Existential Psychology


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A great joy of the fall season is the spectacular colors. The last few years I have walked around the city snapping pictures of the changing foliage, and it has become one of my favorite seasonal meditative pastimes. This is really mindfulness 101, but why pine over a summer that is now long gone, bemoaning the cooling temperatures, shorter days, and general lack of sun when there are so many great aspects of fall to enjoy? Thinking longingly of those days won’t bring them back again.

This is an apt metaphor for the changing seasons of our lives. The only thing we can say for certain about existence is that it is in a constant state of change. Being present for and mindful of the changes occurring around us in nature, appreciating them for what they are instead of wishing we could turn back the clock, helps us take a positive attitude surrounding the inevitable changes that occur in our lives and relationships as we age.

I started thinking of the vibrant colors of leaves on the various trees as a good metaphor for self-actualization. In a sense fall leaves represent the tree’s true colors. These leaves are green during the summer months because the trees are pumping chlorophyll into them to aid in the process of photosynthesis. Once the sunlight goes away, the busy time of the year is over and they cease to photosynthesize, allowing the other pigments in the leaf cells that are specific to each type of tree to shine forth.

What makes fall foliage beautiful to us is not just the brightness of the colors but also the variation of the colors. Different trees have different color signatures, and it makes them more breathtaking than at any time during the summer months.

Self-actualization is having the courage to let your true colors shine, to take some time away from the rat race to really contemplate who you are and who you want to become. It’s easier to think, talk, and act like everybody else because there is comfort in being part of the group. You are shielded from the scary proposition of being solely responsible for the path you take and the way you are in the world. But just like trees, we become more beautiful when our sense of Self stems from what is unique in us, not just from what is shared by everybody else.