Right now, here on planet earth, we are moving through the twice-yearly threshold of the Equinox — the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere and the Autumn Equinox in the southern half of the planet. Equinox means “equal night”, when the length of daylight and the darkness of the night are equal.
All over the world, ancient peoples erected monuments and structures to align with the rising sun on the Spring Equinox. Here in Ireland, Loughcrew in Meath is one such place, where the Spring Equinox is thought to have been celebrated by both our pre-Celtic and Celtic ancestors. At sunrise on the Spring Equinox, the sun enters cairn T and gloriously illuminates the back wall of the chamber.
These days there is immense power in reflecting on ancient thresholds that mark cycles of the Sun, as our ancestors did. Each threshold holds wisdom that can nourish and guide us in these exhausting, overly linear and uncertain times.
The Equinox brings us the wisdom of polarity and opposites. In the Celtic wheel of the year, the Spring Equinox heralds the end of the feminine half of the year. We leave behind darkness, hibernation, inward movement, receptivity, reflection, and surrender. As the sun strengthens in the sky over the Spring and Summer the masculine mode of outward action, clarity, focus, discernment, and directionality will be dominant. From today we will see these energies strengthening in the bursting lifeforce of growth in Spring and Summer.
The reverse is occuring with the Autumn Equinox in the Southern hemisphere.
Like many wisdom traditions, the Celts understood that we live in a world of duality. Everything has its opposite — light and dark, up and down, feminine and masculine, day and night, perfect and flawed, birth and death, sadness and joy and on and on.
The trouble is, in our contemporary culture we humans tend to value one polarity over the other. We spend our days striving to attain or remain in one side and running from, or repressing it’s opposite. This causes us so much suffering because life is movement, and therefore, it is impossible to reside exclusively in one polarity. It goes against life.
And yet, look around at the world we have created: a world that values always on, always up, fast, achievement, perfection and production. There isn’t really place for the opposite- a slow pace, vulnerability, sadness, failing or pausing. We have taken up residence in the over-masculine mode, one side of the polarity.
Is it any surprise that people are burning out and anxiety is so pervasive in our society?
We need a reset. We need to honour both sides.
I believe if we learn to dance with the opposites within ourselves and honour the full spectrum of our humanity our world will start to rebalance. This is only possible however if we learn to orient and navigate more from our hearts. Again the universal wisdom of so many ancient traditions teaches us that it is the heart that can hold the tension of opposites. The heart can hold it all. Take sadness and joy. The heart has the capacity to hold both sadness and joy where as the mind can only hold either /or.
In my own life I was forced to enter the dance when my life was upended. I had lived for a very long time on the optimist side of the street. It was fantastic. I was always up. I identified strongly as an optimist. I considered it a great strength.
But a strength carried too far becomes a weakness.
In my mid thirties I found myself tired and wired, in an unhealthy marriage with unexplained infertility. Despite all that, I kept my sunny side up always hopeful. By my late thirties I was burned out, with my dreams and hopes in smithereens at my feet.
On my road to recovery, I saw how my sunny side had repressed my deep pain. I had to meet parts of me that had gone into my shadow, the parts I was denying; my sadness, my fears, my hopelessness, my loneliness. On that road, I also discovered that I could not truly experience joy when I was denying my despair and anxiety. I could not experience passion unless I was willing to feel my anger.
I now see that optimism is a beautiful part of me but in owning it’s opposite I became a whole person and I got real. This, being real, I now call the tantra of everyday living. It asks me to be present to the devastating moments of loss we are sure to face as a human being, as well as the pure ecstasy of being alive. Life is both / and.
Here’s a great exercise that I learned from my teacher Diane Musho Hamilton. It helps me enter the dance and welcome all of me.
Draw a table with 2 headings and 4 quadrants (see image below)
Heading 1: take a quality/ trait/ behaviour that you would identify with strongly (for example optimism, in my case) and write it as the top left-hand heading
Heading 2: now write its opposite quality as the top right-hand heading. This will usually be a quality/trait/ behaviour you don’t want to be identified with. (I SO did nit ever want to be seen as hopelessness or down in myself)
In the top boxes, left and right under each polarity, list the upside of both qualities
In the bottom boxes, left and right under each polarity, list the downside of both qualities
Can you see how owning both qualities is more skillful than trying to always be one side and denying/ repressing the other?
Here is how I used the polarity map to work with my optimism.
When we dance with opposites life becomes rich, juicy and more sustainable. We are slower to judge and demonise parts of ourselves. As we learn to honour differences within ourselves, we naturally begin to embrace diversity in those we meet and share our lives with. Critically we start to take responsibility for how we’re showing up.
In all those ways we become more human. And our world needs more human humans!
I invite you, at this Equinox threshold, to enter the dance. Join me in looking at where you might be out of balance in your life. Then get to know how to pick up and honour each opposite when its needed.
Yes, it may feel awkward and clunky at first but, with practice the dance becomes an elegant infinite walz with life.
If you would like to explore the wisdom of the Celtic Wheel check out my next retreat here.