Summer Solstice: Mindfulness & Metta

The summer solstice, when the nights are shortest and the days are longest, brings to my mind two aspects of Buddhist meditation practice.

The first aspect is mindfulness, the joyful ability to fully inhabit the present moment. Staying in touch with the seasons helps to keep us present. The changing seasons teach us so much about the nature of letting go and opening anew to whatever arises. By staying fully present we can learn to graciously accept whatever nature offers in the way of temperature, light and moisture.

Most of us have preferences when it comes to seasons. We look forward to our favorite season and our anticipation of it can take us away from noticing what is true right now. Or perhaps we dread another season, and our knowledge that it is coming may affect our ability to enjoy what is here and now, the season we claim to love. Most celebrations of the winter solstice are focused on the return of the light. Summer solstice would then be about the return of the darkness. For each coming day will be shorter than the last, until there we are back in darkness.

As practitioners of the present, we live with that knowledge as it streams through our awareness, just as we live with the knowledge that we and everyone we know will die some day, we don’t know when; that life can turn on a dime; and that change is the only constant. We hold this awareness in an open embrace as well. Whatever fear arises around it we also acknowledge with friendliness to whatever degree we are able.

We practice being present to what is and letting go of the past, which despite all our efforts cannot be done over. We stay in the present and let go of trying to predict the future. At first our attempts to stay fully present may feel like standing on the head of a pin, it’s such an unstable awareness. But eventually this foundation of the present widens and supports us more fully. The regular practice of meditation with the intention of staying fully present, guiding ourselves gently with great compassion back to this moment just as it is, develops this ability.

During summer solstice with its long warm days, nature is teeming with life and growth. We too may feel ourselves opening and expanding, entering a time of relaxation and/or easy bountiful productivity. With our days so full of light, we may be reminded of our own lighthearted nature. Laughter may come more easily, bubbling up from within. Or the contrast between the lightness of the world and our own inner turmoil, sadness or fear, may be so pronounced, it helps to illuminate our experience and our resistance to our experience. We may be drawn to walk in nature and open ourselves to the teachings all around us.

By being attuned to the seasons, present and aware of the subtle incremental changes day by day and week by week, we may notice our own inner seasons as well. There are seasons for reflection and seasons for outgoing activity. Seasons of darkness when exploring our inner mysteries is rich and satisfying. And seasons of light when just being a joyful part of nature is rich enough.

Another aspect of Buddhist meditation that comes to mind for me especially at this time of year is how the infinite radiance of the sun is like the infinite radiance of metta, loving kindness. Like the sun, metta shines on all indiscriminately, not just on those who are ‘worthy’ or ‘lovable.’ This radiance is not something we have to earn. It is our birthright to feel the sun on our skin when it shines. It is our birthright to feel the infinite loving kindness of the universe supporting us. And it is our intention as meditators to be conduits for that radiant loving energy, offering it without the filter of judgment to all beings everywhere.

Being a conduit of metta is a lovely way to be in the world. We don’t have to struggle so hard to control our experience because we have the best thing we can offer to any situation: loving kindness. At first we might think this is just a kiss off, an easy out, but metta is transformative. It paves the way for challenging conversations to become deep, heartfelt and connecting. It can help us sense in to what is truly needed rather than getting caught up in promoting ourselves as heroes, or habitually trying to adjust the world to our particular wave length. It opens us up to the possibility of the co-existence of multiple viewpoints. There may be more we are moved to offer in certain situations, but our offering is powered by the infinite radiance of metta that prompts a burgeoning sense of generosity.

Sending metta to ourselves when we get upset helps us let go of a story that might have ruffled our feathers and kept us unsettled for hours, days or years! It is empowering and releasing at the same time.

So those are the two aspects that come to mind for me: attuning to the seasons to develop our ability to stay present, and sending metta to ourselves and others with the infinite radiance of the sun.

By being present with the changes of the seasons, we can break out of the bondage of our habitual nature. We can celebrate the summer solstice by rising earlier in the cool of the day to enjoy the fresh morning, relaxing in the heat of the afternoon, and by getting out and enjoying the extended evening light. By recognizing that we are loved, have always been loved and will always be loved, held in the buoyancy of infinite metta, we can be infinitely generous with sharing loving kindness with the world, holding it in an open embrace.

I wish all of you a joyous (and slightly belated due to when I post my dharma talks) summer solstice!

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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