For as long as I can remember, I’ve been entranced by the soft skies of the warmer months – particularly those of late spring, which heralds their return.
Their beauty speaks for itself… but there is something else that haunts.
The word ‘soft’ is the key. Every one of our senses is touched in a silken way by the early mornings, long days and beautiful twilights. The air is not only warm, but fragrant with the perfumes of flowers, cut grass and the smell of the powerful sunlight bathing us all.
And beyond even this, if you listen deeply there is an emotional and voiceless voice:
“I have brought this to its fullness. Put away thoughts and drink it… Let it become part of you.. Take what you can from it; let its life be yours. It is fragile because it is perfect; it lives for an instant because it is timeless – but needs you for its completion; for it to say ‘I was there…’. But part of you, being creature, must move beyond completion in your life within these cycles.”
The ancient Vedic civilisation of India had the concept of ‘Soma’. Ostensibly a drink given to mankind by the gods, it renewed the vitality of the whole being, and connected us with the heavens. When I gaze upwards into soft blue skies, I think of Soma.
The Sufis spoke of wine as a divine metaphor with much the same properties. These are experiences waiting for us in body, mind and heart. The approach to the longest day is a powerful time to invoke them… When I gaze upwards into soft blue skies, I think of Sufi wine.
Later, as the summer wanes, like Alph the sacred river, we must pass through this beauty and down to a sunless sea on our way from Xanadu. (Coleridge – Kubla Khan)
The pre-solstice is a difficult time to capture and hold. The painter has a good chance; Van Gogh came close… The photographer can only render one aspect of it. The poet is, perhaps, best equipped… The words of Kahlil Gibran come to mind:
“One day you will ask me which is more important? My life or yours? I will say mine and you will walk away not knowing that you are my life.”
Each year, I like to make a silent resolution for the three weeks leading up the Summer Solstice. Each day, I will find a right moment to say, softly: ‘I walk slowly, I walk softly. The life around me is my life. I drink it now. Let it be like ancient Soma in bringing me more alive…’
1 June 2020
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching organisation that provides home-based, mentored training in modern spiritual development.
Our garden is south-facing, which is lovely when the sun shines, as we benefit from its rays through most of the day.
I’ve begun to write about the history of our ‘gunpowder’ village of Sedgwick in other posts. The old (drained) canal bed that runs through our garden has been a challenge to incorporate into a coherent design, but, a decade on, we seem to have achieved it.
One benefit of the garden’s orientation is that the evening sun sets along a ridge about a mile away. In winter and early spring we have a clear view of this progression, as each day gives it a little more clockwise distance along the horizon line. As the foliage on the far side of the canal grows with the maturing summer, the ridge becomes more difficult to see, but is always there to our right – given that the sun is visible at all…
The approach to midsummer is, for me, the most emotionally powerful time of the year. As a mystically inclined person, I marvel each year at the level of sheer ‘aliveness’ that permeates the summer air, particularly as the sun is setting over that far ridge and filling the Cumbrian world with a last blaze of gold as it sinks between the distant trees.
I take a lot of photographs, as you may know from previous posts. One of the delights of the summer is to poke a long lens towards that sunset and let the blends and reflections create Their own work of art. It doesn’t matter if the photo is not technically good. What matters is to bathe in the beauty of the blazing reds and oranges as they project through the wooden branches of the near and far trees and shrubs.
Beginning in late March, if the day is clear, I will often be found nurturing a final cup of tea on our patio (occasionally, something stronger) and snapping dozens of shots of the moments just before, and just after, the sunset. I throw away most of these, but the odd few are worth keeping… and on a correspondingly dark day in winter, provide some fuel for the soul and a sense of ‘hang on in there’. Cumbria has long, dark and wet winters, which makes the spring and summer all that more precious. Summer, itself, is not guaranteed, though we always have the intense green and the knowledge of summer.
I’ve often tried to express that glorious feeling of the gentle months. It’s not just the obvious warmth, though that is pleasant. There is also a softness to the air, and the sense that it is filled with a kind of creative energy. There is the sense that you are being pulled out of the body and into a state of merged being… I suspect that we all, as children, do this naturally, and that is why kids go crazy with energy and fun when the sun shines.
Really, it’s a state of just being. As a verb it doesn’t need an object: In that golden state, I don’t need to be anything… It’s bigger than that and I will dilute it if I restrict it to a something. That golden feeling of summer captures this. Just to be is the most powerful thing possible. Throughout mystical history, people have sought to express and symbolise this in different ways. The Christian world, for example, names the longest day the Feast of St John. John is viewed as the most mysterious and the most mystical of the Christian fathers, and, for me, the attribution fits well.
This year, Bernie and I have decided to create a permanent marker in the garden to show the alignment with the solstice and the Sun’s final point of zenith on the horizon. One of my sons and his wife bought me, for my birthday last year, an armillary sphere, otherwise known as a spherical astrolabe. This is a model of objects in the sky, based on the the celestial sphere above us, rather than the celestial globe, which is a smooth sphere that maps the constellations.
The armillary sphere consists of a spherical framework of rings, centred on the theoretical Earth or the Sun. It shows lines of longitude and latitude and other important features such as the ecliptic. Our intention is to design a setting for it whereby the arrow can point to the point of farthest progress of the Sun as it crosses the far ridge in its final moment of setting.
This marking of the horizon of the longest day is, of course, an ancient practice. The solstice has been associated with festivals of ‘full-nesss’ for as long as mankind has gazed at the heavens and given thanks for the energy than enables us to have food for our bodies. The harvest comes later. The energy of the Sun is, by then, embedded in what keeps our bodies alive.
We hope our marking of the horizon in this way will provide us a little ‘food for the soul’ as we inch towards the third week in June. This simple act of marking the horizon, will become very special in the weeks to follow.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.
He never thought that on his last Solstice run
He would be chosen
Never dreamed that leagues could fall behind
Leaving the others, younger mostly,
In the dust of his tracks, farther, now, than his hearing.
Ahead, the great rock soars up, black and massive
Its winding path, dark strip in the pre-dawn light
His feet, belonging to something else,
Thunder like heartbeats along the steepening trail
His breathing, earlier ragged, now like the circle
That in his mind, is edging closer,
Forms a perfect symmetry of air drawn in and out
And the song begins . . . .
The ancient song, given to the first
Never elsewhen sung, almost forgotten
Except on this day
As the feet thunder like hooves
And the cleaved air combines with blood
And the harmony is born, again . . .
The breath becomes pain as limits of form are reached
But pain is not death, and so he climbs
His head spinning, as the great mother spins
Uniquely on this morning
To greet her consort
On the the long-day of their love
The pain recedes as he comes closer
The song is singing in his head
Spinning into form on the currents of the morning
Now, there is only the last few feet
And, if the run is good
A blessing that will fill the tribe with light
That will crown this, the last year of his running
With fire in his heart he sees
The valley below is lined with a cloudless sky
A perfect line of light has kissed the very edge
Only a few heartbeats and he will be there
The ancient angled stone awaits him now
Dark and sombre, cold and severe
Replete with the wisdom of ages
Unrelenting in its exactness
And the patterned cross in the rocky path
Where, now, he stays his trembling limbs
The circle in the stone is perfect
Carved and honed by ages past
A gift to those who followed
He fixes the vision of the first
Upon and through its centre
And gives himself to the horizon, far beyond
All breath now to the song must go
Its notes rise higher, taking wing
He becomes the singing, calling forth
And the rising God sings back in gold
Streaming over the valley
Lighting the rocks and plants, alike
Filling the singer with life beyond life
And a kiss . . . as he becomes the Eye