It’s a holiday as old as earth, celebrated as long as there have been people.
It’s a day of purna sun: the most effulgent saturation of sunlight where, in the northernmost latitudes, there is not even night, just a stretch of day without ending.
If I stood at the Tropic of Cancer, I would cast no shadow.
Although I would be roasting in the heat, the directness and simplicity of light would be a relief: to stand with the sun straight overhead, light pouring down through my fontanelle, soaking and saturating my cells, roaring like a lion through my veins.
I would enjoy being unshadowed for one day.
Shadows are part of being an adult; they hold a moral dimensionality, subtlety, and the grey tones of twilight and autumn where there are no absolutes, just times and states gradating into each other.
Negotiating these is an aspect of maturity, but shadows can also be exhausting in their complexity, knowing that everyone has an agenda—an equal and/or relative point of view—that questions have no right answers.
For one day, I want to be a children’s book hero—everything I believed in as a child, shadowless. I want to have a knight’s heart and start there.Photograph by the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory.
And not a Game of Thrones knight. A Narnia knight. A brave knight with a heroic song.
Joseph Campbell lists the five virtues of medieval knighthood: temperance, courage, love, loyalty and courtesy.
To be moderate in consumption and also to not take your emotions out on others, to stand up for what you believe in, to give a damn about the weak and to be kind to those around you, to be someone others can trust, to be gracious.
The old qualities of heart, the qualities that mark a hero in children’s literature, still stand.
“Truth doesn’t change,” writes William Faulkner in The Bear, “it covers all things which touch the heart—honor and pride and pity and justice and courage and love.”
I first read that passage when I was a junior in high school. To this day, I still use it in invocations. I use it because I want to invoke the best aspects of myself—the kindest, the most loyal, the fiercest and most fearless.
To stand in the sun is far from the ego of entanglement of self-righteousness. It is a re-set in selflessness. What did I want when I was a child? To be as morally ambiguous, subtle, complicated and neurotic as a French art house movie? Or, to be valiant, brave, compassionate, courageous, loyal and loving?
These are the warm, golden, unabashed virtues of the sun.
We live in a world of shadows, of imperfections, of grey areas. It is very easy to get quagmired in their complications. You don’t need to suppress your shadow; you absolutely should do your shadow work. Take care of it, seek to understand it, integrate it, acknowledge it, eat it.
But it’s quite possible to let the sticky tentacles of the shadow, its yearning and its incompletion and its patches, pull you under until you can’t think straight anymore.
Dylan Thomas writes that dark is a way and light is a place. Like the sun standing still, Summer Solstice invites you to stand in a place.
We need darkness as its own value, mysterious and restorative. It soon will be upon us, sure as the cycle, along with the grey shadows of autumn and their complexities. But remember that there is also restoration in light, to stand and be flooded by it. To let light drench your cells, come pouring through your eyes and mouth and ears.
Forget qualifications for one day.
The sun is.
A cry to the sun, a hailing, is a prayer to the purest and simplest source of uncomplicated life. In Kabbalah, the ground of the universe from which all emanations proceed is called Ein Sof, or the endless light. This is the ground of every and all being. It is the starting and re-starting point for everything. When you re-set yourself for nobility, for valor, for generosity, you have nothing to explain. Start there. Restart there.
For one day allow yourself to be free and pure of heart. Unlike suppressing the shadow, this is one day of being released from it, a jubilee of feeling what it is like to live in full burning brilliance.
So use the day to re-orient, to place your heart like a solstice stone. Punch the reset button. Let the light of the full-on sun sweep through you, clean you up and renew you: your brain and your heart and your values.
Ask yourself what you fully believe and what you want to be and be that.
When I sit before my altar in the morning and call my sequence of prayers, I am reminding myself what I value, what is important to me in this life, the kind of person I want to be. So that if I were a character in a book, I would be proud of all my lines and deeds. For that one moment I am pure, and I know I have done my prayers right when my cat comes to me and climbs into my arms. On this day I want to be like a sunbeam is to a cat, restful in its purity.
My mother is a Reiki practitioner so her prayer is this: “Just for today…”
So just for to-day, on Summer Solstice day, I am going to speak nobly. I am going to be brave. I am going to treat those around me with kindness and honor. I am going to be loyal. I am going to stand in full sun, and let the light blow through me, as though I were becoming more and more transparent, nothing to cast a shadow, only a pure clean soul, burning with light, loved by the sun.
All of us at heart are and can be the heroes of our childhood. We can believe in the good in man.
Plant in full sun! Be loved, beloved.
Editor: Brianna Bemel