Summer Solstice 2019: Choose Love and Gratitude

Most Mainers I know were surprised this year when June 21st rolled around. This happens most years. Though Solstice means different things to different people in Maine–from being very important to people like myself to being irrelevant to others–most all of us share at least one reaction in common: ambivalence. We’re excited that Summer has officially arrived and also discouraged that the days are already getting shorter.

I live on Mount Desert Island, Maine, home to many wonderful things including Acadia National Park. Though we have an abundance of beauty, we also lack long seasons of warmth. Our winters are long, and sometimes, like this year, the only signs of spring are the mosquitos. The fleeting nature of the seasons and weather are very present here, reminders of life’s great impermanence.

I, like others, am often guilty of rising early on Solstice with an interesting mix of feeling excited and downcast. I’m eager for the beautiful days and sad that sooner-than-I-know the dark and cold will be upon us again.

With the Solstice this year, my commitment is being more mindful and less judgmental. I want to be as present as I can to the day–neither thinking too far ahead or behind–by enjoying the time with my wife, daughter and newborn son.

I also want to be intentional about what thoughts I focus on. I want to focus on where there is love and joy, gratitude and playfulness. I intend to shift my attention away from thoughts that bring judgment, heaviness and negativity.

Everywhere in the world are reasons for hope and fear, celebration and grief, love and upset. None of this is more evident than with our planet. The many gifts offered by the Earth are only matched by the threats from Climate Change. It’s vitally important to me that I don’t ignore the crisis we face with climate change. However, I also don’t want to be too consumed with these anxieties and grief that I miss the moments I have to be present with loved ones and rejoice in the beauty of this world. If my thoughts are too filled with doom and gloom–be that climate change or Solstice’s reminder that winter will arrive soon enough–I will miss the lingering rhododendron and lilac flowers, the fully blooming daisies and lupines, and the unfolding of the Black-Eyed Susans to the sun.

One of the most important things we can do to address our ecological, social, spiritual and political struggles is to deepen into compassion and joy.”

We know real and enduring change won’t come from more negativity, guilt, shame and judgment. These only breed more of the same.

Despite the many differences in the world, deep down we all want the same things: security and comfort, love and meaning, purpose and health, positive relationships and environments that are supportive to live in.

To see this change actualized, a lot of work has to happen. And a lot of it starts in my own psyche.

For one, it starts with each day choosing to give more attention to that which cultivates the things I want, that which is positive, loving and healthy. One of the great books I draw upon for inspiration is “The Book of Joy” by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. In this book, they speak about 8 qualities that will bring more joy to ourselves and the world: perspective, gratitude, humor, humility, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, and generosity. I practice day-by-day, moment-by-moment to choose these qualities. In addition to bringing more joy, I also believe these attitudes and experiences will bring the change we want in the world.

Now that I’m a parent of a three-year-old and infant, my time for nature walks, meditation and yoga are even less. As much as ever, my practice is being present to my children and wife, and choosing, again and again, to focus my attention on that which brings love and gratitude, and away from negativity. With the arrival of Solstice this year, I want to deepen this practice.

Each Winter and Summer Solstice, I take the time to reflect on what’s lead up to this moment and look ahead to the coming months. This year, I can’t promise that some dread won’t show up that the daylight will soon get shorter and temperatures will drop. However, I do know how I’m going to respond when this happens and how I will focus my efforts instead: being grateful for all that’s transpired in the recent months, being present to the beauty of what’s here now, and directing my attention to that which brings joy and love.

I hope you take the time this season, every season and day, to choose what opens your heart, quiets your mind and lifts your spirit.

by Dennis Kiley

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