Rethinking midsummer associations – fire and water.

Our garden is all planted, and too full for anything more. It just begs for water, water, water. And it’s water that I’ve been thinking more about this midsummer than other years. I’ve always associated summer, and Litha (the summer solstice) with fire; the time where the weather is hot and we celebrate the sun being at its strongest. It seems obvious. However, it was whilst learning about Ayurveda that I first considered the water aspect to summertime. Pitta, the dominant dosha right now, is comprised of fire and water. Water is liquid and Ayurveda connects this to the melting power of heat. Water is heavy and I guess Ayurveda would attribute the heaviness we tend to feel now to the presence of water in this season’s Pitta energy.

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Of course water has a balancing effect to heat too and I think that this is where the association of water with midsummer from a pagan perspective rings true for me; we associate summer with the seaside and with boats and shells and pebbles and fish, we think paddling pools and water-play for our children, we know we need to drink plenty of the stuff. The association is also relevant to the story of the year as told in the analogy of the goddess reproductive cycle; she is heavily pregnant and waiting for labour to start – the first sign of which is often the waters breaking. Fluids – and fluidity – are then quite symbolic of the birth process, including the fluidity of time and perhaps reality that many women report experiencing when they are in labour. Indeed, such fluidity seems quite pertinent to summertime itself, for our usual routines, activities and times that we do things warp a little with the long hazy, dreamy days (or if we are on holiday). Midsummer has long been associated with the fairy world and their magic and mischief: further blurring and dissolving of reality, time, space, form, and boundaries of possibility.

This theme of fluidity – ie: motion – is kind of incongruent with the call for stillness and slowing down that I also feel at this time of year. That the word solstice comes from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) impresses this for me. I guess this contrast gives me more food for thought and discoveries to make as my journey with my own spirituality continues – or is maybe a call to not get too hung up on associations at all, but to take each year for what it is and where I’m at, listening to the unique messages that year brings.

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Hail the Holly King

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For some time, we’ve had a beautiful Oak King on our nature table. Earlier this year, I decided that I’d like to make a representation of the Holly King to take his place after the summer solstice; this is the day when the two kings are said to fight until the Oak King is slain by the other. The victorious Holly King therefore reigns and rules the land until the winter solstice, when the two kings meet again. This time the Oak King wins and therefore rules the following half of the year.

I wanted our Holly King a little smaller than his counterpart: Autumn, in particular, is a season where many treasures of the earth can be found and brought home for the nature table, meaning that space can get a little pushed. But what to make him from! I’ve never used clay and it’s so long since I did anything with saltdough that I didn’t quite trust that it would turn out ok, (and although I’d decided I’d like a Holly King months ago, I’d characteristically left it to within days of the solstice to do anything about it!) I wanted to use a natural material and it needed to be able to withstand being enjoyed by a small child – our nature table is all of ours. I choose wool felt. Plant-dyed would have been my ideal but I couldn’t find suitable colours without buying a large, expensive pack.

Next, I drew two holly leaf templates of different sizes on card and cut them out of two different shades of green felt. I used one shade for the bigger size, another for the little but that was just personal preference. I cut out two circles (using a small plate and a wide mug as their respective templates) out of a third shade of green and pinned and stitched these together with my sewing machine, the smaller one centrally on top the larger, leaving a little gap for stuffing. I used sheep’s wool balls, then sewed up the gap.

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Next I pinned and hand-stitched the leaves on, Because I’m a bit lazy, I didn’t go all the way around each leaf; just enough to attach the leaf securely and look decorative. Here and there, I added a sparkly green bead or few.

I then hand-stitched the face, squidging (is that a technical term?! Let’s say yes!) the stuffing a little to shape the nose. If I’d had more time, or been making this or someone else, I’d have cut an extra circle of felt the same size as the large circle to attach to the back to cover up the visible stitches from sewing the leaves on. (I’d attach it by hand-stitching the two large circles together around the edge).

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On the solstice, we gathered together, lit some beeswax candles and beat a sort-of rhythm (three-year old style!) on a drum. We placed the Holly King on the Oak King and I told the story of this being the day that they meet together. My son’s age is a tender one, so I prefer not to talk about battles with much detail. We talk about how the Holly King has the victory this time; now is his time to reign, for holly stays green all year, and it is at its most splendid in winter when the berries provide colour for the landscape and food for the birds. We talked about how the Oak King will have his time again when the wheel turns once more to the winter solstice. The oak and many other trees and plants will then soon start to think about waking up again and growing their new leaves. After this, we thanked our Oak King, took him off the nature table, wrapped him in tissue paper and stored him away. The Holly King remains in his place. Hail the Holly King!

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Nearly ripe and ripening

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The solstice approaches and there is certainly a sense of near-ripeness in my garden.

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We are so far harvesting little. This is partly because of what seems like a lot of failed germination, as well as slug attacks (despite precautions!) This is always an important lesson to me in how nature cannot be controlled. It’s also an important lesson in correlation to my personal life and inner world where seeds also do not always germinate, where projects also get sabotaged – or just don’t work out – and where harvests are slower than expected or don’t happen at all. I’ve come to realise that this is probably why May and June can sometimes be difficult months for me; as I’ve written before, I love times of new beginnings, when there is glimmering hope and promise and optimistic goal-setting. I sparkle in that glimmer, but I’m not so good at the blood, sweat and tenacity of persevering with those goals and seeing them though; particularly of summoning up the courage to really meet with and wrestle a challenge.

Here in summertime the lack of progress with goals I made at the beginning of the year often becomes frustratingly apparent. As the Queen of Unrealistic Expectations – particularly of myself – as the solstice approaches and I roughly tally up goals achieved v goals nearly met, I realise, again, that perhaps some goals maybe weren’t so achievable.

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But there is still promise. There is still time. A college tutor once told me (perhaps foolishly) that some people work best leaving their essay until the day before the deadline.

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So I think that we can celebrate and be thankful for what we have achieved so far.

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Tired

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I remember the day that the revelation came. I was in Sukhothai Historic Park in Thailand, walking around the impressive temple ruins, crumbling stupas and serene Buddha statues. Walking with difficulty in actually moving my limbs, and in a real grump. Oh the irony of being so grumpy in front of so many Buddhas! But it was a heavily humid 38 Celsius and, no matter how grateful I was for the privilege of being there, I was also overwhelmed by a sense of not being cut out for this; my head, heart and soul was loving the park but my body was not. What I realised, what those Buddhas helped me to realise is…

that I really just don’t cope very well with hot weather.

Particularly when there’s been a long stretch of it.

Once the “yay it’s been sunny for a while and it’s still sunny” feeling gets old, I just struggle immensely to move, think, be motivated or decisive about anything. My patience is much more limited – and my skill at trying to disguise this probably more so. Resentful, defensive, snappy feelings come to the boil much faster than their positive, rational counterparts. I’m tired, sooooooo tired. And all this combined hasn’t made for the smoothest days lately looking after a similarly tired and brittle toddler alone.

But I need this time. The land needs this time. It’s this weather that forces me into slowing down – into being still enough to be open to such gifts as just watching butterflies dance, just watching bees collect pollen, just watching the laundry flap in the breeze, just watching my little boy play. In doing so, I show him what there is to be gained from stillness and from savouring.

At this time, the harvest is about to start; the Goddess of the Land is about to birth her creation, her fruit. Just as we may have already been harvesting some crops for a few weeks but without the full bounty (and the rush to preserve it!) flowing yet, the pregnant goddess may feel her body getting ready to let go. In the last few weeks of pregnancy the woman’s belly often appears to drop as baby engages, losing the perfect roundness I associate with the Goddess at midsummer. There may be a “show” and she will probably be very tired and itching to meet her child.

I guess we need to feel tired of something in order to release, in order to move on to the next stage. In recent years, a sense of awareness about what in my life no longer serves me has helped me start – and maintain – journeys such as getting rid of material stuff I don’t need, becoming less affected by anxiety, and leaving a career that wasn’t right for me. “What no longer serves me?” is something I usually ask myself as the moon starts to wane; the lunar phase that I correlate with Lughnasadh. As I prepare to give thanks for and begin the harvest of what I celebrated at midsummer, I’m realising what’s nearly ready to birth in my life and what I need to just let go of. This list is still coming together! But something I do know I’m thankful for is this recent time of slowness, in spite of its challenges. My difficulty with stillness has been helped by my difficulty with hot weather. Yet the lessons gained can be carried on to the next season and the next.Like the life in the seed that floats on the wind, settles on the soil and grows again. ♥

Pitta

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Ayurveda teaches that the pitta dosha rises during late spring and through the summer; in this season we’re now at in the northern hemisphere, it’s easy to see that the long warm days increase heat and light. These increase the pitta energy in nature around us and in our bodies too:in nature within us. Formed of the elements fire and water, Pitta is generally described as being hot, fast, sharp, liquid, oily and fiery. Irritability, anger, passion, and competitiveness are considered pitta characteristics and those with pitta as their dominant dosha are said to be prone to being critical, driven, short-fused, charismatic, analytical, argumentative and sharp-minded too. They tend to be of average height and build with fair skin and hair (or red hair), sharp eyes and often freckles or moles. In physical health, they have a tendency towards inflammation-related conditions, rashes, heartburn, acidity but good energy levels. The pitta time of life is considered to be early adulthood to late middle-age (50-ish). Pitta tastes are sour, salty and pungent. Its colours are red, yellow and orange.

Balancing pitta

In summer, the elevated pitta energy can make us more prone to some of the pitta-associated problems. This may be particularly so for pitta-dominant types and during the middle of the day (and middle of the night) – when pitta energy is more abundant still. However, we can take steps to balance this. Some are things that we’re probably naturally drawn to doing out of common sense, such as staying out the sun in the middle of the day, eating salads and fruit, and drinking cool drinks. Ayurveda advises avoiding or at least reducing things that are heating in the body – for example, alcohol and red meat (if we partake of them anyway), salty, sour and pungent flavours and very hot spices.

Sweetness balances pitta by increasing kapha. I also see it that at this time of year our bodies and digestions are likely to be strong (if we are generally looking after them!) and so a little more tolerant of a bit of sugar – although unrefined sugars such as honey, dried fruit and maple syrup are best. Other sweet tastes like red lentils, almonds, coconut, sweet potatoes and similar sweet vegetables are also good. Coconut oil is cooling when used both inside the body and on it; try a foot massage with it, particularly in the evening. Aaaahh….

Sebastian Pole of Pukka Herbs recommends peppermint, liquorice and fennel as being beneficial herbs for summer. He also advises rose for its cooling, calming properties; it’s a flower that I associate with midsummer, and also full moon (the corresponding point in the lunar cycle when, like summer, things can get a little heady and over-powering) and therefore the mother aspect of the goddess. I’m currently enjoying wearing a little dab of rose oil on my third eye area each day. IMG_2211

Staying grounded and making time for stillness also balances pitta by increasing kapha, as does being by water. Right now I’m drawn to floor-based yoga asanas, (particularly the mermaid pose, probably to assist me in pretending that really I’m at the seaside!). The heat actually helps me with making time for stillness as I feel like doing very little in hot weather. Lately, my toddler and I have often spent the early afternoon indoors with the curtains partly drawn, then later ventured outside for  knitting and water play, or gently pottering in the garden sniffing the calming lavender and valerian that we’ve got in flower right now….mmmm yes please.

Yet as well as balancing pitta so that it doesn’t get all out of hand reek havoc, we might want to harness and utilise it too: to stoke our creativity and our passions, to bring into our hearts the warmth of the social gatherings and celebrations that the long days facilitate, to energise, to direct, to radiate love into ourselves and out to the world. to take some time to analyse, evaluate and gently critique where we are and what we’re doing in our lives. To just bask and enjoy. ♥

PS I wrote more about balancing pitta in this post last year.

July

To me, July is…

  • sunshine! And being outdoors.
  • slowness. It feels as though most of nature’s growing is done and life stands still before the waning sun starts to tug the harvest from the land and the leaves from the trees, pulling everything towards sleep. In the garden, most of the planting is done: the main work now is in nurturing the plants and keeping them watered. I think of the goddess as being very pregnant at this time of the year and late pregnancy generally makes for slowness! (especially in hot weather!) July days at school were difficult too – the heat brought lethargy, the impending end of term brought apathy. I still get this feeling now of not wanting to do a lot in hot weather (except go to the beach!).

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  • beaching. I was lucky to grow up in Cornwall and spent a lot of the school holiday at the beach. I’m not quite sure why I associate July so much with these seaside days of body-boarding, rock-pools and picnics; the bulk of the summer break is in August. I probably spent the first part of July daydreaming about the beach in preparation for the days ahead actually there!
  • related to this: I think of July in seaside colours (blues, red and white stripes, and the golden-light brown – also the colour that the thirsty grass often is in July!).
  • soft fruit. I LOVE berries, peaches, nectarines…nearly all soft fruit. Loving having strawberries, blueberries and raspberries from our garden right now.

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  •  water – being by the sea or river, watering the plants, preferring to drink plain water over hot drinks as I usually do. The water connotations of the full moon and impending birth which I correlate with this time of the year.
  • rest. Honouring that call to slowness. Savouring this peak of the year and the sun’s energy and light. Savouring it as I taste it captured in a very-fresh blueberry, savouring it as I play outdoors with flower pots and a bowl of water with my son. Honouring the opportunity to go for a 10pm walk under a beautiful sunset and crescent moon. Pouring love and gratitude into my garden along with the dishwater I thirst their quench with – and savouring the littleness of the pair of hands joining mine on the watering-can handle. For another July will come round quick, and another, and another and others again. ♥

Summer stillness

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I’ve been thinking a lot about stillness in this past week since the summer solstice. The word solstice comes from Latin: sol being sun and sistere being to stand still. This has echoed in my head all week – in the way that words, phrases or lessons have a habit of doing when I really should pay attention to them. I feel it so relevant to the call I feel at midsummer to take stock and celebrate, yet I find the message so easy to ignore.

It seems wise to make room for stillness in these long, hot, busy, busy days. Busy with garden tasks and other works, with going out on adventures to enjoy the weather, with social gatherings, with celebrations at home and away and always busy with family life and the normal day-to-day tasks. Busy in my head with numerous half-finished projects and ideas for more, with the headiness of the heat and the nagging sense of urgency to do it all before whatever (often self-imposed) deadline.

Sure, there are planting times and other deadlines that sometimes do need prioritising or the opportunity – or obligation – will be missed. But I’m not very good at prioritising being still. I know the benefits and reap them when I do make time to just be – indoors or out – or when I meditate. When I just let myself be present in that space. When I stand still.

It’s an important space to acknowledge and honour, the day between the year’s waxing and waning halves; the day the sun stands still. I know it’s important too to find and hold that same peaceful space in my everyday life. In the transition from morning to afternoon, from waking to sleeping, between activities, between thoughts, between breaths. This stillness is not only important for me (and those around me who benefit from a calmer Mo!) but important for me to model and teach to my son; to help him know and find stillness within and without. The more stillness and peace that we as individuals can create, the more that can ripple out into this busy, busy world. I just have to prioritise. ♥

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