h Phoenix Qi: Daoism on Spring Equinox

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Daoism on Spring Equinox

In honor of the Spring or Vernal Equinox, the quote below is “Spring” from 365 Tao: Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao, Harper San Francisco, 1992, ISBN: 0062502239.


Sun and moon divide the sky,

Fragrance blooms on pear wood bones;

Earth awakens with a sigh.

Wanderer revels on the path alone.

It is the time of equinox, when day and night are briefly equal. This day signals the beginning of spring, the increasing of light, and the return of life to the frozen earth.

Of course, this day only represents a moment in time. Spring has long been returning, and we know that summer will soon follow. The cycle of the seasons will continue in succession. There is no such thing as a true stopping in time, for all is a continuum. Nature makes its own concordances as a mere outgrowth to its movement, it is we who see structure and give names to pattern.

But who can begrudge temporary pleasures to a solitary traveler? Let us go out and enjoy the day, revel in the coming of spring, rejoice in the warming of the earth. For though the ground may be covered with frost, movement and growth are taking place all around us. Beauty bared fills our eyes and makes us drunk. As we wander the endless mountains and streams, filling our lungs with the breath of the forests, let us take comfort in being part of nature. For life has enough misery and misfortune. Philosophy reminds us enough of the transience of life. Give us the charm of the ephemeral, and let it silence all who would object.


I wonder if "Wanderer revels on the path alone" refers to a human wanderer or a heavenly one – the sun! Consider: 'Planet: late O.E., from O.Fr. planete (Fr. planËte), from L.L. planeta, from Gk. (asteres) planetai "wandering (stars)," from planasthai "to wander," of unknown origin. So called because they have apparent motion, unlike the "fixed" stars. Originally including also the moon and sun; modern scientific sense of "world that orbits a star" is from 1640. Source: Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/planet

March 20th is the Spring Equinox for the northern hemisphere, the time of year when the sun is at zero degrees longitude and latitude on the ecliptic, and the hours of daylight and dark-of-night are of equal length.

On the equinoxes, the sun and moon pass each other in the sky at the intersection of the ecliptic with the celestial equator as they rise and set. (The ecliptic is the path followed by the planets against the backdrop of the constellations. The celestial equator is the projection of the Earth's equator onto the sky, an invisible line enabling us to determine whether a heavenly body hovers over our northern hemisphere or our southern hemisphere. These two invisible lines intersect at the equinoxes.)

Eclipses often occur about the time of the equinoxes; solar eclipses right on the equinox day, and lunar eclipses about two weeks before or after the equinox day. Indeed, there will be a partial solar eclipse on the 19th of March this year that, providing my solar eclipse mapping program is correct, will be visible from Southern India going northward, across Eastern Asia, over the North Pole and down to Western Canada and Alaska. The time of the eclipse will extend from 0:38 to 04:24 UT with the greatest coverage of the sun by the moon occurring at 02:31 UT.

For the next six months, the sun will continue to rise and set north of the celestial equator while the Full moon appears rising in our southern sky. On the Summer Solstice, the sun will rise at its northernmost point on the horizon and the Full moon will rise at its southernmost point. From then on, the points on the horizon they each rise will move back toward the center until they meet again on the Autumnal Equinox.

It's almost like a Square Dance when the caller sings out for the shining couple to leave their corner, do-se-do in the middle, and go back to the opposite corner. The heavenly bodies do indeed dance around the sky! :-)

(Here is my attempt at graphing this dance, and I have to say, the taiji or yin/yang circle has to be one of the most useful diagrams on the planet; it is such a perfect symbol to show so many natural cycles! I'm sure you noticed that the curved lines form an infinity sign, a sideways 8! That's a topic for another post, though.)

In the taiji diagram above, the curving line separating the black and white sections tracks the rise and set positions on the horizon of the sun from one Spring Equinox to the next. Each day from the Spring Equinox, the sun rises at a more northerly position on the horizon until, on the Summer Solstice, it rises at its most northerly position. From that point until the Fall equinox, the sunrise on the horizon is in the northern half of the sky, but moves slowly back to the Celestial Equator.

After the Fall Equinox, the sun's rising place on the horizon moves in a more southerly direction until it reaches its most southerly point on the day of the Winter Solstice. Following the day of the Winter Solstice, the sunrise point on the horizon rises again and comes closer each day to the Celestial Equator as the calendar approaches the date of the Spring Equinox.

Imagine an opposite line, a mirror image line (I attempted in blue), tracking the rise and set positions on the horizon of the Full moon for the same annual period. You see that the movement of the moon is the opposite of, and reflects the movement of the sun.

But, to get back to the Spring Equinox…

We know the sun is symbolic of yang, and the moon is symbolic of yin. At the equinox, yang grows not only as warmer weather and longer hours of daylight, but also as the sun climbs in our northern half of the sky above the Celestial Equator. Yin, the moon, diminishes by virtue of its rising and setting away from us in the southern hemisphere of the sky below the central Celestial Equator.

To follow the Dao and the example of Nature at this time of year, we begin to increase our yang activities and decrease our yin activities.

Spending more time out side is something most of us do, enjoying the fresh air and warm weather, and soaking up the sunshine to replenish our Vitamin D supply which no doubt is quite diminished after the winter! Meditation can move from the quiet, seated contemplations to more active styles such as Standing Like a Tree, or labyrinth walking. Definitely more physical activities like hiking and swimming are called for, though I find it impossible to put away the books completely! There is a lot to be said for spending a lazy afternoon outside, reading a book under a tree.

Since spring is the season of growth represented by the energy phase of wood, do some gardening! Even if it's a small pot of herbs for making fresh herbal teas or for wonderful gourmet dinners, you will be aligning yourself with the energies of the season. (I recommend growing mint. It's very easy to grow, it's an especially refreshing drink on warm days, and it aids digestion.)

You can grow all sorts of things, too, not just plants. Grow a hobby, or a business. Encourage your mind to grow by taking fun or challenging classes which might let your circle of friends grow, too!

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