Sun and Shadow: The Vernal Equinox

March 20, 2016

Spring Equinox, also known as the vernal equinox, is the halfway point in the earth’s annual journey around the sun, when the day and the night are equal before the days begin to lengthen and the darkness begins to ebb. Here in the Northwest, the birds are singing, the soil is softening, the trees are about to burst into bloom--the world is ripe with possibility. The spiritual significance of this literal rising up out of the depths of darkness has been celebrated by humans for thousands of years.  

"In Christianity, the spring equinox is the time of the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. Likewise in ancient Egypt, it is the time of the resurrection of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris; and the resurrection of the Mayan Maize God Hun Hunahpu. The Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt, symbol of resurrection, gazes precisely at the rising of the spring equinox sun. The temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia aligns to the spring equinox, and depicts the scene of the “churning of the milky ocean”—the struggle between the forces of light and darkness. At the temple of the feathered serpent in Mexico at Chichen Itza, the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl ascends the nine terraces of the pyramid on the spring equinox."(Belesebub with Angela Pritchard from the book The Spiritual Sun)


This milky churning, the struggle between light and dark, unconscious and conscious, highest-self and the lowly-rage monster speaks to a larger internal struggle that we all experience as human beings, which is why it has been marked and celebrated so widely.  Whether we like it or not, the archetype of darkness is a part of our internal landscape, and even admitting this to ourselves, let alone those closest to us, can be extremely difficult, frightening and even painful.


The tendancy in this Instagramy-Facebookish culture, is to isolate those moments when we are at our best so that it appears effortless, easy, and sort of slick, as if joy were a commodity and we can definitely, most probably, find it in Joshua Tree doing eagle pose next to a cactus. Most of us in yoga culture are guilty of this particular brand of posturing because we have been trained to think that success equals an effortless looking--yet difficult pose--executed on a tropical beach in our swimwear. We have all seen enough handstand on the beach photos to last us for the rest of our lives.  Remember when you had never seen a photo of someone doing a handstand on the beach?  Remember how you were still a good person, working hard, being kind, maybe even practicing a few yoga shapes, or sitting quietly for a few moments each day just to be grateful?  Remember that?


The story behind all of these isolated moments of success and happiness, the light filled moments of our journey around the sun, is one of continual practice and work in the very mud that makes up the majority of our daily lives.  We work, we do the dishes, we make mistakes, we do our best to be kind, we decide what to make for dinner, we wake up and we begin again. The unspoken effect of constantly witnessing these isolated moments of bliss is that when we experience sadness, pain, frustration, rage, heartache, failure or jealousy we end up feeling alone, as if we are the only person on the planet who might be feeling totally hopeless and inept right now.  The isolation of joy, this distinct separation from the from the darker pieces of ourselves, serves to further shadow those habits, attributes, addictions and temper-tantrums that could honestly use some fresh air.  Imagine if you left some food you don’t like underneath your bed for a really long time, eventually it will start to smell and you will have to deal with it, and you might even be a little embarrassed, ashamed, to have people over.  This is what happens when we hide the imperfect--yet  totally perfect!--human parts of ourselves in the shadows, separate from our joy, kindness and bliss. Someday, the darkness will start to rot and we’ll have to do the work to bring the darker parts of ourselves into the light so that we can connect not only to ourselves in an honest and authentic way, but to our loved ones and community as a whole.  As the earthly Goddess Brene Brown says, “Shame is the fear of disconnection, it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal we have not lived up to, or a goal that we have not accomplished makes us unworthy of connect...Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”  


I was speaking with a friend of mine yesterday about a time in my life when I became so angry with my husband that I broke a window, and when that action did not feel satisfying enough, I shimmied my way through the broken shards of glass, climbed out the window and didn’t come back to the house for hours needless to say, causing my husband great distress. Then, on top of it, (yes there’s more!) I refused to fix the window, making my husband do the clean up work. Instead of apologizing, sweeping up the glass and heading to the hardware store, I denied any wrong doing, and refused to take responsibility; thus shadowing, even hiding, from my fierce anger so that it eventually fermented into a stewy kind of shame that I did not speak of, and allowed that dark part of myself to proceed, unfettered, business as usual, as if nothing had happened. Needless to say, after I began dragging my shadowed self out from under the bed, “The Window” incident became a powerful symbol in our marriage and my personal growth. Pretty awesome, right?  


When I finished telling this super-flattering story, my dear friend stopped what she was doing, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I am so grateful you just told me that story.  I have behaved just as badly at times in my life, but I feel afraid to talk about it, as if every moment in my life is supposed to be perfect and light filled. As if I am the only woman to be that overcome by anger, so I better keep it a secret.”   Through the process of exposing one of my darkest moments out into the shining light of day, a friend began to feel less alone.


What does all of this have to do with the equinox?  Nothing and everything. The practice of airing out our shadowy pieces is something we should practice all of the time. The perfect balance of light and dark in a day, is a highly potent reminder of that which resides inside of us all the time. I love connecting to my yoga practice on the equinox because it provides a clear opportunity to honor my whole being, light and dark, kind and mean, angry and forgiving. The asana shapes are not the point, rather it is the process of practicing self-acceptance and self-love for my flaws, my tight hamstrings, my ego and highly-imperfect behavioural track record.  The practice of loving the parts of us that are difficult to love is the stuff of transformation.  This Friday merely serves as an opportunity to shift our focus toward the cultivating of boundless love. The vernal equinox feels particularly potent because this is the time when the seeds sprout, when the sweet nectar, the fruit of our efforts, begins to ripen and expand to the point of bursting. We have been rooting around in the dark for many months now,  investigating, seeing what’s to be seen, and it is time to take what we have learned, bring it out into the light and love it up.  

 

 

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