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summer solstice: black and white drawing of a sun with eight big pointy rays

21. June: Summer Solstice

Gathering strength in times of plenty

The summer solstice always reminds me of my childhood and reaching the highest point of the swing in my family‘s garden. A bit weightless and undeniably a lot ephemeral. Astronomically speaking, the Northern Hemisphere now tips towards summer and in complete contrast to the equinoxes the difference between light and dark hours of the day is now greatest. On the other hand the rate of change is lowest from one day to the next. At the roller coaster summit we seem to stand still for a fraction of a second, poised for accelerating downward. And yet, contrary to popular belief we are currently not even especially close to the sun in our orbit. The distance between Sun and Earth is greatest at the beginning of July and smallest just after New Year‘s Day. It‘s all a question of inclination.

Ancient Megalithic monuments are often oriented according to the Sun‘s position at the solstices. Of course we have no way of knowing how exactly the people of those days celebrated those special dates back then. But we can be sure that they played a big role in the calendar of humans whose lives depended on natural cycles and agricultural seasons. When the abundance of food, light and warmths reliably oscillates between two extremes, traditions and the general world view will definitely be affected.

Too hot to do much work

In my region currently the air is heavy and sweet with the scent of roses and lilacs. Personally, I am of the type of human who prefers to retreat to the basement when the outside temperatures rise above 30°C. This only contributes to the impression that practically nothing is moving, me included. At the moment strawberries, cherrys and other sweet fruit are in season but also a lot of colourful vegetables. There is not much to do in my garden apart from watching Nature do its work on its own and marvel at all the flowers and berries. Just as in other aspects of life, sometimes you just have to trust in the process and put your feet up without feeling guilty. Not everything is going to benefit from me constantly fiddling with it. And even in this society that praises being busy, sometimes it is perfectly fine to take a break, especially when it is too hot to do anything anyway. In farming this is the time to gather strength for the coming harvest. Having to work hard is going to happen one way or the other, so it seems wise to not unnecessarily wear yourself out beforehand.

Myths and traditions

In some regions Saint John’s Eve marks the end of the asparagus season, another message that the brightest, warmest and loveliest days carry within them an end to some indulgences. The fact that each fruit and vegetable has its season makes them even more precious to me. Knowing that a strawberry will spoil from lying around for too long, I decide to enjoy it now with all my senses fully aware of its transience. (As a second option, I make jam.) Which other things in life can I not hold onto forever but only savour here and now? What do I want to feast on literally and metaphorically, without guilt, because it is available to me only for a limited amount of time?

In some cultures, people collected Saint John’s wort around Midsummer for protection against all sorts of danger real or imagined. The idea of picking flowers that remind them of the Sun at its peak and putting them in their pockets seems to contradict the notion that there are things you cannot hold onto. On the other hand, this herb seems to have given these people strength even though they could watch the actual flowers wither in their hands. So in the end this tradition is an apt metaphor for the message of the summer solstice. What you can take with you going forward is not material but the energy you get from savouring something when it is abundant.

What about you?

How does Nature currently present itself where you live? What in your garden flourishes without your active contribution? What does your current meal plan look like? How does the knowledge of not being able to hold onto a special moment help you in enyoing it even more deeply? Do you always treat yourself to the breaks that you need? What is your level of guilt and regret in relationship with taking breaks?

Meditation and looking forward to the wheel spinning onwards

I have uploaded a short meditation about gathering strength for you to try another approach to this holiday. You can find it here.

This post refers back to this main article and is part of a series on each of the eight holidays of the year. During 2020 I will write another post for every one of those dates so stay tuned for the 1st of August!

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