The wheel of the year turns and night expands from its summer brevity. On 22 September, the Autumn Equinox, day and night divide their twenty four hours equally between themselves. This a timely moment to consider balance in our lives.
The dictionary definition of balance offers rich pickings for reflection:
What do these definitions conjure up for you?
My attention is drawn immediately to imbalance, out of balance, off-balance. I think how unsteady grief has made me. I've lost my footing and fallen down the rabbit hole into a bizarre and disconcerting land where the rules make no sense. Alice, I'm with you!
Alice wasn't the first to fall headlong into somewhere else – she's preceded by a nameless step-daughter, let's call her Bathilde, who is made to sit by the well and spin until her fingers bleed. One day, droplets of blood fall onto the spindle so Balthilde dips it into the well to clean it and, quite by accident, drops the spindle. When she reports to her step-mother what has happened, she is ordered to return to the well and retrieve it. In utter hopelessness and misery, Bathilde descends into the well.
She loses consciousness and awakes in a meadow, covered in flowers. Bread calls to her from the oven that it is cooked, and she obligingly removes it from the flames. An apple tree cries out to her that it is laden with ripe fruit, so she shakes the tree to relieve it of its burden. Then she comes across an old lady with huge front teeth – at first she is frightened but the lady speaks to her kindly. She is Mother Holle and she invites Bathilde to become her housemaid. It's important, Mother Holle explains, that Bathilde shakes the bed well so that the feathers fly, for this how it snows on earth. Bathilde works well and, every morning, makes the feathers fly like a veritable snow storm.
Unlike Alice, Bathilde has fallen into a place where there is balance – the seasons are each represented here – the flowering meadow for spring, the bread baked from summer wheat, the apples harvested in autumn, and the flurry of snow-feathers for winter. The pattern of suffering, expressed here in the conflict with her step-mother, and symbolic death, portrayed in the bloodied spindle, is a common motif in stories of return. Inexplicably, Bathilde becomes homesick. She tells Mother Holle, who has treated her lovingly, that she longs to go home whereupon she’s directed to a hidden door. Mother Holle returns her spindle, and as Bathilde passes beneath the lintel, she is showered with gold coins. Mother Holle commends her and sends her on her way with a blessing.
As I reach for the blessings that come on the heels of suffering, I've taken to asking the question, 'What is Christ bringing me in this situation?' Christ, as in Christ-consciousness. It could equally be, How is this situation initiating me into Mother Holle's service? The dear mother goddess, whose appearance is frightening but whose domain is one of balance and kindness.
This question doesn't come to us easily when the ship of our lives is being tossed in the storms of life – utterly rudderless. And, the answer demands of us that we find the eye of the storm to lay anchor, for just a moment. It can be as fleeting as bringing the attention to the rhythm of breathing, for just five breaths. In, out, in, out, in, out, in, out, in, out. The sighing breath can help us here too. Close your mouth and breath in and out through the nose in even breathes. Constrict the throat so the breath makes a sighing sound, like that of gentle waves on the shore. Control the breath with the diaphragm. In and out, in and out, in and out ... the gentle wave-breathes easing the tempest around.
Anchored in Mother Holle's harbour, this is the week to experience balance.