Friday, September 13, 2013

Autumnal Equinox 2013

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. ~ Albert Camus

Autumn is like a second spring, in that it is another still point in the annual cycle of seasons. However, instead of the resurrection of nature, we begin to see its inevitable and bittersweet decline. Crops are harvested, and deciduous trees blaze forth spectacular displays of transformation. Many of these colors are always present in the leaf, but are "hidden from view" until the diminishing light and cooler air trigger an alchemical transformation.  As the auxin and chlorophyll levels decrease with the shifting light and temperatures, carotene begins to shine through as yellow, and anthocyanin as red and orange.  Finally, cool winds usher in crisp dry air from the North, and the brilliant leaves are released from their summer's toil and scatter towards the skies and ground, reminding us of our own impermanence in this world.

Autumnal Equinox: September 22, 2013, 1:44 pm PDT

Officially the Autumnal Equinox occurs when the Sun once again crosses the imaginary celestial equator, heading south for the Winter months of the Northern hemisphere, on September 22, 2013.  The moment marks the instance when light and dark, yin and yang, are momentarily in balance.  Soon the light will wane allowing the yin forces of contraction to overtake the expansion of yang.  Nights grow longer than days until the next tipping point at the Winter Solstice in December. 

As I have mentioned in previous posts, these turning points are illustrated in the bagua and I-Ching, the Book of Changes.  Winter is associated with the most yin -- 2 K'un/The Receptive, Summer with the most yang --1 Chi'en/the Creative, and Spring 11 T'ai/Peace and Autumn 12 Pi/Standstill with equal yin and yang. In this hexagram, the three solid yang bars on top, and three broken yin bars on the bottom represent yang energy above giving way to yin below.  It is said to indicate perseverance over submissiveness. However, when it appears in an I Ching reading, the advice is to remain still instead of acting. It is a time to take shelter in integrity, quietly remain faithful to inner principles, which may be likened to the carotene and anthrocyanin pigments in the leaves.  These pigments remain quiet and are hidden beneath the chlorophyll during the summer, and are not revealed until the contracting forces have initiated in the fall.

According to the five element theory of  Chinese Medicine, these pigments are associated with the metal (mineral) element, which presides over the autumn. The Chinese character for metal, or jin, depicts a mine shaft covered by a roof containing two nuggets of gold. Similar to the Pi hexagram, the character jin portrays a shelter which houses one of the most valuable metals on Earth, gold. Historically gold has been reserved for kings as it was considered a manifestation of the light of the Sun on Earth, and symbol of divine kingship.  Now modern astronomy has discovered that gold is only created in the supernova explosion of a dying star. It seems fitting that the metal element is associated with a season of the Sun's decline. Gold is also the exchange token of the merchant class that is also ruled by the metal element.  A merchant must be able to assess the value of his wares, decide whether to keep it for him/herself, and then determine a price if it is to be sold.  The merchant knows what to hold onto, and what to let go.

Thus metal season is characterized by ripening, contraction and slowing down, harvesting, judging, and finally letting go.  It is the letting go process that may give rise to the emotions of grief and disappointment which can deplete the body of its reserves. In the oldest acupuncture text, the Neijing Su Wen (The Yellow Emperor's Classic on Chinese Medicine), the wise acupuncturist Qi Bo advises:

In the months of Fall all things in nature reach their full maturity. The grains ripen and harvesting occurs. The Heavenly energy cools, as does the weather. The wind begins to stir. This is the changing or pivoting point when the active phase (yang) turns into its opposite, the passive phase (yin). One should retire with the sunset and arise with the dawn. Just as the weather in Fall turns harsh, so does the emotional climate. It is therefore important to remain calm and peaceful,refraining from excess sadness so that one can make the transition to Winter smoothly. This is the time to gather one’s spirit and energy, be more focused, and not allow desires to run wild. One must keep the Lung energy full, clean, and quiet. This means practicing breathing exercises to enhance Lung qi. Also, one should refrain from grief, the emotion of the Lung. This will prevent Kidney or digestive problems in the Winter. If this natural order is violated, damage will occur to the Lungs, resulting in diarrhea with undigested food in Winter. This compromises the body’s ability to store in Winter.
This sound advice to gather one's spirit and energy is quite profound if we wish to stay in alignment with nature's eternal rhythms.  Just as the leaves have collected and stored the sunlight deep in a tree's core, we too must consider how to keep our energy strong when the sunlight is weak.  Thus the autumnal equinox heralds not only the fall harvest, but also the metal season in which we may assess what we have collected, what is worth keeping, and what needs to be released. Just as the sap of a tree begins to contract towards it roots, and releases its leaves that become compost for the next year, we too must slow down, turn our focus inward, and let go of what no longer serves us, returning to our core, our roots, our essence. 

Moon in Bharani

One way of understanding what themes might be the focus of this particular season of contemplation is to look at the event chart for the moment of the Equinox. At the moment of equanimity we are imprinted with the starlight that is rising above the Eastern horizon and the Moon. Although each location on the Earth will see a different constellation rise at that time, and will experience its own unique energetic imprint from those stars and related planetary rulers, the Moon be in the same sign and nakshatra effecting our collective consciousness with the same stellar message.  

The 2013 Autumnal Equinox occurs under an Aries Moon transiting the second nakshatra, Bharani, which means "she who bears" indicating its innate ability to endure hard work. Although its symbol is the yoni, or vagina, 'bearing' does not necessarily mean 'bearing' children, but rather the capacity to receive, hold, nurture, and destroy. The yoni also represents a doorway through which a soul enters the physical plane. The deity connected to this nakshatra is Yama, one of the eight gate-keepers and god of death. Yama guides souls back to the astral plane where they may realize the results of karma from the present life, and prepares for the next. Bharani's power is to cleanse and remove impurities, apabharani shakti, which it accomplishes through hard work, and sometimes by pushing to the extremes of life and death.  

This nakshatra is ruled by Venus, the planet that rules the metal season.  During the Equinox, the Evening Star will be in its own sign of Libra traveling with the lord of hard work and brother of Yama, Saturn, along with the unpredictable Rahu. Both Venus and Saturn will inspire Rahu to express its higher vibration.  In Hindu mythology Shukra/Venus is known for performing long austerity practices, which ultimately gave him the power to raise the dead. Thus, it may be a great time to do a cleanse, release toxins, and let go of what no long supports our well-being, and protect the inner gold we wish to keep. And last, but not least, since the Moon will be in the sign ruled by Mars (Aries), and Mars in the sign of the Moon (Cancer), there will be a strong exchange of energy between them, called Parivartana Yoga. The mutual exchange of signs binds the planets together in a special union in which each planet then acts as though its in its own sign, or mulatrikona. A parivartana yoga will both increase the power of the two houses that each planet rules and is placed and the power of the two grahas (planets) involved, for good or bad. Thus the upcoming equinox may be especially intense, and potentially transformative.  Let's remember the wise counsel of the Yellow Emperor: 

This is the time to gather one’s spirit and energy, be more focused, and not allow desires to run wild. One must keep the Lung energy full, clean, and quiet. This means practicing breathing exercises to enhance Lung qi.
May the great Iyengar further 'inspire' you to strengthen your lungs with pranayama. Remember "the mind is the king of the senses, but the breath, the breath is the king of the mind."  

And if yogic breathing is not your thing, perhaps the melodious metal magic of Chet Baker's Autumn Leaves might get you into the mood to appreciate the things of value in your life.


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