Hazel Hill: Autumn Equinox

The Autumn Equinox was September 21. This year, I’ve had time to go deeper into the meaning of this time by exploring it at Hazel Hill Wood, the magical 70-acre woodland retreat centre which I run near Salisbury.

An Equinox is a balance point in the year, and it can help us find balance in ourselves: between light and dark, active and receptive, masculine and feminine…However, the Autumn Equinox has a very different flavour from the Spring: it’s the threshold of the darker months, the slope down to Midwinter, the time of decay and dying back.

Nature can be a great teacher, and in very specific ways. As I walk slowly around the wood, in a mood of observing and meditation, I can still feel the full flush of summer, the abundant greenery: but mixed in with it are big patches of autumn gold, and the patter of leaves falling. It’s like a beautiful woman who is a bit past her best: you have to work to see beauty in the first wrinkles. And all this is reflecting on me, bringing out my own feeling of being past my peak, on the downslope towards winter.

We have weekend workshops at Hazel Hill celebrating the eight Celtic seasonal festivals, including the Autumn Equinox. I’m here with people I know, and two of my favourite teachers, Robert and Marta. They invite us to embrace the increasing darkness, and on the Friday evening they snuff out all the candles in the group room to help us to face this. I realise I am fearful of the dark, clinging to the light. Later that evening I go out alone into the wood, to meet the dark and face my fears.

Many men find it hard to face the dark, in themselves and around them. It links to a need for control, a fear of letting go, of meeting the unknown and unconscious. You can see a lot of men burying themselves in depression, addictions, or manic activity to avoid facing this. If you’re in this position, seek out Nature as your teacher, especially a benign wood like Hazel Hill.

On the Saturday, we are asked to go out alone into the wood on an Omen Walk. This means walking or sitting where you feel drawn to, and observing what you see, what comes up for you. In my case, I am walking with the request for help with my fear of the dark.

At the end of the a long path, I see another man from the group, let’s call him Tony. He’s in his late fifties, and he’s deeply lost: that’s not just my projection, it’s his own take too. He sold his house, tried to start a community, which didn’t work, and last year’s promising relationship has petered out. As I look at him this morning, I feel a deep pain of lostness: but is it his or mine? As I walk on, I get what I’d call an insight from the wood: being lost is a great state to be in, a place of possibilities. It may be scary, but it’s positive too. I’m great at conjuring up bright visions, shiny clarity: being lost more often would be good for me…

My connection with Nature through Hazel Hill has been deepening for over twenty years, and trees play a big role in this. My experience is that you can have a dialogue with individual trees: it’s a slow, non-verbal conversation, but it’s a real two-way contact for me. So on this Omen Walk, I sit with a beech tree where I’ve spent many hours on vision quests. It’s a few years since I visited this tree: it has spread some low branches, which are shading out small hollies and hazels trying to grow beneath it. I realise that when this beech tree decays and opens up space, the seedlings will benefit.

By the end of the morning, I have slowed right down, dropped layers of stress, and feel positive about going into the dark nights, in myself and in the season ahead.


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