We find ourselves poised at the threshold of Autumn Equinox, a doorway of equal day and night, which leads us from Summer towards Winter. Beckoned and enticed from the outer to inner realms through the sensory delights of Autumns golds and reds, flavours of fruit perfectly ripened on the tree, and the smell of mellow early morning mists.
To welcome Equinox as a doorway is to recognise change and transformation as part of the circle of Life, and to know ourselves to part of that Great Turning. Eastern philosophy’s such as Yoga understand the very nature of life to be cyclical and for change to be inevitable. Known as the Gunas, three fundamental qualities create Life as their dance gives rise to, sustains and then dissolves again.
The Wise who know this not as an abstract or intellectual thought, but as truth experienced within one’s own body and life, transform its knowledge into wisdom and are guided by it towards harmonious balance.
To honor the transition through Autumn into Winter is to value the art of letting go, and the ‘root energy’ of rest and renewal. Acknowledging that unless we can give time to balance the natural cycle of growth and rest, expansion and return, we steadily deplete our resources until we find that the pace of modern life with its 24/7 mantra has left us in a state of dis-ease.
This state, which I describe as being held in perpetual ’high summer’ has at the global level created the social and environmental crisis that fill our daily news, but at an individual level, has led to a crisis of sleep deprivation, compromised immunity, physical and mental illness. The price can be high for our personal lives and the natural world.
So, what is our relationship to balance when we live in a culture that strives to be linear and override the natural worlds rhythm and cycles? Perhaps we can use Equinox to consider this ‘root’ question … is it possible or desirable to live too far outside of these natural laws, without consequence?
The practice of Yoga points us towards re-integration of that that which was never separate! Like the Taoist symbol of YinYang, each opposite half contains the seed of the other, and comes together as a balanced Whole.
I invite you to take small moments in the days and weeks ahead to feel these questions settle within you, just like an acorn settling in the soil through Autumn and Winter. Water regularly with some gentle attention and warm gratitude for the small and simple pleasures in your life.
Let’s each rise (and fall and rise again!) to the challenge of being the change we wish to see in the world. Perhaps a world where greater balance in our relationship to ourselves, each other and the planet brings greater peace and fulfilment to each and every one.
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Finding resilience in times of change
'Sitting silently. Doing nothing. Spring comes. And the grass grows all by itself' (Basho)
At the heart of enquiry and practice, the Eastern philosophical and spiritual traditions place great emphasis on the shift from Doing to Being .
As I return from my daily walk I am struck by the turn of events that has enforced a pause on human activity whilst the natural world escalates in the whirl of busyness that is Spring – life renewing. ‘My’ house-martins returned this week, possibly following a long flight from southern Spain, they wasted no time in setting about building their nests. And here I am at home, hour after a hour, the still-point of this turning wheel of the natural world. Oh how times have changed! What are the teachings and practices that can support me as I wrestle with this enforced ‘doing nothing’ (or enforced over-doing as is the case for front line workers).
For many of us, in normal times, almost every moment from waking to sleeping (and that’s if you are fortunate enough to sleep well!) is filled with one distraction after another. Netflix’s claim that it’s only competitor is sleep, for me encapsulates life in modern times. We are full to overflowing with distractions and yet for many of us there is an emptiness in our hearts as we quietly wonder why ‘life feels so much less than it could be’.
In my imagination I can see the Sages of the East smiling at this turn of events, this call to change ‘business as usual’. When we reflect on our relationship to Doing and Being we may hear our inner critic calling us lazy. ‘Being’ is not however the same as doing nothing. We might well ask ourselves ‘is our busyness skilful’?… the smiling Sage might ask ‘Is the tail wagging the Dog?’
It is helpful to consider a shift from Doing to Being less in terms of busyness or resting, and more in terms of a qualitative change in our attention. As Lao Tzu poetically describes;
‘Shape clay into a vessel,
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes that make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there’
Yoga philosophy describes how all the substance of the world is in constant change, from the subatomic particle to vast unending galaxies (including ourselves and our minds) all is in a state of flux; arising / unfolding / dissolving. And yet it is only through the presence of something unchanging that we can experience this. In the way that the silence between notes gifts us music, or the blank page that allows us to express in written word. It is experiencing the unchanging within ourselves that moves us into a state of Being.
‘Be curious about the unchanging, the silence and stillness that abides at the very heart of everything’.
Try lying on the ground and gazing up at the sky, let the clouds be your thoughts – constantly arising and dissolving, sometimes insubstantial in form, sometimes stormy. Let them pass by. Shift your awareness to the vast blue sky, the unchanging back drop over which clouds pass. Experience this as your Awareness, a different quality of mind coming to the fore. Know yourself as this unchanging vastness, stillness and silence. Notice how this feels inside your body/ heart/ mind.
When we touch upon the deep wellspring of Being we can emerge with a renewed sense of our own ground and centre. As we become more practised at this shift from Doing to Being, we connect with an inner wisdom which acts like an inner compass. Our Doing becomes guided by our Being.
As we emerge from the current pandemic we will each be called to choose, through our action (or inaction), how to shape the world as it is re-built. It is my deepest hope that our Yoga practice supports us to find a way of ‘Doing’ that is informed from our ‘Being’ and that is sustainable for people and planet.
‘Less and less is done until nothing is done.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone’
Listen!..what can you hear?!...
'Out of nothing comes everything'
empty shelves…empty diary…empty streets…
Dear Yoga Friends, amidst this pervasive story of lack, in a system that thrives on the scarcity model of competition over co-operation – how can Yoga help us transform this narrative of ‘not enough’ – in our body and our psyche?
In our yoga, the breath becomes the bridge between outer and inner experience, between body and mind. Throughout all yogic texts the breath, in both it’s functional relationship with our nervous system (think flight/fight, rest/digest) and it’s mysterious relationship between the known and unknown, becomes our key. The following practice finds in roots in the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (V26-27)
Find yourself a quiet place to sit or lie, undisturbed for about 10-15 minutes.
Allow your breathing to become slow and easy.
If the breath becomes self-conscious , be patient.
You may choose to stay with the experience of breath moving
from nostrils to lungs or
Rest your awareness in the centre of your chest – the heart centre
and visualise breath moving directly in and out from that place,
Like a flower gently opening and closing on the breath.
Let the mind subside.
Sliding down the wave of the exhalation
Riding the wave of the inbreath,
Notice the space at the end of the outbreath,
Relax and rest into this space, and then
Experience the smooth arising of the inbreath …
Let there be a quality of ‘receiving’ this inhale, rather than ‘taking’.
The space, the apparent emptiness at the end of the exhale is in fact the
Presence of everything, a womb space out of which all life arises.
Our inherent state of fullness and wholeness contained within a void.
There may be a spontaneous arising of gratitude in your heart for all you have.
A feeling of contentment.
Awaken into that.
When you are ready to close the practice, feel the ground beneath you, slowly begin to externalise your awareness.
Stretch and yawn. Notice how you feel.
It is my heart felt hope that this current time of crisis also becomes an opportunity for change….that we may be reminded of what is of true value and that, when the time comes, we will choose to re-build our lives in a way that is sustainable for both people and planet.
‘Everything we experience arises out of spaciousness and dissolves back into it’