Today is the Summer Solstice (from the latin sol sistere: “sun stand still”), also called Litha or Midsummer. Midsummer seems like a better name than the common “first day of summer,” given that the day marks the longest daylight period of the year, after which point the days become shorter and shorter until December.
Nature offers some of the most powerful sources of healing inspiration. In many systems of spirituality and philosophy, going back to Ancient Greece, Egypt, Japan, India, Tibet, Pre-Christian Europe, continuing through Judeo-Christian thought and continuing today in a variety of belief systems, there is the core idea of 4 “elements” (often Earth, Air, Fire, Water) with a unifying central force (sometimes called Ether, Spirit, Space, Akasha, or Void depending on the tradition). In Western Astrology, zodiac signs are associated with certain elements and thus give insight into personality tendencies, and in related schools of thought the elements are also associated with directions, Angels, colours, stones, herbs, animals, planets, symbols, chakras, Tarot suits, and more! For a snippet about how Tarot relates, you could see one of my older posts, and for more about elemental connections there are online resources such as: The White Goddess, Witchipedia, and Chakras.
Throughout the post I’ll also be referencing two of my most highly-recommended books: Healing with Form, Energy, and Light: The Five Elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra, and Dzogchen by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and Esoteric Anatomy: The Body as Consciousness by Bruce Burger.
For this Solstice post, my intention is to honor the element of fire and explore a few ideas about how we can use imagery and ritual to make the most of this day of strong and long light. First, we need a little bit more information about how elemental healing works:
THE ELEMENTS, CONSCIOUSNESS, AND MOVEMENT
“The metaphoric use of the elements is common in Western languages: a person can be earthy or spacey, fluid or fiery. Anger is hot, sadness is watery. Attitudes can be airy or grounded. In the Tibetan traditions the elements are not only understood metaphorically. Rather, the elements in nature concretely represent a subtler and more fundamental discrimination of five aspects of the primordial energy of existence.” -Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Healing with Form, Energy and Light
“All life undulates through the spiraling helix of creation in a cycle of phases of resonance: Air, from above to below; Fire, from within to without; Water, from without to within; Earth, from below to above. All vibration entrains with the four primordial archetypes of the four directions of force.” - Bruce Burger, Esoteric Anatomy
By studying the elements we find in nature, we are simultaneously understanding multitudes of dimensions of knowledge about how our existence works. And as Rinpoche crucially reminds us, when studying the elements, the goal is to find balance between all of them, for that is the place where “it’s easier to abide in the buddha-nature, which is the final method and goal of the spiritual journey.”
With theatre students, I often lead them through embodied explorations of natural elements, encouraging them to simply allow their bodies to be moved by the images they conjure. This stems from the acting techniques developed by Michael Chekhov about “Qualities of Movement,” which he broke down into the categories of Fly (air), Float (water), Mold (earth), Radiate (fire). To give more of an idea: if you are picturing vividly in your mind’s eye a babbling brook, if you can hear those sounds, feel the temperature of the water, see the colors and the movement, what is happening to your body as your mind is completely absorbed in that scene? What if the brook became a rushing river? How does the energy in your body, mind, and spirit move when you are highly focused on these phases of water? This is a small example to help you imagine what this physical exploration would be like. This is a great theatre exploration but also useful for all kinds of embodied healing. You might imagine how if someone seemed to have an imbalance of too much “water” in their life or temperament (perhaps they feel they are drifting too much, weepy, tossed about by their emotional turmoil, self-pitying), we could do a physical exploration of the Fire element to introduce these contrasting energies into the muscle and mind patterns and balance out the water.
When I do the elemental movement exploration with teens, I like to save Fire for last, because I think of it as the Alchemist of the elements, the great transformer…it could be because I am a Leo and slightly biased towards fire, but let’s look a little bit more at fire and see what you think. What is fire, what does it do, and how can we work with it in our lives?
(This is a shortened and curated list from the sources mentioned at the beginning of the article.)
NATURE: Purifying, destructive, cleansing, energetic, sexual, forceful; heat
PLACES: Deserts, hot springs, volcanoes, ovens, fireplaces, bedrooms
RITUALS: Protection, courage, sex, energy, strength, authority, banishing negativity
HERBS: Stinging, thorny or hot, as thistles, chilli peppers and bouganvillia; desert-dwelling, as cacti; stimulating, as coffee beans; generally seeds; other herbs: cinnamon, damiana, garlic, ginger, witch hazel
STONES: Red or fiery, as in jasper, ruby, bloodstone; volcanic, as in lava; clear, as in quartz crystal and citrine
CREATURES: Snake, cricket, salamander, praying mantis, ladybug, bee, scorpion, shark, lion
TYPES OF MAGICK RULES: Candle, storm, time and star
GODDESSES: Brigid, Pele, Vesta, Kali
GODS: Agni, Hepaetus, Horus, Promtheus, Vulcan
PLANETS: Sun, Mars, Jupiter
TAROT CARDS: Suit of Wands; The Sun; Strength; The Emperor; Temperance
ZODIAC SIGNS: Leo, Aries, Sagittarius
“The fire element as consciousness is radiance in all its dimensions…Fire expresses purpose, the intelligent willpower, motivation, desire, and excitement of creation." - Bruce Burger, Esoteric Anatomy
“Fire is the life-giving energy of the sun as well as the life-destroying forest fire. It's the heat of the digestive system, the creativity of the mind, the red light of the rainbow, the phenomenon of temperature, the emotions of hatred and desire, the warmth of compassion…The positive aspect of fire is the capacity to create and to accomplish what creativity sets in motion. Intuition is related to fire as is enthusiasm and excitement. The higher experience of fire is the bliss of being. Its highest expression is the development of the wisdom of discrimination.” -Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Healing with Form, Energy and Light
TRY IT OUT:
The above insights surely come in part from sincere observation of fire in action. You can come up with your own description of what fire is by observing and embodying. In my theatre workshops, the instruction I give for fire is that the student begins as a piece of wood, which receives a spark from somewhere, and it starts to flicker with flames, and these flames start to grow larger and larger until it reaches its absolute maximum potential, and then at some point and for some reason, it will begin to die out, and it will become an ember, and it will smolder and smoke, until the fire is completely out. At their maximum, I encourage students to feel more of that sensation in their pelvis particularly. It is very fascinating to see how each person will perform this embodied process in a unique way. It is a dance of sorts. The important thing is that the students don’t perform what they believe the “form” of it should look like; but rather, they allow themselves to be moved organically from the impulse of the image and the reality of the energy and spirit in that image. As the students discuss afterwards, they will come to their own unique conclusions. I encourage you to try this out with yourself. It may seem strange at first, but what is the joy in life without saying yes to those strange little opportunities to move and feel?
FORMAL RITUALS: TIBETAN SHAMANISM FOR RETRIEVING FIRE
In Rinpoche’s book, he outlines the Tibetan way of invoking the Goddesses to assist in balancing elements. There is a formal tradition he outlines with purification breaths, guru yoga, mantra recitation, and dedicating the merit from the practice to the welfare of all beings. In the book you can find detailed information about the postures, breath techniques, and imagery techniques. Here I will simply list some of the abbreviated information that is used in the guided meditation for Fire, and I direct you to the book or these online notes for more detailed information if you want to give it a try:
Mantra for transformation: A RAM
Mantra of the goddess: RAM TSANG TANG NE RAM DU
Mantra of all the elements combined: A YAM RAM MAM KHAM BRUM DU
Color of goddess and mantra: luminous red
In right and left hands: lighting bolt and skull
Right and left hands of goddess in the organ: flame and vase
Qualities: energy, warmth, strong will, inspiration creativity, bliss
Spiritual development: inner fire, overcoming desire and greed, increasing generosity
Image: fiery volcano
MEDITATIONS, RITUALS, AND BUILDING YOUR OWN WAY
Although I appreciate lineages of rituals passed down through spiritual tradition, I also support the creation of personal rituals or unique group rituals. Once you come to a place of understanding regarding what the solstice means and signifies to you, you can start to fashion a ritual around how you see yourself in regards to this larger-scale process. For me, the summer solstice is the time to celebrate the fulfillment of Light and Awakening, with the understanding that this so-called “beginning” of summer is also the beginning of the end, since the light will thereafter lessen. Nature helps us to be aware of cycles. The 24-hour cycle. The yearly cycle. Other subtler cycles that may be happening in your life without you even noticing.
Once you’ve had some time to reflect on the macrocosmic meanings of the solstice, consider your personal mythology, spiritual path, or belief system. Whatever teachings you follow, there are likely figures associated with Light and Sun—whether deities or human people, I won’t name them, as there are many and it will be fun for you to wonder about it in your own way. Or perhaps there are stories from your family, friends, or tradition that involve light, sun, or fire.
Take time to meditate with these beings and stories; what can you learn from them today, in your present moment?
TRY IT OUT:
I invite you to spend time with the sunrise and/or the sunset on the days surrounding the Summer Solstice. Personally, I love to stare directly at the sun during the sunset— I have heard others say it’s not good for your eyes, but my intuition says otherwise. I spent many Jordanian evenings gazing at the sun during sunset, and my eyes felt healthier than ever afterwards. There is something special about being in the desert in total stillness, total silence, with all energy focused on that mysteriously radiant disc.
I also invite you to listen to this guided trance meditation just before sunset, in a place where you can go outside. Although if needed, you could listen to it inside and imagine walking outside, since we know from the studies on mirror neurons (see previous blog post) that even in imagined scenarios your brain will react the same as if it were “really” happening. As I’ve also mentioned in other posts, the boundary between within and without is illusive: what is around you reflects what is in you, and what is in you reflects what is outside of you. And when you become aware of that you can co-create those realities. And even this language seems more disparate than the reality of connectedness.
The soundscape in the following recording includes my voice, a snippet of poetry by Mary Oliver, birdsongs and other natural sounds recorded with my phone in Pennsylvania, and snippets of music by Bob Singley (thanks Bob!).
Besides spending time with the Sun, you could do a fire ritual for the solstice. You could choose a big bonfire with like-minded company and joyfully sing & dance, or a modest campfire, a fireplace cuddled up with a pet or alone, or even a simple candle or two.
I encourage you to utilize the power of the Fire. Is there something that is getting in the way of you connecting with the most sacred parts of who you are and what you would like to do on this Earth? Write it on a piece of paper. Then, when you’re ready, put it in the flames. As you watch it burn, know that in that moment the problem or obstacle itself is burning. The flames lick at the paper as it turns black, brown, or some other color. It crumples and smokes. Maybe it gives off a smell. It goes through phases until finally it is nothing but ash. The smoke drifts away, and away.
Now you have the space in your heart to call in your highest self. What do you love, what do you want to bring more of into your life? Now is the perfect time to create it by saying it aloud or in your heart-mind space. Imagine it happening. It is already happening!
Finally, for something a little more playful, I love Lions (yes…my Leo is showing again…), who in Astrology represent huge hearts and fierce and fiery creativity. You can channel the energy of Lion whenever you want to. Imagine how the lion walks. How the lion roars. How the lions cuddle and play with one another. Their golden manes flowing majestically in the warm wind. You are King or Queen of your own jungle. Now, practice the Lion's Breath!
I love Adriene’s series and Lion’s Breath has so many benefits!