By Dr Sima Patel
November is a month that can be full of colour. The autumn leaves in Sussex really begin to show their vast range of shades and depth of colour. It creates a beautiful richness in our environment to stimulate our sense of vision. Then we have the spectacle of fireworks also with its richness of colour and creativity. However, November can also be a hugely difficult time as daylight is lost and we have to adjust and adapt to darker early mornings and late afternoons. The rich colours of November can evoke a sense of hope and anticipation particularly as the excitement of fireworks approaches. Yet there can also be a sense of fear that can be associated with darker days or even the explosive nature of sounds and smells associated with fireworks.
Different people have different reactions to the changes that take place in November and a complex range of feelings arise. Some feelings can be beautifully uncertain and it can be difficult to explain them in specific words. So there is something in the air about the need to blend hope and fear, light and dark and make friends with both and also something about finding the right words to express a variety of feelings.
In order to stimulate the senses further and help to develop the blending of hope and fear, light and dark, this month’s feature is going to be looking at the richness in some diverse languages. It will explore how words in different languages have a variety of meanings that enable us to express how we feel in greater depth. For example, the Chinese notion of Yin-Yang where Yin means ‘cloudy/overcast’ and Yang means ’in the sun’ (shone upon). Together, they imply the two sides of the mountain (one sunlit, one in shadow). The words are a blend of positive and negative, light and dark, together creating a rich and complex sensibility, just like the emotions that are evoked within us as we go through the transitions of November.
The Japanese word ‘natsukashii’, is a nostalgic longing for the past, featuring a delicate blend of happiness for fond memories, yet sadness that those times are no longer. Related to words that express longing are terms expressing desire for freedom. In German, ‘Fernweh’, can be described as a ‘call of faraway places’, or ‘homesickness for a place one has never been to’. The German term ‘Waldeinsamkeit’ articulates the feeling of solitude when alone in the woods or ‘a mysterious state described as the pseudo-magical pull of the untamed wilderness; a place of living nightmares caught between the dreamscape and Fairyland’.
The Japanese term ‘aware’, expresses the bitter sweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty, while the compound ‘mono no aware’, expresses the sadness of understanding that the world and its beauty are momentary in this way (just as the autumn colours come and then the leaves go).
An apt word to end with is the Japanese expression ‘yugen’, which can be described as evoking mystery, unknowability, and yet not ‘utter darkness’. It reflects the notion that the subtle mysteries of existence may nevertheless be sensed in some early intuitive way. Yugen is a term that evokes sensations and wonders of the ordinary nature. For example, one author described the expression as ‘On a withered branch; a crow is perched; in the autumn evening’. Perhaps one way of dealing with the transitions associated with November is to consider the richness that different words evoke in us. A small task could be to: Make a list of some descriptive words that mean a lot to you.
See if you can explore the meaning of these words in greater depth.
Write a few sentences to see how these words could make you feel better through the transitions of light to dark, fear to hope, knowing that these months will soon pass and lighter days will arrive.