“In summer, the song sings itself.” — William Carlos Williams
We are in the fullness of summer, the season of light, vitality, and rest.
A few years ago, I visited Norway during their time of high sun. Long days stretched into midnight and began anew at 4:00 a.m. I recalled the sense of endless summer from my youth where I fell asleep before sundown and awakened to high warm sun nine hours later. Going to sleep in the light and waking in the light was to revisit my childhood.
Summer’s long sun illuminates our day with high voltage intensity. We welcome the oak and maple shade trees that line our streets protecting us from the midday sun and its scorching UV rays. However, too much shade stunts my sun loving coneflowers and zinnias. It is like my own shadow. It protected me initially, until it kept me too small.
The light of summer may be a good time to investigate patterns, habits, vices I find difficult to admit to. Our shadow is more easily seen by others than by us. I detect a hint of it by noticing what I find untenable in another. What are others’ traits that drive me crazy? These might point to parts of me that I cannot see clearly. By taking a step back to note my own behavior I can come to know more about myself. From there I can choose to change—or not.
For me, it’s people who demand center stage, who leave little room for others. Now I can notice when I do that. I note my behavior and watch myself perform. By observing without judgement, I begin to change how I do things. Like summer sun, I can shine a light on me with gentle compassion to better understand who I am.
Where are my blind spots? What do I loathe in others? What do I refuse to see?
Summer is the season of vitality.
Nature pulls energy from these long days to create the food we eat. Plants use sun to convert water and minerals from earth and carbon dioxide from air to generate a vast variety of food for us. We enjoy the biting bitterness of radishes, the sweet tang of strawberries, the crisp crunch of kohlrabies. Plants take sun, water, and air to delight our taste buds.
Like plants, we take in experiences, observations, and fears and use them to help us understand the world. We create stories of our lives, the myths by which we make sense of life. We all live stories of sorrow and joy, pain and gratitude, loss and growth. Viewing these stories with some detachment is a way to better understand how we got to where we are. This is particularly true with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic of the last year.
What is the story I am telling myself? Am I willing to name my losses? Can I recognize my resilience? How might I see the past year in the light of today?
As the natural world expands and grows, I connect with my own aliveness. Howard Thurman, a 20th century theologian and civil rights leader said, “Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Summer growth is wild and rambunctious. Zucchinis spill beyond the garden border. Morning glories climb on and over whatever is nearby. Elms shoot up everywhere as the spring seeds drop and float where they please.
As a gardener, the effervescence of summer’s growth demands that I let go of my perfectionism, another of my early coping mechanisms. If I get everything right, certainly no one could criticize me. A problem with perfectionism is it produces a very small life. How can I try new things if I can’t make a mistake? What a sad state if our natural world’s growth were sparse, precise, and neatly contained! It is in its abundant and unconstrained aliveness that nature’s beauty shines. Messy, wild, and fruitful.
Mistakes are the fertilizer of life. Psychologist Tara Brach tells the story of a business person when asked what has made him successful, answers “Good decisions.” How do you learn to make good decisions? “Experience.” How do you gain experience? “Bad decisions.” If we are going to learn and grow, we cannot avoid mistakes.
What makes me come alive? Who supports my aliveness? From what mistakes have I learned the most?
While summer is a time of growth, it’s also a time to pause, play, and rest.
As I rest, I set down my burdens and enjoy the fruit of my labor. “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time,” says archeologist John Lubbock.
In rest I can reflect on what to let go now. As I relax, I recognize I no longer need much of the stuff that filled my pre-pandemic days.
What have I learned this past year that I do not want to lose? Where do I find spirit-sustaining peace? As I listen to the waves of a northern lake, or contemplate the tall grasses of the prairie, or watch birds care for their young, what is it I want to have more of? What is no longer useful? What season am I in and what does it have to teach me?
Sometimes it helps to share our answers to these questions with another person—a sponsor, a spouse, a good friend. Like being in the midst of a bountiful garden, it can be hard to see the shoots of new life by ourselves.
May we embrace the gifts of summer—light, vitality and rest—to rejuvenate, come to know ourselves in new ways, and trust that what has come to light, what has grown, and what we let go will serve us well in the next seasons of our life.
May we hear the songs summer sings.
Mary Lou Logsdon is a Spiritual Director in the Twin Cities. She teaches in the Sacred Ground Spiritual Direction Formation Program. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated on July 12, 2021