Garden Motif Creator: Pitthordt, Ľudovít. Circa 1905/1910. Institution: Slovak National Gallery. Provider: Slovak National Gallery. Providing Country: Slovakia. PD for Public Domain Mark
Summer solstice is a time of creativity. Green sap is rising, unstoppable. It is restless and when it rises up in us, it can feel overwhelming, dizzying. Human culture has always been linked to the seasons and to the Sun as a source of life, so it’s no wonder that as the Earth suffers more and more degredation, increasingly people look to these natural cycles for wisdom and creativity.
On being whole and real
Five Prints of Flowers in Glass Vases, created in the late 1600’s. Provided by Rijksmuseum, Netherlands. PD for Public Domain Mark
In The Life of the Fields Richard Jefferies writes:
Every blade of grass, each leaf, each separate floret and petal, is an inscription speaking of hope… My heart is fixed firm and stable in the belief that ultimately the sunshine and the summer, the flowers and the azure sky, shall become, as it were, interwoven into [hu]man existence. [We] shall take from all their beauty and enjoy their glory. Hence it is that a flower is to me so much more than stalk and petals.
Learning to pay attention to nature, Jefferies argues, is both a way to inhabit our own wholeness, and is what constitutes ‘real life’
These are the only hours that are not wasted — these hours that absorb the soul and fill it with beauty. […] To be beautiful and to be calm, without mental fear, is the ideal of nature.
This is not just idealised romanticism. It is the assertion that all life is connected. A message that is urgent and fundamental. In The Unabridged Journals, just before her nineteenth birthday, Sylvia Plath wrote about a visit to a quiet beach:
The sun has burned these rocks, and the great continuous ebb and flow of the tide has crumbled the boulders, battered them, worn them down to the smooth sun-scalded stones on the beach which rattle and shift underfoot as one walks over them. A serene sense of the slow inevitability of the gradual changes in the earth’s crust comes over me; a consuming love, not of a god, but of the clean unbroken sense that the rocks, which are nameless, the waves which are nameless, the ragged grass, which is nameless, are all defined momentarily through the consciousness of the being who observes them. With the sun burning into rock and flesh, and the wind ruffling grass and hair, there is an awareness that the blind immense unconscious impersonal and neutral forces will endure, and that the fragile, miraculously knit organism which interprets them, endows them with meaning, will move about for a little, then falter, fail, and decompose at last into the anonymous soil, voiceless, faceless, without identity.
From this experience I emerged whole and clean, bitten to the bone by sun, washed pure by the icy sharpness of salt water, dried and bleached to the smooth tranquillity that comes from dwelling among primal things.
From this experience also, a faith arises to carry back to a human world of small lusts and deceitful pettiness. A faith, naïve and child like perhaps, born as it is from the infinite simplicity of nature. It is a feeling that no matter what the ideas or conduct of others, there is a unique rightness and beauty to life which can be shared in openness, in wind and sunlight, with a fellow human being who believes in the same basic principles.
This exquisite passage sums up the immenseness of life and the minuteness of the individual. Being in nature shifts our perspective. The timescales of geology, the forces of suns and stars and ocean, mark our tiny yet wonderful place in it all, which is at once humbling and calming. Being whole and real is the part we play, infinitesimally small, yet spiritually profound and significant, in the vastness and interconnection of all life. This is not by any means an escapist thought, yet it is nonethless a profoundly consoling thought for these strange times.
On being inspired
Portrait of Marie Jeanette de Lange, 1900. Creator:Jan Toorop. Institution: Rijksmuseum. Provider: Rijksmuseum. Providing Country: Netherlands. Public Domain.
Creativity and imagination are seen in abundance in the summer world, everywhere there is flowering. And we want this in our life and in our writing too, we want the summer solstice to be a time of imaginative and fertile flow.
In ‘The Operating Instructions’, an essay in The Wave in the Mind, Ursula K Le Guin notes that imagination is humanity’s single most important tool. She argues it is fundamental way of thinking, both innate yet capable of being nurtured so that we learn how to use well. Imagination allows us to conceive of other futures: ones which allow the flourishing of justice and empower communities; ones which seed futures of ecological integrity and respect across whatever dualisms might divide us.
Where do we learn to cultivate such an imagination? For so many writers, it is in nature–nature not characterised as some bland, anodyne sop to acclimatise us to tolerating business as usual, but rather nature as radical, transformative and loudly anouncing that all life is connected. The quotes from Jefferies and Plath illustrate this and the list of other examples is endless.
Thinking of nature’s inspiration at the time of the Summer Solstice, Henry Beston writes in Northern Farm:
This great feast of the Solstice was celebrated with multitudinous small fires lit throughout the countryside. Fire and the great living sun — perhaps it would be well to honor again these two great aspects of the flame. It might help us to remember the meaning of fire before the hands and fire as a symbol. As never before, our world needs warmth in its cold, metallic heart, warmth to go on and face what has been made of human life, warmth to remain humane and kind.
Nature gives us a perspective on our place in things. Being humane and kind is not always easy, it’s not cosy. It gives us the powerful sense of the absolute connection of all life. And it provides the metaphors and examples of how to live.
On telling the story
Skelwith Force, Westmorland, 1800–1820 by Robert Hills. Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash
Nature gives us all this, and writers witness to and communicate it. This is Le Guin again:
Words are the wings both intellect and imagination fly on … to train the mind to take off from immediate reality and return to it with new understanding and new strength, there is nothing like a poem or a story.
Through story every culture defines itself and teaches its children how to be people and members of their people.
Imagination, inspired by the Earth and translated into language gives us identity, as individuals and communities. Imagination allows us to take the raw material and change how we perceive it. So we can tell new stories, forge and change identities.
Stories, identities, worlds, none of these are static and the stories we are inspired to tell need to be as shifting yet as authentic as the seasons.
In the words of Henry Miller:
It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis.
What whole, real story are you becoming this Summer Solstice?
What new story are you becoming?
Thank you for reading — new stories and transformation have never been so urgent and writing is a big part of that. I’d love you to join the conversation by signing up to my email list and you’ll also find free courses here. While you’re there, take a look at my book Writing Down Deep: an alchemy of the writing life, which will connect you to more transformative ideas to become a different story.
Jania Napier-Burrows says
Thank you. That is inspirational.
Thank you Jania
Marina Sanchez says
Happy Summer Solstice to you, loved ones and this whole community that reads your blog weekly.
Let’s all keep today’s long light in our hearts to guide us until the next summer solstice.
May our compassion, humanity & imagination shine bright for all.
Thank you Marina
And happy summer solstice 🙂
Carolyn O'Connell says
Happy Summer Solstice Jan & to your family. thank you for your inspirational blog.
May love and respect for others shine brightly in the coming months.
Thank you Carolyn
Carolyn O'Connell says
Dear Jan. thank you for your inspirational blog.
May love and respect for others shine brightly in the coming months & may this solstice bring you inspiration
Teffy Wrightson says
Thank you once more, Jan. At last I’m beginning to be able to read and study your words more deeply again and to consider writing, if only in a childish, superficial manner. Some new, very fragile shoots are beginning to emerge, the first for many weeks. I’m grateful for your encouragement.
It’s so good to hear you are writing, Teffy. This has been a long haul and I know we’ve a way to go, but fragile shoots sound good to me. I doubt they are either childish or superficial — just early stems that have made it though the darkness and will become something beautiful.