The Autumnal Equinox is upon us!

For someone who has spent most of his professional life on a school-year schedule, September is a time of intensity, mixed with anticipation and hope. This year, like a biological clock, those sensations have arisen for me, even though I’m now on a different work rhythm. It’s kind of amazing how September evokes such strong feelings and memories. And moving into Autumn hints at the changing seasons to come.

The start of Fall, or of a new school year, is a time of looking ahead. Like a birthday or New Year’s, this point in the cycle offers a chance to check in and ask: Am I on the path I really want to be on? What things need more attention for me to reach my goals? Perhaps this is a time to review those goals and ask if they are still fully vibrant and purposeful.

The nucleus of these questions is self-determination. If you didn’t believe in your power to define your own life, you wouldn’t ask how to redirect yourself. This belief is good: We often understand our ability to determine our own fate intellectually, but keeping our actions in line with that belief is another story.

As a personal example, I have a weakness for ice cream. There is something comforting and wonderful about having a nice big bowl in the evening, to cap off the day and start down the sedentary slope toward sleep. And in fact, the rich, sweet, and pleasurable nature of ice cream induces an inward and cushiony feeling in my body. Cushiony indeed – if I continued this pattern, my body would turn into a couch!

Breaking out of that pattern requires something akin to seasonal renewal: Connecting with actual needs rather than patterns and impulses. In the ice cream example, I have to consciously choose a deeply desired future state (health) over a superficially desired immediate state (sweet wondeful ice cream!).

So this September, my first not working a school year schedule for over two decades, what I reaffirm is self-determination: I will choose to prioritize the most vital things and positive things in my life. Nobody else can do this for me!

When I am intentional, I can shape my emotional landscape. This past year, I had the unpleasant experience of being betrayed by people I knew and trusted. Their willingness to act without honesty, integrity, or awareness of the greater good made me question my belief in people.  In response, I felt anger, sadness, betrayal, and grief – a pretty rugged emotional landscape! It took a lot of reflection to process this experience. But in doing so, I recognized that many others – including those doing the betrayal – are far worse off than myself. This awareness allows me to access compassion and to tune into the strong community around me, the abundant beauty in the world, and my personal commitment to making positive change. Reaffirming these most vital things shifted my landscape dramatically for the better.

Self-determination, or intentionality, means choosing one’s inner reality. Over the past few years, two approaches to the intentional shaping of one’s inner reality have gained recognition for their power in this regard: cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness training. The former is a psychotherapeutic system in which a client is coached to shift patterns of thought to increase greater emotional well being. The latter is a meditation strategy that helps people become attuned to their immediate experience, which allows them to let go of negative experiences and lower stress levels.

Both these strategies are in essence, educative, in that they help the individual learn to take control of her or his emotional landscape. I have experimented with both, and find them both congruent with my personal practice of self-determination. If you haven’t explored them, I highly recommend doing so.

So here we are at the outset of Autumn. Some of us are settling in to a new school year, while others of us are more tuned into the rhythm of the seasons. Whichever is true for you, I suggest checking in and seeking the renewal that this time of year offers. Is your current path the one most aligned with your most vibrant self?