The Summer Solstice
Late June, when the days are the longest in the northern hemisphere, offers an opportunity to stop and be mindful of the natural world and its mysteries. In our fast-paced modern life, it is easy to find ourselves living on autopilot and out-of-sync with our deeper selves and the natural rhythms. In autopilot mode, days can merge into one another and we can easily be more attuned to the incessant beeps of our handheld devices than to the grand cycles of nature.
In ancient times, the June solstice was an important marker to help people orient themselves to place and time. It helped people regulate their calendars and figure out the length of the year; the solstice was also used as a guide for when to plant and harvest crops. Historically, the summer solstice has been associated with many festivals and celebrations.
In Sweden it is impossible not to be reminded of the power and majesty of the natural world around the time of the solstice. In this country, so close to the arctic circle, the light is almost endless at the beginning of summer and is impossible to ignore. The light seemingly demands the attention of those beneath it to stop, notice, and celebrate. In Sweden, Midsummer is a celebration that rivals Christmas and New Years. There is a large feast with singing and dancing around a Maypole. The holiday has roots in the Middle Ages, when the Maypole was covered in leaves and flowers as an appeal to the gods for a bountiful harvest.
Some believe that Stonehenge, the ancient stone circle in England built between 3000 B.C. and 1600 B.C., is itself an enormous calendar; the precise placement of these rocks identifies on a yearly basis the longest day. Stonehenge, to this day, still draws a huge crowd of people to celebrate the summer solstice.
Many Native American tribes were known to hold special ritual dances to honor the midsummer. The Sioux, for example, performed a sun dance around a tree. The tree was thought to represent a visible connection between the heavens and the Earth.
In ancient China, a celebration was held on the June solstice to honor the earth, femininity, and the force known as yin. This ceremony complemented the ritual that took place on the winter solstice which honored the heavens, masculinity, and the yang force.
On June 21st of this year in New York City’s Times Square, 15,000 people participated in a yoga event that for a time stopped traffic in the usually bustling intersection.
I invite you to take time in your busy lives to be still, to notice, and to be thankful.