiar. Letting go is necessary for us to adapt and grow; the trouble is that in allowing the familiar to fall away, we are confronted with the unknown and it is in the unknown that we can feel terribly lost and alone.
Counselling is one way that we can ‘get lost’ in a safe, supported space. We need to do this, because as Rebecca Solnit contends, “never to get lost is not to live.” If we can find the courage to enter the apparent emptiness of uncertainty, we will eventually land on a new truth and a renewed sense of meaning. As Mary Oliver wrote: “In the deep fall, don’t you imagine the leaves think how comfortable it will be to touchthe earth instead of the nothingness of air?”
If you are struggling at the moment, remember that you will not free-fall forever. The autumnal natural world shows us that must abandon ourselves to the inevitability of change to claim the healing and growth that await us.