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TURNING WITHIN

The Autumn Equinox is today! The sun will spend approximately the same amount of time above and below the horizon; rising due east, setting due west, and appearing directly overhead at midday. For a brief moment, twice a year, the Earth is divided into equal parts night and day.

And now, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere begin to lean away from the sun and begin our descent toward winter. As the sunlight continues to decrease each day, we are invited to turn toward the light within.

The rhythm of nature has much to teach us. In rural Illinois, where I grew up, the Autumn Equinox symbolizes the completion of the harvest season. The crops have been gathered and stored for the long, barren winter. There is a stillness and darkness that settles over the fields. Beyond the farms, many communities see and experience plants surrendering their vegetation in response to shorter days and cooler temperatures. Their leaves drained of life-giving sustenance, eventually fall in the ultimate display of impermanence. The ground absorbs heat and moisture at greater rates and air currents circulate near its surface. These environmental cues are a reflection of our internal seasons and display the wisdom of the planet by letting go, slowing down and taking time for restorative practices.

The Autumn Equinox is an invitation into the cosmic darkness. With each passing day, nighttime arrives a little earlier and lingers into our waking hours. This is a gift! The environmental down-time encourages us to welcome and not resist the force of consciousness that pulls us inward. This is a time for meditation and rest. Use this opportunity to surrender to your inner gravity, ask difficult questions, and listen deeply for what arises. Get curious as you dive into the darkness.

Just as the Earth experiences light and darkness, we all embody light and darkness. Our shadow side encompasses all things outside the light of consciousness, good and bad. Our unconscious contains everything that is unseen or hidden from awareness, like the dark side of the moon. It makes sense that we might try to conceal our least desirable qualities. Unconsciously we may also hide our brightest attributes on account of shadow forces like shame or lack of self-esteem.

Shadow work is as important to revealing our light as it is to release our darkness. And what better time to do that work than between the fall equinox and the winter solstice? This is a time to do some digging and discover what has been churning beneath the surface, a time to invite such thoughts and emotions to gently rise and dissolve. Maybe these prompts can help facilitate this inner exploration as you contemplate, meditate or journal.

  • What has been my personal harvest this year, what has grown into full expression and brought me joy? Begin each sentence with I celebrate…
  • What seeds of insight will I collect and re-plant in the next season? I nourish…
  • Where am I holding back or ceding to doubt? What fears are stalling me? I am afraid of…
  • Where am I creating struggle or holding on? How can I conserve energy by releasing any unnecessary effort in this cycle? I release…
  • Am I housing any latent anger towards myself or others? How can I liberate myself from it? I forgive…
  • Do I presently feel ashamed or embarrassed by any behaviors or decisions I have made? How can I lay them to rest? I accept…
  • Do I feel guilty for any of my thoughts, words, or actions? How can I make a conscious change? I resolve…
  • If my body were to speak, what would it say to me? I hear…

How do you plan to welcome and accept both the light and the darkness?

BREATHE.

To breathe is to live. Without breath, life ceases. This vital, life force energy is the animating force of all creation. It is present in ALL living things. In Sanskrit it’s prana. For ancient Hebrews it’s ruachand for the Greeks pneuma.  These all translate to breath, wind, spirit.

can't breath

I was fortunate to participate in a BLM protest in City Heights back in June. This socially distanced, masked gathering of children & families was a powerful experience. Surrounded by people of color, we chanted, “Say their names. Breonna Taylor, George Floyd,” as we marched from Rosa Parks Elementary School to the Mid City Police Station and back. I was silenced as the chants turned to, “I can’t breathe.” It was the first time I considered the severity of that statement. To breathe is to live. Without breath, life ceases. And our BIPOC sisters and brothers are not only living in fear of that breath being taken from them they are experiencing it at alarming rates at the hands of people we expect to protect and serve all of us.

Most of the time we don’t even notice we are breathing, it’s controlled by our body’s autonomic nervous system. This nervous system is made up of 2 parts: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which stimulates our fight or flight response and directly correlates with our inhalation and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which stimulates our rest and digest system, relaxing the body after stimulation and directly correlates with our exhalation.

I’m sure you’ve heard at some point in life to, “Stop and take a deep breath.” While the intention is good, our breath can help to calm us, taking a deep breath (think inhalation) actually causes our diaphragm to move down and the volume in our thoracic cavity increases as our lungs fill with air. As they fill, they also begin to compress the walls of the heart, which in turn restricts blood flow going into and out of the heart. To compensate for this restriction, our heart rate increases, stimulating our fight-or-flight response. When we exhale, our diaphragm moves up and the volume in our thoracic cavity decreases as our lungs empty the air inside them, which relaxes our bodies. In short, it is actually our exhale, not our inhale, which helps our body relax.

 The good news is that we have the ability to affect our breathing rate. We can change our breathing. This means we can train ourselves to respond to over-breathing with an intentional breathing pattern designed to promote relaxation.

Some researchers recommend a specific ratio of inhalation to exhalation that can be practiced in the moment when wanting to achieve a more relaxed breathing state. For example, Inna Kahzan, a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, recommends a 4:6 ratio — 40% of the breath cycle spent on inhalation and 60% of the breath cycle spent on exhalation.

Though the exact breath count that is most helpful for you may vary based on your natural breathing rate (some people tend to breath at a higher/lower rate than others), a rough estimate of what this ratio would look like is to inhale for a count of 1…2…3…4 and then exhale for a count of 1…2…3…4…5…6, where each count lasts one second.

Take a minute to guide yourself, “Breath in — 1…2…3…4, and breathe out — 1…2…3…4…5…6.”

Focus on normal inhalations, neither too short nor too long, and then extend the exhalation. You will begin to notice yourself calming down, which in turn will better enable you to focus on your upcoming challenges. Yet like most things, using breathing to regulate your nervous system takes practice, so it’s important to make extended exhalations a part of your regular routine.

But stop and imagine for a moment the sensation of not being able to breathe, not being able to take an inhalation, grasping desperately for that necessary oxygen for your body, your life to continue. And now imagine moving through the world, with the thought in the back of your mind that your breath may be taken from you at any moment for any reason. This stress and trauma being thrust upon our BIPOC sisters and brothers is reprehensible. The next time you pause to take that deep breath, call to mind all those chanting in the streets and those whose last utterances were, “I can’t breathe.”

LIGHT

I’m not sure how to talk about light without also talking about darkness. The two are forever intertwined. Our challenge is to find the balance so that even if we find ourselves swinging wildly one way, we eventually make our way back to center. One doesn’t have to look very far to see the darkness: police brutality, racial injustice, a global pandemic, poverty and environmental destruction, just to name a few. Several months ago as the world began to shut down I was quickly filled with a  sense of hope. It seemed there was a great opportunity during this global pause to evaluate priorities and maybe even make some major shifts in how humanity was living and engaging with one another and the environment. I’ve always believed that Americans are compassionate and have a way of really rising to the occasion during crises. It’s happened countless times throughout history.

90B92357-09C9-4FB7-8E21-EEE54D6EAC35-1023x675Unfortunately over the last couple months, for so many reasons, I think people have become weary, disheartened and have in return started acting out of self-interest more and more. Many of us have realized we are in this for the long haul and it’s dark, it’s heavy and it threatens to really drag us down. I’m awestruck and frankly disappointed by the countless folks who continue to believe this pandemic is a hoax, who feel wearing a mask impedes their liberties and who flout public health orders. We know that people of color are disproportionately impacted by coronavirus both in acquiring the illness and in death. We cannot deny the direct link to the racial injustices that have LONG impacted these communities in areas of education, health care, housing, and jobs. But do we care? Do we really care?

Or are we merely content claiming BLACK LIVES MATTER on our social media all the while going back to “life as normal” because we’re tired of the inconvenience and will not likely be directly impacted?

So what about light? Where is the light? In times of extreme darkness we must double down on the things that bring the light: countless frontline workers and health professionals giving of themselves everyday, people choosing to wear masks and social distancing in the midst of fighting for racial justice through public protests, young people leading the way regarding climate change and record numbers of black women running for public office and specifically here in San Diego, countless volunteers showing up on Zoom to assist refugee students navigate online learning.

The darkness may try to overtake us. We may fall down and wish to wallow in our misery. But that’s not a long-term solution. We have to rise up and do things that connect us to our bodies, our spirits and to each other. We have to find ways to tend the flame, however small it may seem.

My yoga practice has helped me sustain the light these last few months. It gives my busy mind a rest from all the possible doomsday scenarios. It helps my body release built up tension and relieves my muscles of the burden of stress. When I practice alone I receive a respite from dealing with people altogether and when I practice with others, I’m reminded that the world is not completely mad.

8986077_0I often end my yoga classes with, “Namaste.” One of it’s most common translations is “the light in me honors the light in you.” In dark times, this simple word is a much needed reminder that there is light in me and light in you. There’s power in this human connection. May it give us the strength to rise up and shine another day.

Where do you experience light these days? Share your thoughts below, they may be just the encouragement someone needs to hear.

COMPASSION

I began really thinking about compassion in college. I was preparing to spend a summer in Australia volunteering with other young people and our group was encouraged to read Henri Nouwen’s Compassion. This book really opened my eyes to the idea of compassion being much more than just doing nice things for people.

Fast-forward 20 years and in November of 2018 I had the privilege of attending a Boundless Compassion retreat with Joyce Rupp in Bowen Island, British Columbia. The week was spent exploring themes of compassion: self-compassion, compassion for creation, compassion and marginalized people, etc.

compassion

I believe it is possible for compassion to be a way of life. And as I continue to look around at the current state of our world, I’m even more convinced that compassion will be the guiding force that helps heal the suffering.

I have never been so aware of the suffering of our Black sisters and brothers than I am now. It has become increasingly clear just how much systemic racism impacts the daily lives of so many from access to healthcare and housing, to police brutality, mass incarceration and the continual threat of white supremacy. I have felt helpless and overwhelmed at times and wondered, “What can I do?” Compassion reminds us to start with ourselves, changing our heart and lifestyle to help lessen the suffering of others.

As I continue to examine my own heart I know these are steps I can take:

  1. Educate– There are SO MANY resources available. I can read books and articles and listen to interviews and podcasts (by people of color).
  2. Advocacy– I can advocate for better practices from local, state and national government by contacting legislators. I can use my voting power to support candidates who are vocal about the necessity to end systemic racism.
  3. Build Community– I can make an effort to get to know my neighbors and seek out opportunities to interact with people who are different than me.
  4. $$$ Power– I think it’s important to acknowledge that money is a powerful tool. Our money has the power to support local businesses, minority-owned businesses, political figures, organizations working for social justice, programs for people impacted by systemic racism.

It’s easy to be discouraged and overwhelmed. Instead, let’s choose hope. Let’s choose to be a compassionate presence each day, whether we are writing/calling our legislators, sewing masks, preparing meals for frontline workers, grocery shopping for a neighbor, joining protests or just trying to become more informed on issues of injustice.

WAITING IN DARKNESS

Some of life’s most powerful changes take place in the darkness. This particular season of life has offered many opportunities to observe nature. The correlations between the natural world and our current life experiences are quite remarkable.
garden-carrots-purple-and-orange-w
Yesterday I harvested several pounds of carrots from our garden. I planted those tiny seeds in December and January. For months, just beneath the surface, in the dark, depths of fertile soil, nature was at work. I simply watered, pulled a few weeds now and then and waited. Although I had glimpses of their growth (green, leafy tops), I had no idea what was happening down below or what the final product might be. Let’s just say, I’ll be trying lots of new carrot recipes in the coming months!
We are fortunate to live on a canyon. There are many native trees, succulents and flowering bushes. I can’t help but think how much nature is enjoying the stillness and quiet that Covid-19 has caused. The birds and butterflies are especially active. I’ve seen species I’ve never noticed in the 10 years we’ve lived here. It’s incredible. I remember as a young girl being fascinated with butterflies. How could a caterpillar (a creepy, crawly insect) become a butterfly (a flying beauty)? What a mystery!

 

Science tells us that caterpillars spend most of their time eating. Eventually hormonal changes occur and they lose interest in feeding. They seek out a sheltered, safe spot and begin spinning a little silk pad which becomes it’s chrysalis. The change inside the chrysalis is slow and gradual. The metamorphosis is incredible as the insect is changed completely from the inside out. Complete transformation takes about 2 weeks. But some species survive the winter in their chrysalis for several months.

It feels like we are living in one of those in-between times of life. The reality of painful loss(es) clings tightly to the possibility of moving on. I find myself waiting for something to happen and hoping things will change for the better. I want so badly to believe that this quiet obscurity will transform me, transform us, transform the world. What if we viewed this time as our chrysalis? What if waiting in the darkness is the transformative stage that is a necessary predecessor to the unfolding of a hope-filled future? How willing are you to wait in the darkness? What sort of transformation have you been experiencing over these last few months? How can you tend to your body, mind, heart and soul during these difficult times?

Our day of emergence will come. But how will we emerge? Will we be unchanged, simply falling back into life as we knew it? Or will our emergence come with a revival of joy and compassion for the Earth and all its inhabitants? May we emerge with a newfound respect, love and appreciation for the divinity of all creation.