Equanamity, Balance and the Equinox

As I write this, the Earth coasts in its slightly angled orbit towards the Ecliptic, the plane of rotation of the Sun. When we cross it, the days and nights will be of equal lengths (at the equator). It is the Vernal Equinox, the moment when the days begin to stretch longer than the nights in the Northern hemisphere.

There are many themes associated with this holiday for Pagans, as we frame our Wheels of the Year based on our local climate and ecologies and, in some cases, on the agricultural cycle and/or the life cycle of a person. But one we don’t talk about quite so often is this idea of balance suggested by the equally lengthy day and night.

The concept of balance is a funny thing in our world: in most of the world, the ideology of growth has supplanted it, but there are still places where equanamity, moderation and the paradox of opposites are still embraced. It is this I address today.

Paganism is not, generally speaking, a contemplative family of religious paths. Unlike, say, Buddhism, we do not place the highest value on calm and acceptance of the vagaries of life, but rather pursue the heights of ecstasy in our rites, dancing about leaping fires, singing joyously, pursuing the transformative experience through engagement with the world rather than withdrawing from it. We celebrate pleasure; so much so that in order to be responsible, we must have ethical principles ensuring we do not go overboard in its pursuit.

But there is something to be said for the reflective, dispassionate eye that contemplative traditions offer us. Mindfulness and self-examination are essential for us to do the work of growing to be healthier, more whole, and kinder human beings. They can ensure that healthy self-esteem does not cross into egoism, that we remain cognizant of our impacts on others, and that we continue to reflect so as to uncover assumptions, blind spots in our perceptions and behavior patterns we may want to change. They can help to calm anxiety and lead to self-discovery that helps us to heal and improve.

This time of year is a natural one for reflection on contradictions and paradoxes, as the light and dark of day and night come into balance.

What contradictory impulses or forces are you balancing?

Doing the Work

As Atheopagans, we’re about being healthier, wiser, happier humans, and through action to contribute to a better world.

Some of that is about values. Ours are articulated in the 4 Sacred Pillars and the 13 Atheopagan Principles, and in this area particularly Principle 4: humility; Principle 5: perspective and humor; Principle 8: legacy; Principle 9: social responsibility, and especially Principle 13: kindness and compassion.

Some of it is about healing: healing our wounds and shame, our self-esteem. Our fear.

And some of it is about moving through and beyond our bullshit.

Which, let us be clear, we all have.

Personal work is core and essential in Atheopaganism. Willingness to confront our biases, our truisms, our histories of injury–and, yes, our egoism, mistaken understandings, and blind spots–and to transform these into wisdom and compassion is a part of what this path requires of us. For they are what makes a wise and kind person.

Will any of us accomplish this perfectly? No, we will not.

That’s why it’s called a path instead of a destination.

Mind you, the self alone is not the focus of Atheopaganism. The personal community, human society, and the ecological systems of the Earth are priorities as well for our service and attention. But just as it is erroneous to focus on nothing but the self to the exclusion of the communal and ecological, it is a mistake to ignore personal growth as an aspect of the Atheopagan way of being.

We have all been wounded. We have all absorbed destructive culture and learned inappropriate behavior. We have suffered. We grieve, we rage. It is the human experience.

Knowing yourself and working to grow is a lifelong journey. Sometimes growth happens in leaps; sometimes it is so incremental that you can hardly tell it is happening until you turn around one day and realize: Hmm. I’ve changed.

It is immensely rewarding, and tremendously humbling. It helps us to see how each of us struggles with mental demons and damage.

And it gives us the foundation of humanity, warmth and compassion from which can spring activism to better our world for all of us…with “us” meaning not only humans, but the fabric of life itself.

So if you don’t have a personal practice that can help you to reflect and grow, I encourage you to start one. Meditate, or do contemplative rituals like those linked above. Journal your thoughts and feelings, and learn from them. Read the words of people who have specialized in becoming compassionate: from Thich Nhat Hanh to Pema Chodron to Nelson Mandela, they are out there. Likewise people who have accomplished social change.

Each of us has a life to live and a self and world to improve. This is the human project. Let us embrace it and do the work to make progress, day by day.