Sick of 2020? Take this Medicine

It is September.

Online I observe sighs of relief as decor and craft enthusiasts bring out the pumpkins, the harvest colors, and scents of the season. Like Christmas time, autumn is filled with sensory triggers that invite us to take a moment just to be.

How does this work?

Our bodies are wired for habituation. The more we experience a sensation, the more normal it is to us, and eventually, the less we sense it. We hardly notice our clothes after a while, unless they fit uncomfortably. That special flavor coffee or pancake or cocktail ceases to feel so novel after it has been indulged in regularly enough. Then our brains begin to look for something new. Something new reads as exciting because of its newness. It initiates firing throughout the brain as a novel stimulus.

And if there are past positive mental associations with this stimulus, we get a dose of nostalgia. Nostalgia can work as something spontaneous and unpredictable. I have a thing for wooden kitchen carts because my grandmother had and used one throughout my childhood. I have it now in my office. One day I hope to have it in my kitchen. Or nostalgia can be created intentionally, as when stores play Christmas music, hang tinsel and twinkling lights. Less commercially, I read of individuals delighting in the change from August to September because this means bringing out fall things and fall things feel beautiful, good and comforting to them.

Festive fall table setting with pumpkin soup bowls

It is a return of tradition.

Golden yellow living room with "Beatus Autumnum" banner

It is a season rich with unique elements that we only allow ourselves once a year. I grant that other than pumpkins and a dusty harvest, it is somewhat manufactured here in California’s Central Valley, but nevertheless, plenty of us indulge in it as we do listening to songs about snow in wintertime.

With our brains noticing all these new smells when the past smells were simply neutral and unnoticed, or warm color palates replace the bright palates of summer, there is a movement within us to pause and delight in this change.

Maybe this is not for you. Maybe instead, it means the annual moment to mock all things pumpkin spice. That too acts as a tradition.

The risk is in having it neither way.

The risk is letting one day pass into another and never stopping to savor or let your senses feel the thing that is different right now at this moment.

Being mindful of the present moment is a calming moment of silence for our more frequently agitated brains. Technology bombards us with an overload of sights and sounds, but being virtual, without taste, touch and smell, it lacks the realness and, I believe, stresses our systems out. You may have felt that after one Zoom meeting too many.

This year in particular, after so much uncertainty, after hope that things would be better, anger at the current state of things, fear at the potential fall out if we do this thing or do not this thing or if others around us do it or do not do it, after the strain of distrusting our neighboring, wanting to see our neighbor against, stressing over whether or not we or our neighbors should wear masks, facing the inability to control the situation before us, wondering if today it is even safe to breathe the air…after all this, to settle into something familiar, to look at the past rather than the future, may be the medicine we need right now.

Festive fall shirts that read "Beatus Autumnum"

Because we do need medicine. Whether or not a vaccine prompts political leaders and health experts to open the doors to normal living, we need to find a salve that will carry us forward without breaking us.

And for many, right now, it’s Fall.

Black kitten
Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

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