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9 Steps For Living an October Life

The wisdom of life's autumn offers powerful lessons for every age and season.

Key points

  • An October life is about sharing the bounty of our life’s harvest to help nourish those coming up behind us.
  • Cultivating an October life means staying connected with nature, being aware of the beauty, and understanding that life is fragile and short.
  • Steps to cultivating an October life are valid in every season of the year.

Autumn has always been my favorite season. The fact that October is my birth month isn’t the only reason it’s my favorite month of the year.

Growing up in my corner of New England, fall meant new back-to-school clothes, colorful foliage, country fairs, trick-or-treating, and of course, the biggest harvest festival of all, Thanksgiving.

As I have gotten older and come to understand the seasons of life—and recognize the autumnal hues beginning to color my own life as I turn 63 this month—I’ve thought a lot about what I have come to call an October life.

Consider October. In his final essay, October, or Autumnal Tints, New England poet Henry David Thoreau called October “the month for painted leaves.” It’s the month when you might say the leaves show their true colors, the stuff they are made of, which their summer green has masked. “I think that the change to some higher color in a leaf,” said Thoreau, “is an evidence that it has arrived at a late and perfect maturity, answering to the maturity of fruits.”

So it is with people.

John-Manuel Andriote/photo
October is "the month for painted leaves," wrote Thoreau. It's also apple-picking time when the fruits are at their ripest.
Source: John-Manuel Andriote/photo

Aging brings many changes to our bodies, relationships, work, and sense of our place in the world. But even in the autumn of life, you alone get to decide who you will be and how you will live. As for getting older, I am fond of saying that aging is a fact of life, but old is a choice.

As you age—and we are all aging—will you hold onto your life's disappointments, grudges, and heartaches that keep you from living your best life? Some may be decades old. Or will you choose to embrace the changes in your life as opportunities to grow? Will you glean the lessons and harvest the wisdom that an examined life—an October life—offers you?

Here are nine steps for cultivating an October life—valid in every season of the year and whether or not you are living in the autumn of your own life:

1. Stay connected with nature. Nothing can lift your spirits and distract you from anxious preoccupations better than a hike in nature. Get out into the woods, experience what Thoreau called the “wildness” of the trees, rocks, streams, and animal sounds. Physical exercise will do you good. And the need to focus on the path in front of you will keep rumination at bay. Experience yourself as a small piece of a vast natural landscape. It’s useful to be reminded of how small we really are concerning a forest, let alone the cosmos.

2. Be aware of beauty. Thoreau described autumn as a season when the beauty of the landscape’s changing color is the main point. Let yourself be awed by the beauty and include it in your life and living space.

3. Understand that life is fragile and short. In October, you can feel winter’s chill on the underside of the autumn breezes. It reminds us that even all the dazzling beauty of the fall is short-lived, and so are we, really, when our lifespan is measured against eternity. Like the trees’ flaming color, though, we can dazzle too simply by living while we are alive. Instead of looking for ways to “kill time,” why not use your time to create something, to enrich your mind, or to engage in conversation and shared experiences with friends and family? Remember that time is our absolute most precious nonrenewable resource. Spend yours well.

4. Show your true colors. Authenticity is always in season. But October is uniquely bold in flashing its brightest colors, knowing we’ll be awed. Why not show the world the best version of yourself you can? You may well awe those around you, too.

5. Reap the harvest. You can look forward to a bounteous harvest of the fruits of your labors when you invest the time and effort it takes to have good long-term friendships, a healthy partnership, proficient work skills, and to make dreams come true.

6. Store up wisdom. What have your life’s challenges and opportunities taught you about yourself and living? Name it, claim it, and apply it to your own or your loved one’s future challenges and opportunities. Knowing the best trail to follow through the woods is the surest way to get you where you want to go.

7. Pass along what you know. It’s not too far a stretched metaphor to liken ourselves to the acorns and pine cones that fall in autumn, offering the trees that drop them a way to sow their seeds and produce new trees. An October life is about sharing the bounty of our life’s harvest to help nourish those coming up behind us.

8. Dress in layers. Just as we start a chilly October morning with maybe a sweater over a shirt over a teeshirt, and by noon remove the sweater and maybe the shirt, we have to be adaptable. Resilience is about being flexible and bending like a willow when the wind picks up rather than breaking like an oak.

9. Protect your roots. Perennials need pruning and protection to ensure they will survive the winter and burst out of the earth once again next spring. Nurture your family and friendships, and they will provide the leaves, mulch, and pine needles you need to shelter and protect you by keeping you connected. This is the best way to ensure you won't have to face winter alone.

Now that you know what’s involved in living an October life, I hope you will put it to good use not only in October but all year long and all your life.