The Poignancy of Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice is the peak of the year, the longest day, the fullness of the light, mid-summer in all its magic.

For me, especially during the twenty-six years I danced the Summer Solstice Long Dance, it has always been a time of celebration, transformation.

The canyons where we danced were glorious in the fullness of summer—the stream loud and full, the aspen leaves shiny-new, the sun hot, the nights chill. We danced two or three days and nights, sunrises and sunsets, blue-grey dawns, long hot afternoons, swift showers, starry nights, rocked in the rhythm of the drum, deep in trance, lost in magic.IMG_1662

There is a poignancy in any peak, because contained in its fullness is the coming down.

The path from the top of the mountain descends. The swing reaches its apex, hangs for a breathless moment, then drops toward earth. Orgasm subsides. The dance ends. The day after Summer Solstice is a just a little shorter.

It is tempting to grieve the loss of the peak, but there is also sweetness in the coming down. The trail descending the mountain is beautiful in the afternoon light, seen from a different perspective than when we climbed. The whoosh of the swing dropping is also thrilling. In the bliss after orgasm, lovers lie close, kiss softly. When the dance ends and the drum stops, there is deep silence accented by bird song, wind sough, the susurration of the stream. After Solstice there are still long summer days ahead.

In this time of fullness, may we rejoice and give thanks to the Sun that gives us life. And may we also let its rays fall between our fingers, not clinging, opening to the sweetness that follows.

Winter Solstice

The still point of the turning year. The longest night. “Solstice,” in its Latin origins, literally means “the sun stops.”

There is magic in that moment of stasis.

When we ride on a swing, the higher we go the slower we go, until that brief ecstatic moment when we hang suspended before descending again.

The dance of Sun and Earth is like that. The Solstices, summer and winter, are like the peak moments of the swing. The light changes more slowly as it approaches its shortest or longest day, hovers for a moment at the Solstice, then picks up speed as it moves toward the Equinoxes, when the days and nights are equal. Just as the swing descending moves fastest as it skims its closest point to Earth.

Howard Thurman, a beloved friend and teacher to me, was Dean of the Chapel at Boston University when I was a student there. In one of his sermons, he told a story about being a boy in Florida, fishing in a small boat in the ocean. He described how his line would pull taut, drawn out to sea with the outgoing tide. Then it would suddenly go slack. His buoy would rock on the waves for a short while, until the line swung slowly around to pull toward shore as the tide turned.

One of my Sufi teachers, guiding us in a breathing meditation, said, “Between the inhale and the exhale, realize. Between the exhale and the inhale, realize.”

Swing, seasons, tide, breath—all move with this rhythm.

As we enter the still point of the longest night, may we pause to receive that moment of stasis and open to its gifts.

  T.S. Eliot, from Four Quartets

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”