Comparing Ourselves to Others: A Lesson from Autumn

At this time of year, many people love to see vibrant leaves falling from trees. It’s a beautiful transient phenomenon of the natural world. But it is more than just a pretty scene; it is a strong metaphor for how we function as humans in a relational world. It is a metaphor that can teach us patience, mindfulness, and self-love when we feel pained by comparing ourselves to others.


When we conjure an image of a windy autumn day, we see eddies of gold and red leaves swirling  around us. We think of the archetypal idea of ‘leaves falling’ and see a snapshot of hundreds of flecks of colour in the air, dancing gracefully downward from their tree limbs. In any one moment, they all seem to be a part of a synchronized dance, where each leaf knows the steps and is performing perfectly.


This snapshot idea can also represent how we compare ourselves to others. If we look at a snapshot of the lives of other people, it is easy to feel like they are also part of a highly synchronized dance. In any one moment it is possible to see people thriving in their profession, cultivating deep relationships, reaching their goals, and being happy. It’s wonderful to celebrate the successes of others, but sometimes we can feel inferior when we measure ourselves up against the collective other in such a snapshot.


But we can learn from the natural world and apply its principles to this habit of comparison. When you are next walking outside in a flurry of October weather, begin by paying attention to what is truly happening when leaves are falling around you. The beauty is most relatable not in the collective dance, but rather when you watch one single leaf fall from the sky to the ground. Its trajectory is not just a part of a whole, but presents a unique path. A leaf can float calmly or be moved by unseen forces to make you dizzy. It may hit the ground and skip back up, sweep up against a tree trunk, or flirt with other leaves in a flurry. And that is in fact how each of us experience our own individual lives. At any one time we may feel we are floating up or sinking down, on our way to another phase, another process; never arrived nor finished. We may be whirling in circles or hovering with grace. And like the leaves, a snapshot of our collective against which we compare ourselves may appear to be perfectly synchronized. Everyone but us appears to know the steps to the dance, but the truth is that each of us has our own individual swooping and whirling path.


From nature we learn that no fall from a tree is perfect. Each leaf is created in the spring and falls to the ground only once. When we compare ourselves to others in a snapshot, it is helpful to appreciate that each path is unique and no journey is perfect. Next time you are outside on a windy autumn day and there are leaves falling all around you, I encourage you to have the patience to watch a leaf take its tumble. Have reverence for that whole life it lived, however imperfect. This will help you have more patience and self-love, knowing we take our imperfect tumble through life only once as well.


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