Autumn Equinox: Understanding The Dark, The Light and Everything In Between

autumn equinox paintingLate September brings us the Autumn Equinox; the day in which hours of light and darkness are almost equal (it’s nature; they’re never going to be exactly equal no matter how much we want to squeeze natural phenomenons into neat little descriptions….). The earth’s Southern hemisphere approaches Spring and Summer, while the Northern hemisphere is plunged into Wintery darkness until March.

There are lots of differing opinions regarding this time of year; some can’t bear the cold weather, dark mornings and the fact that Christmas now starts the second Halloween is over with…. while others embrace everything about the last few months of the year. (I’m in the second category FYI).

avidya4While these two opinions differ, they each originate from the same sources; Raga (desire or attachment) and Dvesa. These are two branches of Avidya, which is often known as ‘the veil of ignorance’ and is the opposite of Vidya, meaning ‘correct knowledge’, ‘clarity’, or ‘to see’. It’s basically that which keeps us rooted in old habits, is the ‘root’ of our suffering, and prevents us from finding a sense of peace and contentment in life.

Raga and Dvesa are two aspects of Avidya – that which causes ignorance or an inability to ‘see’ and experience life with clarity or truth. These are also known as the kleshas, literally translating as ‘poison’; things that cause dukha or ‘suffering’, thus poisoning the mind. You may also know this as Maya – literally meaning ‘illusion’ or ‘magic’ – suggesting that we often see life as an illusion and not as it really is.

Attachment and rejection are things we deal with on a daily basis on a number of levels; from the attachment we have to using a favourite mug for morning coffee, to the attachment we have within relationships. From aversion or rejection of that ‘Monday morning feeling’ or annoying co-worker, to a refusal in dealing with our deep-seated personal issues….

Just as some of us may be attached to the light, bright and warm summers, and reject the dark and cold Autumn and Winter seasons (or vice versa), we also tend to have that sense of attachment and rejection of the light and the darkness which resides within ourselves.

thanksgiving-harvest-1The words ‘Autumn’ and ‘Authentic’ share the Latin root aut, meaning ‘to grow or increase’. Autumn’s sense of darkness, decay and death is not ‘the end’, it’s really a making way for new life, and at harvest time our abundance of nourishing food we’ve grown throughout the year is increased…. In the very same way, the ‘darkness’ we each hold within us is not ‘bad’ and is not to be ignored or rejected, because it makes up who we are authentically. It makes us whole, truthful and real, and each time we embrace it we grow tremendously.

To be authentic is to be 100% truthful in every situation; in thought, word and deed. Think of the Yama ‘Satya’. The moment we hold back or ignore a part of ourselves, pretend to be something we’re not, try to escape a not-so-perfect situation or actively put up emotional barriers, we’re being inauthentic. This not only means we’re not being truthful with ourselves and others, it means we miss out on a whole other part of life – a part that is very valuable, and the part that makes us whole.

Autumn equinox yin yangA lot of people do not begin a Yoga practice because they’re already so relaxed, peaceful and healthy…. There’s often a reason behind beginning a practice that isn’t so light and fluffy – it could be anything from physical aches and pains, to emotional trauma. There is no denying though – that these ‘darker’ aspects of ourselves are often the ones which lead us towards the light. Everything we’ve ever experienced, whether we label it ‘bad’ or ‘good’ has brought us to this very moment right now.

Our own individual dharma or ‘life purpose’ is only realised once we bring everything we have to the table, lay it out and say ‘here I am’. All of it: the bits we like about ourselves, the bits we don’t like, parts we freely express and those we hope no one finds out about.

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago in THIS post; authenticity requires us to let go of emotional armour, and to express our vulnerability freely. But as I also mentioned just last week in THIS piece, the ability to ‘let go’ – even just a little bit – leads to freedom…. If we only express half of ourselves, we only live half a life.

The Tantric tradition of Yoga is very much based on embracing the darkness and light in life. Nothing is separated into ‘bad’ or ‘good’, and it even follows the strong held belief that nothing is separate from ‘the divine’ either; everything is made of what some people might call God. The chair you’re sitting on, the eyes you’re reading this with, the sky, the ground, and yes that annoying co-worker you have a slight aversion to….

ganachakra imageTantric practitioners would deliberately put themselves into ‘dark’ situations in order to realise and experience life fully. This would range from chanting mantras for hours, to dances, feasts of meat and alcohol and things generally considered taboo in India (known as ganachakra or ‘gathering circle’), and even as far as consummating on cremation grounds and digging up skeletons to stare death in the face – therefore facing the biggest attachment we have; the one to life itself (also known as abhinvesa).

We will use one of my most favourite examples to make sense of this all, which brings us to the subject of enlightenment, or Samadhi.

To embrace the so-called dark and light aspects of ourselves requires us to see fully, with no judgement, attachment or rejection of what we find. It requires us to remove the veil of avidya or ‘ignorance’ and see reality equally in moments of darkness and light for what it is. Although it may not seem like it, this is enlightenment.

The word Samadhi is comprised of two parts; sama meaning ‘same’, ‘equal’ or ‘symmetrical’. Dhi translates as ‘understanding’, ‘thought’, ‘intellect’, ‘intelligence’, ‘opinion’, or ‘reflection’.

samadhisittingTherefore Samadhi – the word used for realisation and enlightenment – does not mean ‘to float away on a cloud and sitting in lotus position for the rest of eternity in total ecstacy’…. It means ‘to understand things equally’. The text Sure Ways To Self Realisation by Swami Satyananda Saraswati offers one way of describing Samadhi;

Once samadhi has been attained you can still live a practical life, things remain the same but the background changes, your vision is completely purified”.

In other words, enlightenment is about allowing our mind to reflect and understand reality for what it is – to paraphrase a piece of writing by Charles Bukowski shown to me by someone recently –

“I now finally understand
the dark and the
light and everything
in between.
peace of mind and heart
arrives
when we accept what
is”.

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