Midsummer – a time to take stock?
As you are probably aware, we are approaching the summer solstice (what appears to be the longest day in the year, when we experience more hours of daylight than any other day) on Monday 21st June, closely followed by midsummer on June 24th. This period in the Celtic calendar is one of the turning points when we pause and reflect, and this year we are probably reflecting on many aspects of our lives we have previously not had to contend with.
Traditionally this would be a time of year when many journeys took place between clans, kin, and warlords, as well as pilgrimages to holy sites and monasteries. There would be much movement around the country between May and September and midsummer would be particularly busy with the longest evenings and shortest nights. In our modern times it is when we too start our own journeys: holidays (from the old English ‘Holy Days’), day trips and visits with friends and family.
This year, however, with all the uncertainties still around, we are unable to make firm plans, and as human beings we find this difficult to navigate.
Psychologists have identified a new form of anxiety as we emerge from various lockdowns into an uncertain future. Whereas sixteen months ago we may have looked forward to a sort of D-Day, when the pandemic was declared over and we could party in the street, we now find the reality is very different.
Many people have turned to mindfulness during this period, and obviously as a mindfulness practitioner and teacher, I welcome this. However it comes with a note of caution and I am one among many mindfulness and meditation teachers who are using the summer to take stock and re-evaluate how mindfulness is taught and practiced.
‘Mindsummer’ is a term that came to me to describe how I will be focusing my attention over the next three months. Beginning with the solstice I will be (as always) taking stock: what did I sow last year? What has come to fruition? What did I neglect or abandon? Where do I need to focus my attention for the harvest in September? What do I need to be thankful for and where do I need to bring change into my life? These are not easy questions to answer but worth addressing.
This year there is an added focus, what kind of mindfulness is most useful for people right now?
There has been such an over-consumption of mindfulness that it has left many confused about what it actually is and how it helps. Put simply, mindfulness is not something we do, but a way we learn to live; mindfulness is a state of mind whereby we cultivate the ability to spend more time in the present moment with awareness and compassion, and less time worrying about what has happened or what might happen. We try to learn from the past, and we plan for the future, but after that the rest is just worry, which gets us nowhere.
How do we get there?
Well, just like the ancient pilgrims, we aren’t actually trying to get anywhere really. We aspire to learn and progress, but that happens on the journey, not at the destination. When we ‘arrive’ it is simply a resting place, a chance to consolidate and assimilate our experiences before moving on again. And we can choose how we make that journey.
Some people really enjoy sitting in silence following formal practices for anything up to an hour at a time. For others this is excruciating. Some prefer movement, or music, or images. Some prefer dance, drumming, chanting. Some like to sit with the breath, others to feel the earth and the connection with the physical body. Some like to read and contemplate spiritual teachings.
The important thing is that whatever method we choose, we practice it regularly enough that we stay in touch with ourselves in the present moment.
Present moment awareness means being aware that we are present. Where we are. How we are. What we are doing and why. If we can stay with that we are practicing mindfulness. I cannot claim to achieve this all the time, I’m only human, and even with daily practice I make mistakes and get things wrong. I upset people and I get upset. But my mindfulness practice helps me to keep coming back to the present with compassion, even for my mistakes. I am truly aware how much more difficult I would find life without my practice.
Do we have the name wrong?
Something that interests me is the fact that the term ‘mindfulness’ is a translation which could equally have been translated ‘heartfulness’. In a society which promotes using your head over your heart, mindfulness has been a popular and acceptable term. Can you imagine big companies promoting ‘heartfulness’? But in the process, it has become another thing to ‘do’, where in essence it is all about how to ‘be’. Do we really need anything extra to do in our lives? Aren’t we busy enough?
So I will be meditating on these themes over the summer as I plan my own way into the new normal and how I can offer the best service to those I teach.
I wish you a wonder-filled summer full of light, and leave you with a short practice which can be done inside, outside, alone, or with others as you see fit to celebrate the middle of the year and all it can teach us.
Finding our centre
Begin by choosing your posture, you may like to be seated, lying down, or standing up, and choose whether you will have eyes closed or eyes open accordingly. You may like to try this in different places and postures – it is always useful to revisit a meditation and explore it anew.
Find your place of balance, this could be a physical place where you feel calm and centred, but it is equally important to find a point in the body where you feel grounded and connected with the earth beneath you. This may take several practices, and this is fine. It could be the weight of your hands on your lap reminding you that you are a physical being capable of feeling touch. It may be the weight of your body pressing through your sitting bones or feet, reminding you of gravity keeping you safely anchored to the earth. Or it may be the flow of breath in and out of the body.
When you feel grounded, and balanced, simply become aware of everything you that is also grounded; it may be furniture, a tree, an animal, a mountain. Sense into the shared experience of being present and connected to the ground and the physicality of existing.
Next, become of aware of balance in the physical world. When your mind wanders to places of imbalance or negativity (which it most likely will) just notice this and come back to reminding yourself of all the places where you can observe balance and harmony if you allow it. It may be the awareness of the balance of the year moving through its annual cycle, the balance of nature still living, dying and being reborn. The summer fruits and flowers, the emergence of bees and butterflies. Summer visiting birds. There are countless ways nature reminds us that everything follows a rhythm such as the ebb and flow of the waves of sea.
When you feel grounded and balanced, just allow yourself to open up to the reality of this in other areas of your life and imagine the sun’s rays, which bring life giving energy to every building block of life on earth, energising these places. And if you are aware of imbalance, such as not enough rest, too much worry about the future and so on, imagine the sun’s rays shining on these areas, bringing them into focus. During these long days of midsummer, we have the chance to bring into the light what needs to be brought back into balance.
You may like to finish by discarding those things which tip you off balance onto a real or imagined bonfire and feeling thankful for any healing or learning that has taken place. It may be useful to make a note of this and bring this awareness into future practices over the summer so that you can contemplate what you are feeding and growing and whether this is truly where you want your energies to be directed.
This practice can be repeated often and in short periods of reflection, just a few minutes every now and then to reconnect with where we are and where we are going. Then we can make informed choices.
Llawer o fendithion, many blessings,