What Autumn & Commas Can Teach Us About Perception

Nature reminds us how we can adapt and adjust in life.

*As Tsar of Russia from 1881-1894, Alexander III’s rule was marked by repression and persecution. Proving that opposites attract, his wife, Maria Fedorovna, was known for her generosity. Once, when the Tsar had signed an order sentencing a prisoner to life in exile, Maria intervened. The Tsar’s statement read simply, “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia.” Maria changed that prisoner’s life by moving the comma in her husband’s order. She altered it to say, “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia.”

Simply by changing the point at which the comma is seen, a person’s life was completely changed. The same goes for our perception. Often, when we are presented with a difficult person or situation, we cannot see anything but the difficulty. If we continued in this mode of thinking, we would surely be stuck – imprisoned in a way – by our perception of the difficult person or situation. When the sentence reads, “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia,” we sentence ourselves to a life in exile. This exile is from connectedness, from relationship, from prosperity, from the Truth of our being.

Nature reminds us how we can adapt and adjust in order to make our way through life less burdensome and more enjoyable. Autumn provides us the following five opportunities for changing our perception – for moving our comma, so to speak:

  1. The changing leaves of autumn remind us to seek out the beauty. The changing leaves hold an urgency. They will not be at the peak of crimson, fire, and bright yellow for longer than a few days. We anxiously wait for that peak and seek it out to take pictures of it to remember through the gray of winter. By the same token, we can seek out the beauty in the difficult person. Does she have pretty hair? Is she dressed particularly sharp today? Find something beautiful. Find it quickly, because it may not remain at its peak for long. Form a mental picture of it to remember if the difficulty reappears.

  2. Merchants and consumers wait all year for autumn and the launch of pumpkin-spice-flavored and -scented everything. While it is admittedly a commercial gimmick, it’s a good example of switching up the routine to generate a different response. There’s a story of a man who walks down the same street to work every day. One day he falls in a huge hole. He calls out for help until someone rescues him, and then he goes on to work. The next day he carries a ladder as he walks down the same street. When he falls in the hole, he uses the ladder to climb out and go to work. The next day he forgets his ladder and tries to jump over the hole. He fails to bridge the gap, falls in the hole, and has to call for help again. Many days go by with the man trying to avoid the hole, falling in, and using all manner of methods to get out of the hole. Then, one day, the man walks down a different street. When we find that we’re repeating a difficult situation, let’s switch up our routine and walk down a different street.

  3. The autumn pastime for many is the great American sport of football. It brings out the worst in some of us, but even that can be used as a method of changing our perception. What if we play armchair quarterback with our difficult situation? We tend to become emotionally entrenched in our circumstances. Our feelings are hurt, or we are angry or disappointed enough that we cannot see past those circumstances to the options available to us. In this case, we can play armchair quarterback and observe the situation, totally detached from the emotion and/or outcome, yet be invested enough to know there is a more logical way to proceed. We don’t even have to throw our popcorn at the T.V. to be a successful armchair quarterback in the realm of changing our perception!

  4. Every autumn brings the celebration of Thanksgiving. Of course, when we are in a difficult situation, we would probably prefer to eat a whole pumpkin pie or plate of mashed potatoes rather than endure the experience. However, that’s not the way Thanksgiving helps us change our perception. Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful. In all things, in all ways, no matter what, find the gratitude. Even if our only gratitude in the moment is that we are breathing or that our house is solid as Fort Knox (while we are locked out in the rain) – we can find the gratitude and feel it fully. Bask in it. Our perception of the situation is bound to change when we also change from griping about it to being grateful about some part of it.

  5. Finally, probably the most apparent change during the autumn season is the steady decrease in daylight hours. In this time of waning light, gardeners begin to put their gardens to bed, cyclists take as many trips as the weather will allow, boaters resist the call to bring the boat into storage. Most of us begin to use the remaining light wisely, to milk every minute until the day is done. This aspect of autumn reminds us to use our light wisely and shine on what is most important. If we find ourselves in a situation with a difficult person, we can take a step back and determine what is most important in this interaction. Is it more important to be right? Or is it more important to have peace? What would we gain by continuing the struggle? What would we lose by letting go? What is the best possible outcome we can bring to this situation?

Autumn is certainly an invigorating time of year. It’s a time to begin reflecting on our accomplishments of spring and summer. It’s a time to plan our holidays and begin thinking about what a new year will bring. By using the lessons of autumn – seeking out the beauty, switching the routine, observing from a detached, yet invested viewpoint, finding the gratitude, and using our light wisely to shine on what is most important – we can change where our comma – or our perception – lies in the sentence of our life. By changing our perception, we can change our sentence from a life of exile – “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia,” – to a life of pardon – “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia.”

*Sources: and Today in the Word, July 14, 1993.