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Autumn is my favorite time of the year, perhaps because I grew up in Connecticut surrounded by the splendor of changing leaves. The season’s crisp winds, golden light, and first days of school instill a fresh, buzzing, alive feeling inside. I feel inspired to complete unfinished projects before the holidays, and I love bringing out cuddly winter sweaters, woolly scarves, and cozy tights. Long walks through crinkly leaves remind me of romping in leaf piles on my way home from school as a young girl.
The magic of the season extends deeper than our wardrobes, though, for during these crucial months, nature prepares for her long winter’s rest and teaches us to do the same. It is time to gather, store, organize, and wind down from summer’s high tempo and the relentless forward momentum that modern living usually demands. When the crisp winds of autumn start to blow, we need to tune in to the signal that it’s time to start slowing down.
There are two basic ways to go through your day (and life). First, you can treat life like the experience of déjà vu, or of having been there before. If you’ve “been there, done that,” then life is just a series of boring events and there is nothing new to be discovered in each moment. It’s just more of the “same old, same old.”
The second way to go through your day is to see new possibilities inherent in each moment — or what I call vu jà dé, or “never been there before.”
Instead of sapping the fun out of your day, the vu jà dé approach says that you can spontaneously greet each moment as actors do in improvisational theater: by finding ways to fluidly support each other as you go, even when you don't know quite what might happen. This is, essentially, what mindfulness is.
Just days before the 10th anniversary of the mortifying September 11 attacks, a plane crash off the coast of Chile rocks a nation, and here in Uruguay we are all reminded of the pain and sorrow of loss. It reminds us of the unpredictability of life, how every day surprises us in some way, and then sometimes surprise becomes shock, with the death of a loved one, a sudden illness or a tragedy that moves us all.
We are reminded that life changes, sometimes abruptly, dramatically, unexpectedly. What is present in one moment can be gone in the next: no matter the nation, no matter the motivation or the cause, loss moves us all, for we have all experienced it in some way or another.
Kent Nerburn is a storyteller, and The Wolf at Twilight ranks right up there with my favorite works of fiction. It has the same quality of insight, the same wacky sense of humor, the same surprising combination of comedy and tragedy, and the same rich cast of characters that made his previous book Neither Wolf nor Dog the winner of the 1996 Minnesota Book Award.
Every page has surprises. The book is a unique blend of fiction and non-fiction that can be read on many levels. It’s a mystery, for one thing, and can be read and enjoyed as a well-crafted mystery story filled with revelations and insights.
“The essence of personal mastery is learning how to generate and sustain creative tension in our lives.” — Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline
Personal mastery is the practice of increasing our awareness, reducing our blind spots, and developing our responsiveness. Creative tension can be defined as the gap between where we are now and what we want. This creative tension might exist in many aspects of our lives — our relationships, our work, particular projects and aspirations, or creative endeavors such as writing, art, or something physical. Or it might be in answering the questions, “What is my calling?” and “Why am I here on this planet?”
Creative tension requires two important practices.