One of my new endeavors in my work towards personal growth and balance is learning to live by the seasons, drawing lessons from nature’s cycle and invoking these patterns and energies into my own life. So this year I have decided to celebrate the Autumn Equinox.
Tomorrow (September 22, 2015) marks this years Autumn Equinox, an occasion with significance in many different cultures since ancient times. The day and night are of equal length this day, and afterwards the darkness will take up more and more of the day until the spring. The traditional symbolism of the Autumn Equinox varies throughout different cultures and religions, but the common themes are balance (as in the balance of light and dark), bounty and harvest, gratitude, release, and renewal. Whether or not we subscribe to the spiritual aspects involved for many people around the world, these principles are things we can all benefit from symbolically invoking. These are some ways I plan on honoring and celebrating the official start of fall, based off of sensory rituals and practices by various cultures globally and historically. As I am working on a tight budget and not a ton of time to prepare, my ideas are adapted to fit my lifestyle, and also reflect what I personally feel I can manage and benefit from this year. Perhaps you too can draw some inspiration to invoke some Autumn Equinox energy in your own life!
1. Apples. The apple is a romanticized fruit in many religious and cultural traditions, as well as in literature. It is also delicious, and positively abundant this time of year in the corner of the world where I live. Cinnamon-spiced apple pastries, cider, and candied and caramel-dipped apples can be found in every grocery store this season, as well as featured heavily in seasonal menus. Apples invoke autumn feelings as much as pumpkins do, but I’m saving the pumpkin for October. This is the time of the apple, and I intend to mark it by at least enjoying a fresh apple, and hopefully making a fresh apple cobbler. Do you know what your favorite variety of apple is? I don’t, because although I have picked a peck of apples many times in my life, I’ve never stopped to fully savor or appreciate their unique flavors. I probably won’t be able to tomorrow, but as soon as I get a chance I plan to spend some time at an orchard or farmers market and carefully and intentionally select a couple of apples. Some are better for baking, some for eating fresh, some are sweet or tangy or spicy. I’d like to try a variety and learn how to get the most out of this ancient fruit. If I get the chance I also want to pick some straight from the tree (perks of having a landscaper boyfriend include the fresh apples, pears and other treats he picks for me when he can, so I am lucky enough to enjoy this taste somewhat often). Some people also suggest using dried apples to scent the home or the bath, which sounds lovely.
2. Observing and enjoying nature. This year, fall appears to be getting a late start. It is supposed to be in the high 70’s tomorrow, and not too many leaves have begun to change or fall. Still, though subtle, the autumn spirit is in the air, and the evenings are getting chilly and crisp. Tomorrow (and probably tonight as well) I plan to take advantage of the nice weather and take a walk through woods. I want to take in nature exactly as it is in its cycle right now, watch the birds migrate, listen to the sound of woodland creatures scurrying about busily to gather food for winter. If I find any colorful fallen leaves I’ll collect some, and gather pine cones and acorns and twigs, maybe pick a few wildflowers. I’ll look for a pretty fallen branch for a craft I’ve been meaning to get to. I’ll enjoy the sunshine and the breeze, and take my time, the same way this season is taking its time. I think I’ll try not to think too much this time, as I usually end up lost in my head when walking in the woods. I think this time I’ll try to just observe, and breathe, and be receptive to the beautiful world around me.
3. Cozy up the home. Very soon, we will be spending a lot more time inside as the weather outside gets frightful. Home will become a haven of warmth and comfort between fun and not-so-fun outdoor activities throughout the fall and winter, so this is a good time to work on making it feel that way. I think I’ll decorate with some natural and warm-toned elements, like the items I’ll collect on my walk. I’ll make a small altar of admiration for fall and its comforting beauty. I’ll also begin to bring more warm light into the apartment, starting with making a “chandelier” for over the bed with the branch I’ll find and some string lights. I will set out and light up some candles (I’d make a fire if I were lucky enough to have a fireplace). I’ll stack some blankets near the couches, for both company and myself, and maybe some good books too.
4. Clear space. Autumn is a time of release both naturally and culturally. Though it is the end of the summer, it is also a fresh start. Leaves die and fall away, but for the trees it is merely the beginning of a new cycle. It is a gentler beginning than spring or even New Years, which compel you into busybody action and forward momentum on goals. This is a time to regroup, reflect, and release what is holding you back from moving forward. I plan to work on this process mentally and emotionally, reflecting on what I have been holding on to that is no longer productive for me, and beginning to break unproductive or harmful habits. These things take time though, so I cannot fully accomplish them tomorrow. What I will do is set goals to make room for as I relinquish the old. I will be patient with myself as I reflect on the losses that I’ve experienced over the last year that have left unwanted space in my life, and seek comfort in the natural cycle of life and loss. I will also physically release that which I no longer need, the frivolous clutter than honestly brings me more stress than pleasure or enjoyment. I’ll work on weeding out my closet (although this process also might take a few days), and clearing off dressers and tables until only what I enjoying seeing on display remains. This is never something I’m good at, but I’ll remind myself that I am making room for the new, and creating an open invitation for a whole new year of new to move into my life.
5. Reap the harvest. As I’m working on letting go of things, I will make a point to consciously take note of all that I have gained an accomplished over the past few seasons. While I will admit that I did not get as much done as I had hoped, and fell short on many of my goals, it isn’t helpful at this point to continue to beat myself up about it (one of those habits I should work on breaking), but it is good to take a moment to take pride in what I have accomplished. For me, this has mostly been internal growth. I have painfully and blissfully learned a lot over the last year, and enter this new season stronger and wiser and ready to prepare for a more productive year to come. I’ll also take stock of my gains and blessings over the year, which have been abundant. It would take pages to list them all here, but I’ll spend the day with them in mind, and take the time to at least write down a few, in order to better…
5. Give thanks, and show gratitude. As I reflect on all of the gains and losses of the last year, I will express thanks to the Universe and to those around me who have blessed my life in some way. I will be grateful for all I have and where I am, and save nostalgia and pining for another day. But in addition to simply being thankful, I will show gratitude. I will look for opportunities to return blessings to those who have made my life brighter or helped me out, and I will make a conscious effort to pay it forward to others. I will donate the clothes and items I’ll be releasing from my own life, so that they may bring a little joy to someone else’s. I will recognize my abundance and where I can afford to give, even if I can only offer some of my time right now.
6. Autumn sensory pleasures. I plan to welcome autumn with all of my senses, and to take in all that it has to offer. In addition to the aforementioned apples, I will enjoy harvest vegetables, particularly an acorn squash which m boyfriend knows how to cook deliciously with brown sugar and butter. I will play music that brings autumn to mind, which for me is typically the hauntingly beautiful pensive variety. I will light woodsy incense and cinnamon candles, and immerse myself in the unique scents and sounds and flavors of this season in any other way I can think of. This will also include…
7. Cleanse. Bathing is used in so many cultures for symbolic sensory invoking of energy, and I personally enjoy baths a lot so I will definitely be partaking in this. I will invoke autumn’s energy in the sensory details, but I think I will save the bubble bath and keep it natural this time. I will add whole cloves and a cinnamon stick to the steamy water, and soak in it while I do some of the aforementioned reflecting and listening to music. I won’t read this time because I’ll want to be fully present in the moment. After a while I will scrub down and exfoliate with a sugar scrub I made today with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and a bit of sage for symbolic cleansing of bad energy (I’ll add olive oil tomorrow right before, so it doesn’t dissolve before then). When I am finished I will rinse off in the shower and imagine the negative residue of this past year and my past self washing away.
8. Balance meditation. I am still working on the art of meditation, if I am honest. I have a hard time quieting my mind, especially when I am trying to. However, meditating on and praying for balance is something I really need this year, as it has been a year of extremes on both ends of my psyche. The autumn equinox asks us to make peace with and honor the darkness and a necessary and beautiful part of life, and of the self. I have been struggling with my shadow a lot recently, and am just starting to move back into the light, and right now it is important for me to learn to accept and appreciate that the dark and the light together make me whole, and life full. For other people, balance may mean something different, such as the balance of work and family, or finding balance in a diet, or balancing emotions. Everyone could use a bit more balance in their lives however, and meditating, praying, or things like yoga and tai-chi can help with that by creating the mindset needed to manifest the balance we seek. I may or may not try yoga tomorrow, but I will definitely be at least seeking my inner center and working on making peace with all aspects of myself and my life.
9. Honor ancestors. A theme that seems to be emphasized in Autumn Equinox traditions around the world is the honoring of ancestors, family, and history. The time will soon come for gathering with living family, but this is a time to remember or learn about those who came before us. I don’t know an awful lot about my own direct ancestors, but tomorrow and this season I will make an effort to learn what I can and take some time to keep their memories alive. Beyond my own family, I will learn about the history and traditions of the peoples I am descended from and from the area I live in now, and perhaps be inspired to carry something of their cultures into my own life.
10. Plant bulbs. In all honestly I am not going to be doing this this year, as I live in an apartment I will be leaving in a couple of months. However, it was mentioned in a lot of articles on Autumn Equinox celebrations, and I really appreciated the symbolism behind it, so I decided to include it in my list, if only so I could look back and remember to do it next year if I find myself in a better position to do so. Bulb plants are unique because while everything dies around them, they secretly grow and develop through the harsh weather, their efforts underground and unseen, but occurring nonetheless. And come spring, they bloom bright and beautiful, well worth the wait. My favorites are red and yellow tulips, and that is what I would plant had I my own garden space right now. Planting bulbs reflects hope in a brighter future, and faith that spring will come again and that not only will these plants survive the harshness of winter, they will emerge and thrive beautifully. Though I cannot physically manifest this faith, I can do so internally, by “planting bulbs” in my own life as goals and dreams for the year ahead and bigger goals for the longer-term future. Autumn is a season of preparation for winter, a different energy than spring but still a productive one. What I plant in my head now may not manifest for a while, but I will tend to it patiently and carefully, allow it to naturally grow beneath the surface rather than rushing it to a half-hearted full-form. I will take heart that in time and with preparation these dreams will come to be, and use this time to gather my resources and prepare myself, letting the promise of their eventual emergence help me keep the faith through the coming winter.
Happy Autumn Equinox everyone! I hope that whatever you do tomorrow, it is a day of love and light for you