Some solstice thoughts
On solitude and keeping company and wildness
Today at 4:13 am [CST] the earth reached another solstice. The weather’s been swelteringly hot the last few days, so it seems fitting that we are officially now in the season of summer here in Minnesota. I wasn’t going to write anything else until I returned from vacation in early July, but we haven’t left yet….and then I saw three otters this morning. And two loons. And another heron. I wanted to tell you about them. So here we are.
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I was standing on the deck, looking out over the lake at about 8am when a Great Blue Heron flew low over the water and landed on the dock. She stood there, gaze toward the east, like a sentinel surveying her kingdom. Wings stretched out, she preened and fluffed her feathers for awhile, and then just stood silently, keeping watch. Next two loons swam into my sight lines, taking turns diving and surfacing, a sort of bird ballet that happens half underwater. As they moved off toward the opposite shore, two slick brown heads broke the surface, maybe ten feet from the heron’s post. For a minute I thought it must be the beavers out for a morning wood harvesting session, but then they dove, one after the other, play chasing each other across the water. They disappeared into some lily pads, and I put the coffee on.
This morning’s wildlife witnessing got me thinking about both solitude and keeping company. I was alone when I first noticed the heron swoop down, and the loons diving, and the otters playing—I’m not sure I would have noticed them had I not been by myself, attention focused on the lake. And then I got to thinking about how because of that bit of solitude, I was able to, in a way, keep company with some wild things. Because when you place your attention on something, you are, in a sense, keeping company with whatever it is. There are times when I put my attention on things that I don’t necessarily want to keep company with (as do we all), and there are times when my attention is exactly where it needs to be to fill me up with wonder and awe.
I turned back toward the lake a little later to see what might be going on, and there they were again, this time three of them swimming quickly toward the shore closest to me, presumably to exit this lake and head to wherever they were going next (Did you know river otters can travel up to 25 miles a day?!) Pausing what I’m doing to look out is always worth the time it takes.
Anyway, all of this reminded me of a piece I wrote for the Brevity Blog a few years ago, which fits right in with this energy of the summer solstice I want to carry with me into the coming days.
Don’t give your attention, and the energy doing so requires, to things that don’t deserve it, or to things that don’t exist. If you must pay attention to something you would rather not, or that is hard because of life’s circumstances, or that is draining because of all the things that can cause something to take instead of give, reserve some of your energy: pay attention to it if you must, but don’t give all your reserves away. Save at least some of your energy for that which returns it in kind.
Give your attention to that which lights you up with aliveness. To that which leaves you bursting with radiance. To that which adds peace to the tumult that is part of existing on an evolving planet. Find delight. Revel in pleasure. Cherish your body, and give it what it needs. Honor your mind. Nourish it with curiosity and enough rest to be curious for another day. Feel your spirit join with something greater than yourself, and remember the oneness that makes the world pulse with love. Feel all the nuances of joy, even the parts that make you wonder if you’ve gone completely mad. Let the perplexing beauty of a human experience fill your being with luminosity and reverence. Keep going outside, even when it’s cold, or too hot. Notice the way ice cracks in the sun and how a pen feels in your hand as you scribble in a journal. (Especially important after many days of tapping a keyboard.) Notice the burst of red when a cardinal visits the dead tree outside your office window. Allow fresh air to direct your attention to breathing, even when it isn’t comfortable. Slip into fresh bed sheets on a cool summer’s evening. Turn just picked strawberries over in your hand on a warm day, lifting them to your face to inhale their sweetness. Let rushing water caress your bare ankles as you walk upstream.
Practice noticing. Build your capacity for attentiveness, and give voice to the bits of astonishment that gather in the wake of doing so. Be attentive to the way gratitude polishes the rough edges of human experience, and give in to wonder. The world needs you to keep wonder alive. Mary Oliver wrote, “May I stay forever in the stream.” Take her lead. Stay forever in the stream, and let it be a stream of gratitude for what already is. Let that stream return the energy you need to continue on for another day.
See you in the stream, friends. May your solstice be full of whatever it is you most need to be filled up with aliveness and light. Let the ordinary collisions of your human life, from interactions with wild things to hard conversations to how your feet touch the earth, provide a path toward renewal and healing—for yourself and the world.
[now I’m really going—see you in July]