5 Rituals for Autumn Equinox

Fall is my favorite season.  That might be because it’s my birthday season (November 30th, in case you want to put it on your calendar, and shout out to all the other Sagitariuses), but I think there’s also a quality to this time of year that is sweet and melancholic and feels like coming home.  Of course there are the known rhythms of the school year picking up again, and some semblance of routine re-establishing after the summer’s flurry.  It is easy to forget, though, that we are part of Mother Nature, and something speaks deep into the cells of the body at this time of year that (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least) says: settle down.  Feel the Earth.  Come home.  Center.  

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the weeks leading up to the Equinox are considered the “Fifth Season”, a transitionary season that marks the pivot point from the upsurge of summer’s fire of productivity and growth, towards the swoop downward and inward of autumn and winter.  If we aren’t attentive, the revving wheels of summer can keep spinning and lead to fatigue of the body and an over-active mind.  One remedy for this is slowing down, gathering in resources (materially and energetically) and resting in the abundance already present in the season.  Mother Nature naturally directs us towards this, as harvests are peaking and being gathered in.  Nothing says abundance to me like a patch of tomatoes, that, having been tended carefully for the last many months, now spill forth their ripe riches.  

I practice and teach from the understanding that I am part of a planetary ecosystem, and because of that, I know that at a cellular level I am sensitive to the shifts of the season.  As I have learned to get quiet over the years and pay attention to the cues from Mother Earth and the way her rhythms are mirrored in my body, I notice how I function when I’m in sync with those rhythms—and I notice the disfunction when I’m not!  For example, I’ve noticed just this week (as I write this at the very beginning of September) that a couple of nights in a row I stayed up just a little too late watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (#confession #cantgetenough #dontjudge).  It truly was only about 20 minutes later than I would normally shut down electronics, but it was enough that what would have been my wind down time was left me completely wound up.  Those nights I laid in bed for 45 minutes, staring at my eyelids and mentally running the steeplechase and definitely not going to sleep.  I finally gave into it, got up, got a snack, and had several hours of creative time.  

This is hardly an ideal way to function, if done with frequency, and my Ayurvedic teachers I know are tsking me for being awake during those most crucial hours of interior digestion (the hours of 10pm to 2am are the pm pitta hours where fire element rules to do the deep physical and subconscious metabolizing, so if you’re going to sleep at all, those are the crucial hours).   But I’ve experimented with my own sleep patterns over the years, and found that it’s kinder to myself not to fight the Night Wakefulness (ie insomnia) when it comes, and embrace the creative flow that is usually signifies.  This also is a symptom of the season: what has been brewing and being cultivated for months now comes to bear fruit, and we get to joyfully pluck it from the vine in creative fruition.

I now also know that at other times of the year, this change in my evening routine wouldn’t have affected me quite so much, but it was a sharp reminder to me of the care needed during the season’s transition times when sensitivities are just a little more heightened.  It also reminded me to set aside clear and contained creative channels during the day, so I’m not spinning my mental wheels at night.  This time of year is almost like its own beginning of the next year—think of laying down compost and planting the fall bulbs and over-wintering starts.  It’s a time of reveling in the fullness of what is present, and also of the slow, deep churning of the soil to prepare what is to come.  

So how can you make the most of this season?  How can you sync up to Mother Nature to transition with ease into the cooler quieter months?  How can you orient to arrive to the Equinox (this year on Sept. 22nd) balanced, abundant, and centered?  Recognizing and making holy a day in this season can help alert your senses, your physical body, and your spirit that things are shifting, and so can soften the edge of sensitivity and streamline you to the flow of the energetic changes occurring.  

Some of these you will recognize from the list for Spring Equinox, but that’s because they are sister seasons and some of the same practices apply.  

1.  Create an Alter of Abundance.  What is present, ripe, and ready to harvest?  Turn any surface in your home or workplace (or car!) into a simple Equinox Alter by collecting any of the following things:

  • Any colorful fruit or vegetables, especially sweet if you grew or harvested them yourself, or obtained them from a farmer you know (like my friend Holly, here in Puyallup).  

  • Fallen leaves, seed pods, late-blooming flowers (picked with Mother Earth’s permission!)

  • A dish of soil, dish of water, and a candle, for blessings of the Elements

2.  Give thanks.  You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to have a harvest celebration (and you might consider forgoing that holiday altogether in solidarity with our nation’s indigenous folks.  For more reading on the real, deeply troubling, history of Thanksgiving, stay tuned for November's blog or google it).  But gratitude, sure, I can get behind that—though, to be honest, I have had a slight distaste for “gratitude practice” for a long time.   I’ve often felt like it was inauthentic, saccharine, and an easy way to be in denial about what’s actually going on.  So don’t do gratitude as a replacement for the messier inner housekeeping and deep self-examination of what’s not working.  Even still, I have come to appreciate giving thanks for everything I have as a powerfully grounding practice and a way of “harvesting” my outer and inner resources.  Just this summer I found myself in a really intense period of transition in which I felt terribly ungrounded and challenged to make even the simplest choices.  I finally got out a big pieces of paper and just started drawing and writing and what emerged was an image of a giant tree.  At the roots I wrote long lists of everything I already have: all my teachers and guides, supporting members of my community and family, my gifts and developed skills, all my experiences from which I’ve learned and grown (even the ones I was resenting and feeling hurt by at that moment), and also my material abundance, such as a warm home and running water.  At the trunk of the tree, I wrote words about myself, and taped notes of affirming feedback I’ve received from others.  What chose to come out at the branches of the tree was not “Next steps” or “Pros/Cons of this/that choice” like I had expected.  Rather it was: Who I am Becoming.  After this exercise, I didn’t necessarily have the “answers” i needed, but my energy had completely shifted and settled.  

3.  Do a Commitments Fast.  This is a hard one.  It’s really a practice in slowing down, making space for appreciating what’s already present, and metabolizing the shift of the season.  I started this practice a couple of years ago when I adopted the practice of seasonal cleansing (an Ayurvedic practice for spring and fall).  The cleanse isn’t intended to just be physical.  It’s about slowing and decluttering your space and time too.  I’ll say again, I know this is a hard one, even for me, and I don't even have kids, so what do I know.  Any time of year and any season of life--it’s hard.  But for me, it’s a super important reset to my nervous system and psyche that I’ve come to rely on and even look forward to, especially at this time of year when I am a little more sensitive.  I pick any amount of time, from 3 days to a week and just don’t schedule anything outside of what is absolutely necessary.  Go to work of course, do what you do for your kiddos, pay your bills, etc, but otherwise, pretend you just won’t be in town those days.  No extra appointments, social engagements, non-essential work items.  You can even put an Away message on your e-mail.  Be in empty time.  This is allows you to sink into that liminal, or “threshold”, space at the season’s crossover (read more about that from the Spring Equinox post).

4.  On Equinox, practice balance, abundance, and good stewardship. Pay attention to the balance of light and darkness.  Notice when the sun rises and sets (in Tacoma, where I live, it’ll rise at 6:57 and set at 7:06).  Practice balancing breath and movements, like alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodana), and poses that are grounding and bring awareness to the left and right sides of the body.  Standing balance poses like tree pose, and centering poses like bound cobblers pose are really good for the Equinox.  Now I know I also just said do a commitments fast, but this is also an important time to asses how you are stewarding the resources that have been entrusted to you and to as as a human family.  One outcome of your commitments fast might be some real clarity on the actions that you do want to take and feel in alignment with who you are and what you value.  In this case, consider some kind of civic action, community service, or justice work to restore balance in your neighborhood or community, in an expression of commitment to and right stewardship of Earth as our home and all her beings as our family.  Right now in Washington State, we are working to collect signatures to get I-940 on the ballot, which is an initiative backed by persons of color who have been affected by police violence.  The measure would require police officers to have training in de-escalation, first aid, and mental health, among other things (find out more and see how you can support here.)  This has been one way I have been working to restore balance in my own community.

5.  Observe and collect relics from the natural world for use in rituals later on.  This is a repeat from Spring also, but it’s still good!  Anything collected on this day will hold the energy of equinox: light and darkness balanced, and the poised energy of fall that is full and ripe, gathering in and nourishing deep.  Observing and gathering objects from nature (again, with their permission of course) creates small concentrated forms of that energy that can be used like spiritual vitamins at other times of the year.  This fall I’m planning to collect items to create outdoor mandalas with relics from nature to beautify the landscape of my dear friend’s outdoor school.  I’ll post photos of our finished nature art!

It's not too late to get in on my next earth-wisdom offers!  Friday (Equinox!) is the last day to register for The Moon Circle Immersion (a 9-week anchoring touchstone of ritual, sisterhood connection, intuitive listening, feminine divine wisdom, spiritual reflection, and mutual support starting October 5th).  Registration is also open for the winter solstice Earth's Holy Days retreat: Nourish, Dec. 15-17th at Wellspring Spa.  

By the bounty of our blessed Earth, may this Equinox season ground you, nourish you, center you, sustain you, balance you, and bring you deep and lasting peace.