Everything moves to a rhythm. From the revolution of galaxies and stars to the vibration of atoms. The equinoxes and solstices offer us a chance to reflect on the rhythm of the seasons. You might have noticed that yoga instructors tend to bring up these seasonal events, as well as the monthly pulse of the moon. Maybe some of us do so as a way to change up our classes, but we also do it to enhance the whole idea of connection (which in Sanskrit shares a cognate with the word “yoga”): by noticing the pulse of seasons and moon phases, we can start to locate ourselves in the heartbeat of everything.
Is that too woo-y? How about this: with a language that is more or less externally focused, it’s hard to navigate our internal landscape. Our brain, though, with its capacity for abstract thought, loves its symbols. We can use what’s happening around us to make sense of our inner journeys.
So, the autumn equinox.
The equinox is a time of balance. As the sun crosses the equator, there’s a balance between daytime and nighttime. Autumn straddles the extremes of hot and cold (summer and winter). It is also a time of transition. Autumn eases nature’s energy from the external splendor of summer heat and turns that energy inward–and invites us to do the same.
In Fall, we take stock of where our energy is going–and ideally we do so from a place of compassionate mindfulness. This frees us from the limiting dualistic thinking that insists we save “good things” like flawless vegetables and herbs but destroy “bad things” like weeds and rotting produce. Instead, we appreciate the value in everything our inner garden produces. What do we harvest and what to we put to compost? In this way, we can identify where we need to shift our energy and make the necessary changes to our habits, to the way we communicate, to the way we interact.
However, most of the time transitions blindside us with a fistful of change that we just are not prepared for.
Transitions Close to Home
My daughter is seven and started second grade earlier this month. There was no mindful serenity in her reaction to the change. I came to pick her up on the Friday afternoon they divided the kids into their new class. She threw herself into my arms, sobbing was. None of her friends were in her class this year (in fact her two besties were in a class together). The one boy she knew from last year latched onto the other boys and pretty much ignored her. It was an absolute crisis. I did my best to allow her space to express her disappointment, have it validated. The next day, I tried to nudge her to open herself to the possibilities in the new class. The whole weekend she fretted. The best I could get out of her: maybe third grade will have more friends.
It’s easy to recognize the need for patience and an open heart in my daughter. I can see that she’s holding onto her disappointment, that her suffering is self-imposed, that her negative expectations create unnecessary stress.
It’s not as clear when dealing with my own reaction to change. Of course my stress isn’t self-imposed. Mine are important adult stressors, plus hormones!
Yes, the transition I’m navigating right now is hormonally fueled: menopause. Try to come into peaceful compassion when the hormonal whirlwind kicks up emotions that haven’t emerged to the surface since puberty.
Talk of menopause elicits either discomfort or relief. Most often relief comes from those going through it because as a society, we don’t discuss it openly or frankly because we are a society obsessed with youth and terrified of death. Oh, but it’s crucial we do discuss it. What remains unexamined festers. Ignorance is not bliss, it’s infection. We need to stop being embarrassed by life’s cycles.
If we can shift our approach to change from narrow expectations toward open curiosity, we can save ourselves a lot of anxiety. That’s as true for my daughter as it is for me.
Curiosity has transformed my menopause. Rather than an ugly plummet toward decay and death, it’s a wild new song my body dances to. I look for the opportunities in the hot flashes: I don’t need to wear sweaters in winter, a tank top under a winter jacket is all I need, even in the snow. I look for new pursuits, things I can do to keep from fixating on things my body no longer grooves to. I witness the way intense emotions arise out of nowhere, latching onto any target to justify itself. These are feelings I remember from adolescence: feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, nobody loves me, nobody cares–things I know are false. Sometimes I can short-circuit them before they erupt into action by free writing, meditation, and, yes, yoga, but sometimes they erupt anyway.
My feet are learning the steps, but sometimes I stumble. Sometimes I lash out at my daughter and speak more harshly than I intend to because I find myself taking her behavior personally instead of approaching it as part of her own stumbling dance through childhood.
By mindfully inhabiting my inner experiences, transitions become part of the life adventure. So when my emotions go full storm and thunder, I can step back from them, abide with them, take stock rather than react. With my daughter, I don’t have to insist that she relax, that she buck up and deal with it–or, conversely, I don’t call the school and tell them to change her class. I can abide with her disappointment and help her move on from it.
Fall Equinox Yoga Flow
Yoga promotes the mindfulness needed to honestly inhabit our experiences. What you’ll find in many of the autumn-equinox themed yoga classes is a mix of balances (Tree pose tends to figure prominently) and inward-turning forward folds. My linked video is no exception. We come into balances with no expectations, just a sense of curiosity: let’s see how this unfolds today. Then, when the wobble happens, it’s part of the exploration. Then, we are more open to challenging the balance because we aren’t clinging to the expectation of a perfectly steadfast Warrior 3. Also, we spend time in forward folds to give ourselves space to take gentle stock of what needs to change or what is already changing.