There is a specific slant to the late afternoon sun that floods my living room with a cast-iron butter of deeply heated light. It’s always that last stretch of sunshine that seems to glow the hottest. In the downward arch of day, the fever of collected sunshine gathers like a stove coil around the rim of the sky, flooding the world with heat. That glow itself kicks up a kind of exhaustion, the feeling of every hurried project just aching to be complete. Recently, it seems the close of each day comes with a command: find your completion or, for goodness sake, find some release.
In Appalachian summertime each day marks a creation in progress. The basil leafing out in pairs from where it was last snipped. The sunflower rotating like a mandala from pollen to seed. The bees carrying fulfillment from one flower to another, rubbing their bodies against everything soft and petaled in their path. Every morning it as if the rising of the sun turns on the great hearth of the world and each new creation, stirred of dirt and mineral and rain, is placed within the hearth of the earth to ripen.
Throughout the summer months there are so many individual projects, visions and collections, tiny destinies awaiting to be fulfilled. I imagine the sun must be like a pâtissier in the great kitchen of kings, sending out emissaries in every direction to tend the grasshoppers and zinnias and bees. Perhaps the clouds take part as well, gentle assistants roaming over the hillsides to check the cobalt beginnings of the blueberries bushes or tend the heavy branches of peaches. Each cumulus a white haired women, trailing cotton aprons and the tracks of great care.
Just as the embered end of a long day in Summer bring forth an almost overwhelming peak of heat, the last stretch of August can, at times, seem almost impossibly bright and big and full of needs.
Sometimes, in the thickest ring of a day, I’m just able to keep up. Matching my pace with the flowers expanding ever-wider, the vines finding new perch, or the grasses that risebefore your eyes like well-leavened bread. But then, just as the sun begins to ease back towards the horizon it is as if someone finally opens the door to the oven of the world, to halt all of creation at its peak. The earth floods with a deep heat and everything living is given the signal that it is okay, okay now, to nod your head like the sunflower. It’s okay to give up creating for a moment. To take oneself out of the furnace and find a peck of shade. To put your feet in the creek, to allow yourself some peace.
Perhaps, all along, summer has been the ripest season for such reprieve.
We often see high Summer and the dead of Winter as opposite wings on the wheel of the year but the truth is that they have more in common than we might imagine. Like the Yin and Yang, anything that is opposite also holds the other within it. The essence of Winter, and its demand for rest, recuperation and the regathering of vision, is flecked like mica throughout the high summer months. In Winter, we rest because there is nothing to plant but dreams. In high Summer, there is a similar pause. At the hottest peak of the day, there is often nothing to do but take our well-mixed creations out of the oven. Let them cool on the windowsill and give ourselves a moment of quiet regeneration and soulful reprieve.
Summer as a time of rest is almost unheard of around these parts. For all those that garden or homestead it can feel as though the tasks are never-ending. And even those who don’t tend the land seem to fill their coffers with well-intended parades of vacation, work projects, or pie making, but the end result is often the same. We pray for Autumn to come so we can receive a break from the break.
Like the waterfall buzz of cicadas, the high-whine rush of summer always seems be repeating the need for growth. We see the sunflowers grow twice our height in the span of a month, the grass following quickly behind, and there is some deep internal nudging inside of us that says. You, too, must grow so tall, so quickly, so fast! In high summer, however, there comes a natural time when all our bustling projects fall flat. Like seltzer water left out on a sunlit patio. Try as we might (and, to be sure, we try mightly!) we never get quite enough done as these long sunny days would suggest. And perhaps this is when we should simply it let all fall like the head of a blossom gone to fruit and seed.
This Summer I have had dedicated myself to practicing the art of relaxation. At the beginning of this summer I contracted Lyme disease (for the second time in two years) and so, very quickly, my attention to plans, both bold and bland, fell away. Rest became my most important prerogative; I went seeking the mica speck of Yin amongst the overwhelming sunshine of Yang. Most afternoons, when the heat reaches its peak, you can find me lounging in bed (the darkest and coolest room of the house) with a tall glass of chilled tulsi tea and a good book. Some days this Summer this was about all I could manage. And it was enough.
This season, I find myself asking new questions. What if we can find our fulfillment in long tides of rest? What if, going even deeper into the season, means finding stillness in the rush of summersong? What if, the most profound lesson of all is to be able to bask in that mirror of Yin within the Yang? And what happens when our entire structure of To-Do lists collapse in the face of allowing ourselves something the nectar seekers never once deny themselves– good old fashioned contentment.
// Allowing Contentment //
Every day, in every way, we are all trying. Trying to weed the garden, or get dinner on the table, or find the love of our life, or heal our heartbreak. We try to be better, be happy, to take care of ourselves. Some days I think we are the only beings in all of creation who try so hard! The sunflowers in my garden dwarf me, but not once did they ever stop to try to be magnificent. They simply took in their surroundings and grew. The hummingbird tests each fushia flower and never once grows frustrated. Even the ants, those who work to rebuild their colonies with each overturned stone, go about with a dedication that excludes even the option of trying. They are simply doing what they must. It makes me wonder, what would happen if we stopped trying, like the sun in its last sling of heat easing in the horizon, and simply allowed ourselves to move in natural ways of contentment.
Allowing is a difficult concept for most of us to swallow. Allowing doesn’t mean comprising your goals, your dignity even your boundaries. It means making space for what is. And when we allow for exactly what is, doing what needs to be done without telling ourselves that we are trying to do it, we make the space we need to truly live.
After I was diagnosed with Lyme disease this summer I was left with one simple goal. How can I enjoy, I mean truly, enjoy myself. How can I be so filled with my own contentment, that spilling fullness of life, that there is room for little else in my body but more own vital vigor, my own zest for life?
On the days when all I can do is lie in bed with my books and watch the fan whirl, I embrace allowing. There is no trying in this moment, only the sense of doing what I must. It has been rough in patches, I won’t lie. But over my time spent in bed this summer I have learned something incredible.
Allowing is the gateway to loving what is, yes, but it is also the gateway to embracing exactly who (and where) you are. And when you can love that person, and all her needs for quietude and nourishment and podcasts and comfy pillows then you can accept almost anything. Including the slow tendriled creep of healing back into your life.
Self love is a term that is often thrown around, but not fully embraced. And frankly, it can feel incredibly difficult to try to love oneself. And so I say, stop trying and instead, on this hot and humid day, simply allow yourself the pleasure of finding contentment. Contentment is a gateway to recognizing yourself in your most peaceful form. It is a way of being receptive to oneself and ones destiny. And it feels so damn good.
So, for today, I ask you. What brings you contentment? Can you take yourself away from the To-Dos for an afternoon and let yourself be like summer scones just out of the oven. Sighing, resting, sweetening before your eyes. Because this is the truth that is sung by the hearth and the oven, the fire and the sun itself. Creation never becomes complete until it is taken from the heat and allowed, with time and space and tender breath, to let go of the hubbub of transmutation and find its final shift into peace. After all, this— the cooling, the rest, the reprieve— is what makes any fresh baked delicacy ready to dined upon. And what makes that banquet of being alive so very delicious indeed.