It’s hard to imagine, but six months ago it was the winter solstice. At that time I discovered just how inspiring the winter solstice celebration is. And how joyful the shortest and darkest day of the year truly is—after all every day after that is just a tiny bit longer and lighter.
Well, now we are now coming up on the longest day of the year. The time of year when life is at its most vibrant and most energetic. Plants are growing, animals are growing fatter. Soon both will turn to reproduction—bearing fruits or babies and continuing the cycle of life for another year.
With winter solstice, it seemed natural to encourage celebration. We’re at a low point, we’ve been grappling with a dark and hibernating world, and there is an ancient tradition of winter solstice celebrations (Yuletide and then Christmas, which built off and Christianized Yuletide).
Of course, there is also a long tradition in Europe to celebrate Midsummer, which again was Christianized (into St. John’s Day). And celebrating with dancing and festivities sounds like a fine way to celebrate this solstice as well—especially in the context of praying for a good harvest, which, for these farming communities, was an important part, and probably helped them to more reverently attend to their crops in the months to come.
But as this is the most energetic time of the year, it seems fitting to balance that energy with a bit of stillness of our own. After all, solstice derives from the Latin “solstitium” which comes from sol (sun) and sistere (to stop).
So I offer a 24-hour period of silence to balance the energy of the year and to reflect the stillness of the sun. This could simply be the day before the solstice. Or it could start exactly 24 hours before the solstice, which this year is at 5:43pm Eastern time, so you could start at 5:43pm Eastern on Friday. If you’re planning a celebration, the former might be logistically easier, though if you can convince others to join you in your silence, it might be quite fun to break that silence together at the start of the celebration.
I admit, this, like the Spring Germination Fast, is still in seed form, and only time will tell whether it’s a practice that will take root or not. But this year I will try this day of silence. And what I mean by that, specifically, is to spend one full rotation of the Earth in silence, including fasting from media (even news, books, and email), and carving out extra time to meditate, to move (including hiking, yoga, and karate), to be in nature, and to connect with Gaia.
I know it won’t be easy. Just writing “even news, books, and email,” makes me think, “no way!” Not knowing what’s going on for the day and then having more to read the next sounds not so nice. But that right there reveals to me how much I am in need of a day of silence. I’m overwhelmed by the flow of information. Indeed, every day there is a sense of drowning from the news. Even before COVID, I couldn’t keep up with the daily saga of abuses against people and the planet. Newsletters wash into my inbox far faster than I can drain them out (even unread)! So, a regular day of silence and media fasting, while daunting, sounds like a really healthy thing.
And especially this year, as the day before solstice falls on Juneteenth, a holiday in the United States celebrating the end of slavery, it may be a particularly good day for silent reflection, especially for a white American like me. And more specifically for listening. Listening to the pain and injustice around us—perpetrated against black and other minority Americans, against nature, and even, against ourselves. Paradoxically, many of our daily activities disempower and sicken our bodies and minds—from what we eat and how we spend our time to how we interact with others and which struggles we choose to engage in. Taking a day to silently observe this, to listen to all this, including how it makes you feel psychologically and physiologically, may open us better to moving beyond it.
On Silent Meditation
As I read again about silent meditation for this reflection, many articles focused on multi-day retreats. But as anyone who has meditated knows, even minutes-long meditations can help. A day-long silent meditation—abstaining from talking, media, and even non-verbal communication, can help in cultivating stillness and inner calm. This article, while also focusing on a 10-day retreat, does offer some interesting insights and explores the value of silent meditation further.
On Celebrating the Solstice
Traditionally there is a long list of ways to celebrate the summer solstice—from dancing and parades, to fires and festivals. But it’s hard to imagine a big party right now with COVID. A small gathering, outdoors, of course, perhaps with a fire and some feasting sounds like a far safer and more intimate way to celebrate this year.
As Bart Everson discusses in his excellent essay on the summer solstice, we shouldn’t forget that the summer solstice, being the longest day of the year, also symbolizes the start of days growing shorter. It holds the seeds of darkness (and thus the seeds of silence) within. That is something, too, to keep in mind as we celebrate, and give thanks for the abundance of light and life. And that lends one idea to the celebration. As Everson notes:
“Bonfires are an age-old tradition for the summer solstice. Throwing flowers into those fires is also a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. The symbolism of such ancient rituals is multifaceted. Perhaps the act represents a way of offering the beauty of the Earth back to itself. Perhaps it represents the impending diminishment of the sun’s power. Perhaps the scent of burning petals is intoxicating. Try it yourself and see.”
So gather a few friends, some good food and drink, and have a fire. Harvest some wildflowers during your silent meditation and burn them during your celebration. And above all give thanks to Gaia and to the sun for setting the conditions for life. And recommit yourself, even as the darkness grows (in the remainder of the year and in the decades to come) to care for and heal the Earth.
Go with Gaia,
P.S. This year, you can even watch the sunrise over Stonehenge, at 11:52pm Eastern on Saturday. Stonehenge, of course, is an ancient structure that was designed to reflect solar changes, reminding us just how long-standing and important our connection to Gaia’s cycles is.
Thanks to Bart Everson for his suggestions, insights, and for sharing his many resources on ways to celebrate the summer solstice.
As I wrote this I wondered whether it would be possible to do a silent meditation with children. I have an 8-year old son, Ayhan, and I’m sure he will struggle with not talking to me. But in The Game of Silence (Book Two of the Birchbark House series—an excellent Indigenous response to the colonial Little House on the Prairie series), Ojibwe elders would gamify silence, so that they could have serious discussions without being disturbed, and the children who stayed silent got to choose a prize. (Whoever went longest got to choose first.) So I have invited Ayhan to join me in this celebration of stillness—but with a bit of an incentive beyond connecting more fully with Gaia. We’ll see how it goes!
I’m honored to see myself quoted here, and it’s interesting to reflect on how my language has shifted as I try to keep Gaia in mind. These days, I think I would write “offering the beauty of Mother Earth back to herself.” A small change in words, but a big shift in affect.
Personally, I’m still figuring out how I will celebrate the solstice this summer. My band was scheduled to play a solstice concert at 4:44pm (Central Time) but indoor music performances have been scuttled by the virus. We might do a porch concert. Maybe a picnic in the park afterward with my family. I am going to try some measure of silence, a “day of listening” on Friday, though how that balances with my work responsibilities remains to be seen.
But for sure, we’re going to bake some summer solstice sun cookies.
Thanks Bart! Yes, work and other commitments will have to be worked around. In the end, it looks like Ayhan and I will do our silent reflection after we finish volunteering at a farm Friday morning until we help with a street clean up Saturday morning. Not exactly sunrise to sunrise, but it’ll do the trick! And please share a link (or the recipe) to your solstice sun cookies!
I haven’t really settled on a single recipe for the summer solstice sun cookies. They are usually some sort of lemon spice sugar cookie. The main thing is the decoration which gives them their symbolic appearance. You can see a picture here:
We make yellow, orange, and red paint from egg yolk and food dye. Note the bit of licorice at the center, representing the “birth of the dark” at the summer solstice.
This year we are thinking of trying these for a bit of a change:
Still probably with the black licorice in the center. We’ll see!