How to celebrate the Autumn Equinox
The last kiss of Summer is upon us, and the Autumn Equinox is here. The days are shorter, the nights becoming longer. We are shifting out of the summer yang energy (vibrant, sunshine, upward, male energy) and towards the yin energy (restful, water, receptive, female energy) that begins with Autumn. I’m taking my cues from Mother Nature that it is time to slow down a bit, and begin to turn some of my energy inward.
Equinoxes are unique events that happen twice a year; once in the spring, and once in the fall. The equinox occurs when the Northern and Southern hemispheres receive the sun’s rays about equally, and the daylight and nighttime hours are approximately the same. One really remarkable thing about equinoxes is that they are experienced by every person, everywhere in the world, at the same moment (although the actual “clock time” will depend on what time zone you live in).
The term equinox comes from the Latin word aequinoctium (aequi-, meaning “equal,” and nocti-, meaning “night.”). The equinox represents balance in nature: opposites like night and day, light and darkness, or yin and yang.
During the equinox we have the opportunity to find that balance within ourselves. This is one of those things that sounds simple, but requires a little effort. Balance is not a state we can stay in constantly. Most of us do best with mono-tasking, which means it is easy to get off- kilter because we have been spending our energy, time, or attention on one thing, and maybe neglecting other things. This is a time to evaluate where we are at and how we have been spending our energy, and re- calibrating. Human beings are complex. We are not all light, nor are we all darkness. We have both inside of us. Think of it this way: even when we stand in the light, we cast a shadow.
Don’t be afraid of the shadows
We shouldn’t be afraid of our shadow side- and yes, we all have one. What is a shadow side? It is the inner part of us that is the least known to our conscious minds. It could be the dark parts inside of us, or it could be vulnerability, fears, grief, and hidden hopes. Marie-Louise von Franz (a renowned Jungian psychologist and scholar) wrote:
“Whether the shadow becomes our friend or enemy depends largely upon ourselves… The shadow is not necessarily always an opponent. In fact, [it] is exactly like any human being with whom one has to get along, sometimes by giving in, sometimes by resisting, sometimes by giving love—whatever the situation requires. The shadow becomes hostile only when [it] is ignored or misunderstood.” (quote from “The Realization of the Shadow.”)
The fall equinox is meant for us to give attention to our shadow side, and to seek to understand what it needs. Remember that the fruits we are harvesting now had to be planted as seeds, in darkness in order to grow. Before we can experience “en-light-enment” we have to be willing to experience our own darkness. The key is to let gratitude accompany us along the whole process, so that all the lessons we learn in the darkness come with us to the harvest. Then, we let go of everything else (i.e pain, fear, grief).
Autumn Equinox traditions
Historically, the autumn equinox was a celebration of gratitude for a bountiful harvest, known as Mabon. My Celtic ancestors would have celebrated collecting a plentiful harvest, collecting seeds for the next growing season, expressing gratitude for the earth, sharing their abundance, and preparing their homes and themselves for the winter ahead.
Today, you may want to celebrate in ways that are similar and also reflect modern life. Ideas for personal/ inner observance of the transition to Fall include:
- Finishing projects you began earlier in the year
- Clean house and donate items
- Preserving food (canning fruit and veggies, making jam, salsa, and applesauce, drying fruits, collecting nuts and seeds, etc.)
- Reflecting on the fruits of your labors so far this year (What have you been cultivating?)
- Letting go of the things that no longer serve you
- Processing grief
- Create your own mental health toolkit
- Expressing gratitude to the earth and to the people that have supported you
- Meditating on the balance of yin and yang energies
- Start a gratitude list
- Go on a hike or walk in nature
- Arrange a cornucopia
- Donate to a local food pantry or shelter
There are also so many fun activities that you could do to celebrate the autumn equinox with friends and family:
- Making leaf crowns
- Visit an orchard and pick apples
- Drink spiced cider or wassail
- Doing crayon rubbings with different kinds of leaves
- Make an autumn tablescape with small pumpkins, gourds, leaves, and walnuts or acorns. Add a couple of candles.
- Bake bread
- Host a gathering with a caramel apple bar (provide apples on sticks, caramel sauce, and all the toppings for people to choose from).
- Have a bonfire
- Dip colored leaves in beeswax and make a garland for your home
- Go on a lantern walk
- Make flower/ leaf/ rock/ stick mandalas
Here is a script for a guided meditation you can practice around the autumn equinox, and an optional release ritual at the end.
Autumn Equinox Meditation and Release Ritual
Find a comfortable seated position. Begin to focus on your inhales and your exhales. Let your eyes gently close if you like. Just sit and breathe for a few minutes, mentally following the path the air takes as it enters and exits your lungs. As thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them, and then let them pass by without judgment or dwelling on them. Allow your body to relax.
Imagine all of the plants and abundance that the summer months have brought. Picture ripe fruits and vegetables being harvested from an abundant garden. See vibrant flowers, winding vines, and fragrant herbs ready to be cut and dried. Imagine the sun’s energy being absorbed into these powerful plants and transformed so that they can grow and offer us oxygen, nutrients, and beauty. Let your mind be fully present in the conditions of summer. How does it look? Feel? Smell? What thoughts come to mind?
Now imagine the lengthening of shadows, and the earlier onset of the sunset and night time. Notice the air becoming crisper and the leaves’ transition to brilliant reds, oranges, and golds. Mentally welcome autumn as if it was a “second spring, when every leaf is a flower”. See the leaves falling from the trees and other plant life changing. Know that this is a necessary and beautiful part of life and the cycles of the seasons. Smell the sweet and spicy aroma of fallen leaves decomposing into beautiful rich soil. Bid farewell to the summer light and surroundings. Inhale the new light of autumn. As you observe the leaves falling from the trees, bring to mind something that you have been grieving, or that you have been holding on to- but that no longer serves you or supports your highest intentions.
If you are ready to release that thing from your life, whether it is your inner negative self talk, a habit you’d like to be rid of, resentment, or unhealthy co-dependency, imagine that thing as a crumpled brown leaf, trembling in the wind, nearly ready to be separated from your tree. If it feels right, let yourself feel gratitude for the things you have learned and the ways you have grown because of that thing. See that brown leaf flutter to the ground, and then be lifted up in the breeze to join dozens of other swirling leaves that have been released from their trees. All of these leaves will break down over the next seasons and become rich, fertile compost for the new growth in the spring.
Return your focus to your breath. In and out, in and out. Now breathe in, to a slow count of four. One count for each season. Hold the breath in for another count of four. Let the breath out evenly to a count of four, and finally, hold the breath out for another count of four. Repeat this breath three more times. Stretch your arms and open your eyes, and mentally welcome Autumn.
***Optional release ritual:
Instead of imagining the thing you’d like to release as a leaf, you can collect a leaf of your choice ahead of time, and take a moment during the meditation to write a word or short phrase on the leaf with a pen or marker. Then, walk somewhere that you would like to release your leaf- either to the wind, into a stream or lake, off a footbridge, etc. Let your leaf go. Finish with the breath work.
This release ritual could alternatively be done by writing your word onto a stick and tossing it into an autumn bonfire.