created by Kristin Prevallet

equinoxYesterday, at precisely 2:29 UT (Universal Time) the Sun shone directly on the Earth’s equator and a moment later, it headed south. The autumn equinox marks the moment when the sun and the moon command the sky for an equal length of time, but because nothing is ever still, this balance only lasted for a second. With every moment that passes after the equinox, darkness gradually overtakes the day.

The transition from summer to fall is a seasonal shift that we’ve all revolved through many times as the cycles of darkness mark the end of a period of light; as the cycles of chill in the air signify that we are no longer able to go to the beach (well, for those of us living in the Northeast, that is…)

Taking the equinox to a symbolic level, it’s tempting to think that periods of darkness in our lives indicate that something is wrong. But darkness is a part of the cycles of the earth, moon, and sun; and although we might find other ways to occupy our attention (the commute; the buildings; the internet; the money) the fact is that we are occupied and directed by change, cycles, seasons. And right now, the impending movement of a cold, dark, unpredictable winter is an energetic pull.

To mark this equinox, we might begin by dropping right down into the center of our darkest selves; we might begin by acknowledging that although self-sabotage, anger, resentment, and anxiety are powerful forces they are fleeting and so are capable of being transformed in this moment by actively thinking different thoughts, and by intentionally breathing. And from that space of peripheral perspective, looking back at the problem and finding there a different path to deal with it; a different energy to confront it.

Or, we might mark this equinox by anchoring an internal state of mind called “refuge.” In Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom Joseph Goldstein writes “from this deep place of refuge, we have the power to see the self-rejection and anxiety not as things inherent in our makeup but rather as passing forces in our mind.” Goldstein calls this refuge “Buddha,”  but I think it’s just as useful to have a non-religious association with the term.

How? By anchoring your feet to the floor. By extending your neck to reach the clouds. By becoming aware that when you are rooted to the ground and yet expanding into space you are your own equinox. Finding balance right now, by imagining a channel of colored light that passes through your vertical meridian. The color of the light is a blend of earth and sky colors; a blend of darkness and light; a blend of who you are when you are feeling corrosive, and who you are when you are feeling restored. The two forces, in balance — they are an energy when combined.

The more you activate your inner equinox through out the day, the more it will become your refuge. It’s a good place to hang out, even in the darkest of days.

And if the idea of finding warmth and shelter in a poem makes sense to you, here is one of my favorites. It beckons winter by enacting it as a place of refuge in the mind:

The Snow Man by WALLACE STEVENS

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

the gameRecently, I was driving with my 11 year old daughter and out of the blue she said, “I lost the game.”

“What game?” I asked.

“It’s a game where basically if you think about the game, you’ve lost the game.”

“So the game is just the thought of the game?”

“Yep,” she said.

I started thinking about how to apply this game to obsessive or unproductive thoughts. So every time I had a thought that wasn’t the thought I wanted to be thinking in that particular moment, I’d catch myself and say, “Ha!I just lost the game.”

The practice of mindfullness is about observing thought – a key practice that helps to regulate overly-emotional responses to the mundane triggers of everyday life.

(David Nichtern’s technique of “Simply see what arises in our mind as it comes up. Just notice it” is one of my favorites.)

But sometimes, mindfulness practices seem so serious and contemplative.

The cool thing about this trick is that it’s hard not to laugh when suddenly, out of the blue, you think about a game you had forgotten you were even playing. And laughter is a great way to redirect obsessive thinking into a more resourceful state of mind.

So maybe the trick is actually to say, “I won the game” every time you catch yourself interrupting your thoughts by thinking about the game.

I ran this theory by my daughter and she said, “Well, if you win the game all the time you’ll probably loose interest in playing it.”

I told her that if that happens, she’ll need to invent a new game.

“I’ll think about it,” she said.

Kids these days…

At the end of the school year, 5th graders (10-11 years old) in NYC public schools got a puberty lesson and learned about their changing bodies from an emotional and biological perspective. My kid came home informing me that the gym teacher told everyone they had to start wearing deodorant.

I don’t remember learning about puberty until I was in 8th grade (late bloomer?) but the fact is that the age at which children begin puberty has been decreasing over the past 20 years. There are of course genetic and environmental causes for this, and its well know that growth-hormones are increasingly being added to milk, meat, and other food products.

I wanted to pass along this article written by Dr. Joan Hardin — an amazing clinical psychologist who treats gut and hormonal health as central to psychological health–because it seems  important that parents be mindful about the personal hygiene products we’re buying for kids.

If the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that parabens (the preservatives added to products that prevent microbial growth and increase the shelf life) have hormone-disrupting qualities that mimic estrogen and interfere with the body’s endocrine system, it’s probably a good idea to keep these products away from kids in their varying stages of development:

http://allergiesandyourgut.com/2014/06/22/carcinogens-cosmetics-personal-hygiene-products-estrogen-disrupters-disrupters/

Reprogramming the Self-Sabotage Code of Human Evolution

Here is another one of my poetic tangents into evolutionary biology, featured today on Reality Sandwich.

As Gregory Bateson said in a lecture called “Men Are Grass: Metaphor and the World of Mental Process,”  perhaps theories of mind and theories of evolution are very close to being the same thing….

mustard seed DNAIn a recent study, scientists found that memories may be passed down through generations in our DNA. The study suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.

That’s not such good news if phobias, anxiety, and PTSD are written into your genome, but it does provoke ideas about how other kinds of memories — such as those experienced during Past Life Regression and other trance narrative experiences — can be so meaningful to people’s lives. We know that our genes can and do turn “on” and “off” when triggered — by environmental influences, as well as internal thoughts. The idea that stories are written into our DNA means that DNA can be rewritten — positive stories can also be passed down.

Of course Shamanic healers have been performing radical revisions of biological narratives for centuries. The ancient belief that disease is the fault of evil spirits who need to be banished from the body of the sick person is a kind of ritual editing in which disease is removed and replaced with a new story — one where the person’s now-restored soul can begin the healing process.

Using very different methods and philosophies than shamanic healers, poets have been the keepers of memory throughout written history. And in the epigenetic spirit, 20th-century avant-garde traditions of poetry have been un-telling old stories and re-coding them into new experiences for the reader. William Carlos Williams connects this practice of linguistic magic back to healing in “The Yellow Flower.” (Click on the link to hear Williams read this amazing poem).

Given that poets and shamanic healers have known for centuries that the body houses memory, it seems to me that the importance of this study — and others like it — isn’t the proof that ancestral memories are encoded in our DNA. This isn’t proof about destiny, or fate, or any other pre-scripted ending.

Rather it’s a reminder that memories are biology; that narratives of memory are the congealing of cells, chemicals, hormones, and blood into the moment of the telling. The passing down of memories is central to how we communicate the deeper messages — what some might call The Information — in ways that have the power to both cure, and kill us. The body is written as the memories are retold, from blood to bone, to mustard flower. 

Believe that memories are  not set in stone and that revision is possible. Then pass it on.

...the tortured body of my flower
which is not a mustard flower at all
                        but some unrecognized
                                                and unearthly flower
for me to naturalize
                        and acclimate
                                                and choose it for my own.
-
From "The Yellow Flower" by William Carlos Williams

***

(NOTE: The photograph I’m using for this blog entry was found putting the keywords “Mustard Flower” and “DNA” into Google Images. Mustard Flower is “The Yellow Flower” evoked by William Carlos Williams. The photograph is linked to a study of wild mustard weed, and the ways that it may uncover how the environment and genetics interact during a crucial moment in the life of a plant: Genetic Flower Power. Somehow,  it’s all related.)

fire ritualCelebrating the winter solstice with a fire ritual (no matter if by candlelight or bonfire) is a good way to honor the cycles of seasons as symbols of your own cyclical life.

One way to ritualize the solstice is to acknowledge yourself within the cycles of space and time by locating yourself within the specifics of your location. What is to the North of you, and what is to the South? Where is the nearest body of water, or the nearest mountain? Whether you live in the desert or in the Northeast, winter is symbolic of the land preparing for its Spring re-emergence.Preparing, in other words, for the amazement that Spring brings. 

This metaphor of covering/uncovering, freezing/thawing, hidden/emerging has applications in our spiritual/emotional/physical lives as well. You can think about what in you has been buried that you might release into the symbolic and transformative field of fire. Fire that transforms wood into coals and smoke also transforms your physical/psychic/emotional field.

So participate in it by conjuring up something you’re ready to manifest, to realize, to feel, to express, to be done with, to move on from, to metamorphosize…perhaps not now when it is winter, but as you symbolically articulate your intentions now, when Spring comes, comes you’ll be ready to be amazed…

Write/draw a symbol of what in you is buried that you’re either ready to manifest in the world. This is private and does not need to be shared except with the fire as it carries your intentions via smoke, skyward…

Examples of buried energies: healing, creativity, love, hope, beauty, joy, belief in your capacities, belief in the possibility for change.
Practical effects: letting go of old resentments, letting go of control over other people, releasing tightness around money, re-opening of your physical/sexual body, new perspectives on work/family/relationships, creative outpourings.

Or, you can simply think of something that you’re ready to get rid of from 2013, so that 2014 begins with a fresh start.

Or, you can spend some time reading Bernadette Mayer’s poem Midwinter Day out-loud.  Afterwards, dance!

This morning my husband appeared at the breakfast table, agitated. He was anticipating a meeting at work, and had it all planned out in his head. In a nutshell, it went something like this: his co-workers were going to be so intent on stopping his project that he was going to have to yell at them.

I reminded him of the “This Means War!” scene in Duck Soup, one of his favorite Marx Brother’s films. Rufus Firefly works himself into such an indignant fit that by the time the Ambassador arrives to make peace, he slaps him.

Most things that cause us anxiety are, quite literally, a projected future that is all in our heads. This COULD happen, that COULD happen, he COULD say that, I COULD feel that…and the firestorm begins.

If you’re prone to this kind of thinking, here are three things you can do right now:

1) Take a deep breath and say “stop” out loud.

2) Close your eyes for a moment and focus on your feet on the floor.

3) Take inventory of what is ACTUALLY happening, now. Right now. What is true, and what isn’t?

4) Re-assess, and repeat as often as is necessary.

Most importantly, next time you work yourself into a fit remember this scene from Duck Soup and laugh. Richard did, and just sent me an email saying that his meeting went very well. It works!

 

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