Equinox. Equal day and night. In astronomy, it’s when the tilt of the earth’s wobbling axis leans neither toward the sun nor away from it, thus creating days and nights of equal length. Balanced light and dark. This moment of balance is a great time to consider our own balance between the internal and the external—what goes on inside of us and how we participate in the world around us.
Sunrise on vernal equinox, March 20/21, begins the season of the “Light of the Earth” of the Druids. The sun has been marching northward since its weakest appearance at winter solstice in December.* On March Equinox, the sun rises in true east and has reached the halfway point in its journey. It will continue to progress northward until the sun is strongest on summer solstice in June, when we celebrate the longest day.
Ancient Celts honored these seasonal transitions with partnered structures. The passage mound at Knowth in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland, has two passages—one facing east and one facing west. The passages were long thought to match sunrise and sunset on the equinoxes. The entrance to the nearby and better-known Newgrange passage mound is oriented to winter solstice (see my blog article, nancyschluntz.com/winter-solstice). These passage mounds illustrate the honoring of seasonal transitions by people closely connected to the earth and its cycles.
We in the West have moved away from this close observance of the seasons, from a planting and harvesting culture, to one that acknowledges these transitions largely by their impact on heating bills, transportation disruptions, and whether or not we need a jacket and boots outdoors. Our attention is focused outward—school, work, interactions with family and others, making a living, getting somewhere.
What about the inner part? How much attention and nurturance do we pay to the inner workings of our selves? How much easier is it to show compassion for another, than to show compassion for one’s self? To tend to the needs of another before one’s own needs? These are common issues for anyone in a helping capacity, whether as a professional caregiver, friend, or parent, or anyone simply trying to live a balanced life.
Many of us have been taught that it is not okay to give priority to our own needs, that thinking of ourselves first is selfish. Yet some degree of “selfishness” is a marker of the return from mental illness to mental health. Spending time for renewal of your self is an investment in emotional well-being.
A teacher once held my hand, looked into my eyes, and urged me to “be gentle with yourself.” I was so unprepared for that counsel that I burst into tears, and then was appalled at my own reaction. Talking it through with another teacher, he told me a joke:
The Buddha said, “Be.”
Our culture says, “Do.”
Sinatra said, “Do be do be do.”
Therein lays the core of balance, the yin/yang of classical Taoism. To strive to Be while doing, Do while being. Balance the flow of energy within and without. Taking care of one’s self sustains us so that we may care for others. Airlines put it succinctly: adults need to put on their own oxygen masks before helping children with theirs. If you can’t breathe, or are shriveled up inside, you aren’t much help to anyone.
Tend to your own balance of care for yourself and others. I would like to hear how you observe this equinox season, and seek balance for your life.
*In the Southern Hemisphere, these seasons are reversed. Winter solstice is in June, and March equinox marks the beginning of the darker half of the year.