Happy Solstice to you. Here in the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice means our longest, brightest days of the year. We wake up to the early sunrise, eat dinner late in the cool evening hours, and spend more time outside, moving, breathing. Growing up in Utah, my family had an annual tradition of a Summer Solstice party involving a hike, a potluck picnic at sunset on top of a mountain (always including pesto pasta and peanut butter bars), and old friends from the time before anybody had kids (I was one of those kids). We still celebrate some version of that, wherever we are.
I recently spent a few weeks traveling through Israel, which is a fascinating, complex, and beautiful part of the world. So much has happened in that small piece of land, so many trades, struggles, wars, influential religious events, the building and destruction of walls, the rise and fall of different civilizations, the passing of ownership and feeling of entitlement, the fight against past injustices, the fear of the other side.
There is a lot going on in the world at the moment, people suffering from short-sighted and misguided policy decisions, airstrikes, endless wars, famine, intentional and unintentional bias and discrimination, fear of change, distrust of differences, and on and on. It is easy to become numb to it all, to withdraw, or conversely to feel a reaction of hot anger and hate, a need to rise up in protest and resistance. Instead of going against, however, what if we all become stronger advocates of what we are for, what we support, what matters? Lead by example, live by example, with kindness but not with passivity.
What would it take for every person on the planet to be able to realize the innate joy in simply living, and want that same deep contentment for everyone else, without needing to avenge past events and perpetuate conflict and competition? What would it take for every person on the planet to have enough food and clean water, simple comfort and safety, and the chance to live with love and peace, without constant fear or the need to acquire more and more? You may be tempted to dismiss this as naïve, that the world just can’t work that way and is far too complex to resolve. But why?
We are all part of the same natural system, and we are all in this life together. Every action, every inaction, every e-mail, phone call, conversation, choice, and purchase you make has an impact. Be aware of how you move through the world, your consumption of resources, the way you spend your energy and time, and even the quality and tone of your thoughts. Can we live and act more from a place of compassion, peace, and understanding? There is always a choice, especially for those of us fortunate to be in positions and countries of privilege. It’s ok to make mistakes and have regrets along the way, but we can’t wait. Keep practicing, in whatever way you can.
Here are a few simple summer practices for wherever your adventures take you:
- Practice uddiyana bandha every morning. Stand with your feet a little wider than hips-width, and lean forward slightly to place your hands on your thighs. Inhale deeply and lengthen the spine, expanding the belly, chest, and back. Exhale completely as you round your back, drawing the belly in and back, and feel the tailbone curl gently under. Hold, empty of breath, and suck your belly in and up into the chest; you will feel a hollowing out from just above the pubic bone all the way up into your ribs as the diaphragm draws up. After a few seconds, release the belly, and inhale. Take a few relaxed breaths to neutralize, standing tall, and then repeat the whole thing two more times. Please note: this practice is best done on an empty or less-full stomach, and even better with empty bowels (i.e. after a good poop). You might just feel a slight suction at first when you pull the belly in and up to engage uddiyana bandha, but make it a habit and see what happens over time! It builds a lot of internal strength and stability, and also facilitates good digestion by physically moving the organs around.
- Pause somewhere to sit or lie on the grass, and just watch the sky and the movement of leaves. This can be done nearly anywhere, and pretty much any time, for as long or as brief a time as you have or want. You can laugh at me all you want, but watching leaves move in sunlight can be so simple, so exquisitely beautiful, so purely alive, it might just bring you to tears.