I’m going to attempt to weave together a story about autumn, trauma and mushrooms. Why these three things? Well, why not, that’s what’s on my mind right now.
I love autumn in the mountains of Colorado. It has an energy to it that is very grounding, calm, healing, contemplative, enriching, essential…did I cover it there with enough adjectives? It’s teaming with change – death and rebirth. Letting go of old growth, concentrating and storing potential energy that will become kinetically represented by new growth in the spring. I have noticed over the years, usually starting sometime in October, I find myself kind pulling back from social activities, quieting down, being outside in nature by myself a lot, and it feels really ingrained and authentic. Like if I’m really listening to my intuition, it’s a process that’s non-negotiable, it’s part of my animal nature to heed this seasonal shift.
I’m a sucker for a good metaphor, and so I do love this bit about autumn by Maria Popova. “Autumn is the season of ambivalence and reconciliation, soft-carpeted training ground for the dissolution that awaits us all, low-lit chamber for hearing more intimately the syncopation of grief and gladness that scores our improbable and finite lives — each yellow burst in the canopy a reminder that everything beautiful is perishable, each falling leaf at once a requiem for our own mortality and a rhapsody for the unbidden gift of having lived at all. That dual awareness, after all, betokens the luckiness of death”.
Ok so there’s a bit about autumn, but how does trauma weave its way into this? Well, if you know trauma, you know it can manage to weave its way into the fabric of just about anything. Recently, one of my close friendships completed its course around the circle, its Saṃsāra: the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. You know what they say about hindsight, being 20-20? Well, the death part of this particular friendship took me by surprise when it happened, but not really if I take a moment to look back and reflect on things. From my point of view, a unique constellation of events over a few short hours set the stage for our individual traumas to overlap. Like the moving shadow of the moon as it passes between the Sun and the Earth during an eclipse, ephemeral but definitive.
Trauma, as I speak of it here, is the energy left behind somewhere in the body from past events where the automatic, instinctual, reptilian fight-flight-freeze part of the nervous system was set in motion. Often times as humans we experience situations where some kind of trigger sets off emotions that have become intertwined with these past traumas that inform our behavior and can actually inhibit us from dissipating that extra energy summoned by our nervous system to do the flying, fighting or freezing. So we remain traumatized, our nervous system doesn’t return to homeostasis as intended.
I think in the case of this friendship, in the overlapping circles of our traumas – the shared set in the center of our Venn diagram, we both got a little too close to breaking down each others protective walls. Kind of sad, but kind of true – so much potential and simultaneously so much fear. Both people have to want to walk that road when you enter a landscape as tender as this.
“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”~ Buddha
The circle can be seen as a container, a place to plant a seed, or it can be seen to represent completion. It’s a matter of perspective I suppose, which way you choose look at it in any particular situation. “Our lives are like streams. The currents of our experiences flow through time with periodic cycles of tranquility, disturbance, and integration” (Peter Levine, ‘Waking the Tiger’, 1997). I am in the integration phase right now for sure.
Now let’s bring in the mushrooms. I could easily talk about ingesting psychedelic mushrooms, as the transformative and healing powers in this type of experience should not be underestimated. But I’m going to talk more about the symbolism and role of mushrooms in Earth’s ecosystems. Mushrooms represent the connection between all things, transformation, and rebirth. Mushrooms are in a category of their own, their own kingdom in fact, the phylogenetic kingdom of the fungi – a deep bow in reverence to the intelligence of the fungi. Not plants, not animals, just fungi (though they are said to be closer to animals than to plants)! And they underpin life on Earth.
Have you ever heard of the mycelium (or symbiotic mycorrhizal) network? Talk about all things being connected. This network of the very fine threads of the fungi that are in the soil are essential for communication between plants and trees (the woodwide web, coined by Dr. Suzanne Simard in her book ‘Finding the Mother Tree‘), nutrient transport, water transfer, and very essentially the decomposition of plant material. Mycelium networks have been found to be thousands of kilometers long and can increase root mass by thousands of times. There is much to learn about and from the fungi. If you are interested in diving deeper, Louie Schwartzberg put out a great movie in 2019 called ‘Fantastic Fungi’.
Bringing autumn, trauma and mushrooms all together in the same circle, I am picturing the falling of the autumn leaves, in all their glorious shapes and colors, onto the forest floor. I am picturing them representing and containing the trapped energies of my past traumas. I am picturing the protective walls that no longer serve me crumbling under the weight of the leaves as they gently come tumbling down. I am picturing the mushrooms and their mycelium threads taking those leaves, those traumas, decomposing them and drawing them down into the soil, transforming them into something new, a rebirth.
As far as the rebirth part of the Saṃsāra cycle of the friendship I mentioned, it has come forth as a personal rebirth, not one that has included the other person. And that is one of the beautiful things about experiencing being in relationship to someone, we always learn more about ourselves, as individuals and in the collective, and how to assimilate that knowledge into the continually flowing stream of our own self-realization journey. My heart remains open.
“Yet there is something else: the connections that may fade but never disappear, the gossamer threads of intimacy we float behind us as we disperse, the kinship that may be undone in time but that our memories sustain as vivid, iridescent as a bunting’s plumage. Picture the brief animation anthropologists sometimes use to demonstrate human impact on the planet—a pale, luminescent tapestry of roads, railways, pipelines, cables, air traffic routes, and shipping lanes latticing a nighttime Earth—except instead of physical infrastructure, imagine the other ways in which the Anthropocene connects us: the poly-threaded, shimmering veil of yearning and missing and care and love”.Anna Badkhen