Congratulations - you made it to summer! You can breathe again now... :)
I don't think I'm alone in feeling a heightened gratitude for this particular Summer Solstice given the past 18 months, which have been fraught with challenges. I think it's safe to say that there have been deep forays into the dark for many of us.
And, it's gotten me thinking:
How can we integrate both the hardships and this glorious gift of light?
Didn't our ancestors regularly face life-threatening situations, too?
Could that be one reason why they always honored the sun's zenith with group ceremony and thanksgiving?
A number of years ago, I was fortunate to lead a small band of Japanese women to Stonehenge for this momentous occasion. We walked 5 miles in the dark to arrive at dawn, only to find a grey and drizzly morning that completely hid the sunrise.
At first we were disappointed at the lack of a good view, and even judgmental of the strange revelers were undaunted as they sang, drummed and danced around the stones with abandon. But soon, their exuberance made time and judgment (things of the mind) melt away as the power of place and ancient traditions overtook our senses, coaxing us into an ecstatic state and allowing an unexpected magic to take hold of us. I learned a great deal that day about integrating mind and heart by dropping into alignment with earth, stones and people.
It may have been hard to imagine in the dim light of January that we would ever reach the profound brightness of this solstice. Such is the power of shadow to obscure the light and feeling of forward momentum.
Our response is usually to try and get out from under that heavy, dark blanket as soon as possible and get back to the sun!
Yet shadows have their place, too.
Shadow is always here to teach us. As I described above, even in the midst of the longest, sun-filled day of the year, there are lessons in the shade.
A dear friend recently shared this quote from Richard Rohr:
Usually sometime around midlife, we come to a point where we’ve seen enough of our own tricks and we come to feel that my shadow self is who I am. We face ourselves in our raw, unvarnished, and uncivilized state. This is the shadowland where we are led by our own stupidity, our own sin, our own selfishness, by living out of our false self. We have to work our way through this with brutal honesty, confessions and surrenders, some forgiveness, and often by some necessary restitution or apology. The old language would have called it repentance, penance, or stripping.
In a teaching I recorded with Sounds True about a decade ago, I shared that it wasn’t until I was in middle age, fully embarked on my vocation—a formally celibate priest evangelizing a gospel of love—when I had the courage to ask, Richard, have you ever really loved anybody more than yourself? [Is there] anybody in particular you would die for?. . . I realized I did not have to do that, that my so-called celibacy which told me that if I did not love anybody particularly, I would automatically love God was not necessarily true. I worried that all I did was love myself in a very well-disguised form.
Much of my forties and my fifties was shadowboxing, seeing my own mixed motives, seeing my own inability to believe and to practice these very things I teach to others. I had become known as a spiritual teacher; and then I would see that very often I had dark thoughts, violent thoughts, lustful thoughts, and then would get up and talk to other people in more mature stages of spiritual development and I was not really there myself. I could point toward those further stages, but I was not really living them.
I believe the darkness in which we find ourselves when facing our shadow can also become the shadowland of God—or what the saints call “the dark night”—if we can see God in it. Maybe this is even the most common pattern. The wound can become the sacred wound, or it can just remain a bleeding, useless wound with a scab that never heals. As I teach in The Art of Letting Go, the work of the shadowland can go on for quite a long time and if you do not have someone loving you during that period, believing in you, holding on to you, if you do not meet the unconditional love of God, if you do not encounter radical grace, being loved in your unworthiness, the spiritual journey will not continue.
You have to discover God as unearned favor, unearned gratuity, or you will regress, you will go backwards. But in the shadowlands, you learn to live with contradiction, with ambiguity. This is true self-critical thinking.
If we can use it all - light and dark - we will continue our spiritual growth... If we can try not to shy away from the golden nuggets of truth cloaked in those shadowy places, we will emerge brighter than ever... Mostly, if we remember that the outer light of June 21st is only a reminder of our inner light, we will feel more whole, more connected to ourselves, the earth, the sun and each other. The first step towards unity consciousness is unity within ourselves.
So go out, dance in the sun, and celebrate with others!
And consider joining our Monday Meditations, where you will dependably find yourself loved and held.