Today is the Autumn Equinox in the northern hemisphere. New Zealanders always found it funny that I, as an American, call this season Fall and not Autumn. The few New Zealanders I know who have since come to the United States and experienced Fall finally understand. They, of course, have ventured to the Midwest and East. But alas, that is not the point of this post.
Fall stands for something else for me as well. It is the season when we shed that which no longer serves us, the parts of ourselves that need to die so we can reawaken in the spring. It is no secret that I love trees, and there is little in life I enjoy more than seeing leaves changing color. Until this week, however, I never fully understood why (other than the aesthetic beauty, of course).
I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, and there is a part of campus called the Diag. It is the center of campus, and it is surrounded by a few trees. Growing up in California, I saw trees change color, but it was nothing compared to what happens in Michigan. My freshman year at Michigan, I remember walking across the Diag and stopping in my tracks. The tree on the other side had turned colors overnight. It literally took my breath away.
Such beauty right before the leaves fall off. It is a reminder that it is time to turn inward. It is a reminder that it is time to fall inside and examine our lives. It is no mistake that it falls at the same time that Jews are focusing on forgiveness. I just learned that this week there is a festival in India to celebrate Ganesh, the destroyer (also known as the one who places obstacles in our path to keep us on our toes). The celebration is to let go of that which no longer serves us and to turn inside to see how we want to emerge again in the spring.
Turning inward can be difficult. But it is a beautiful and natural part of this time of year. It is the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves what we need. As I mentioned in the last post, this time of year I am thinking a lot about forgiveness. But what is forgiveness? The internet is full of a variety of definitions, including “excuse for a fault” or “To renounce anger or resentment against.” There is an entire Wikipedia article on what it is and what it has meant to a variety of religious groups over time.
But to me, and for purposes of this post on the equinox, forgiveness is an internal affair. Yes, we can forgive others, and in that sense it is external, but it is something we do by ourselves for ourselves. As the Buddha reminds us, “Holding onto anger is like holding onto a lump of coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You are the one who gets burned.” Without forgiveness, we burn ourselves over and over again. Forgiveness is the way in which we stop burning ourselves and move forward.
Forgiveness does not mean we do not experience the anger, the resentment, the hurt, etc. It does not mean we put ourselves into situations again and again where we are likely to experience those pains. Instead, it is the internal process of letting those experiences no longer burn us. They need not control us forever, and too often they get held in the body and cause us pain and other dis-ease.
Forgiveness, therefore, allows those pains to come and then leave, in the natural course of how life moves. It is the way in which we fall inside ourselves. It is the beautiful fall colors before we shed our leaves for winter. Forgiveness is what allows us to sit with ourselves in peace throughout the winter. When we have sufficiently forgiven, we can use this hibernation time to prepare for the coming spring and to rebuild and replenish ourselves.
It is difficult in the modern world to take this time over the fall and winter to turn inward. We live in an extrovert-rewarded culture. We are expected to be “on” all the time. But if we learn anything from the world around us and from our yoga practice, it is through going inside ourselves and letting go of whatever is holding us back, that we create the space to be at our best.
So, on this equinox, help yourself come back into balance by falling inside yourself. Enter a place of forgiveness, and create the foundation for letting go and freeing yourself for all the wonders to come.
© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.