Today, Becky Allender writes about how summer solstice and the seasonal extremities of the Pacific Northwest taught her to embrace desire and allot time and energy for herself. This post originally appeared on Red Tent Living.
We live in a bipolar state on the 47th Latitude. It is a land of extremes. Before we moved to Washington State our friends on Bainbridge Island mentioned that when they were house hunting with their realtor, they saw an entire family naked on a sunny day in the middle of a street soaking in the needed vitamin D! My husband and I laughed and chalked it up to a fluky, hippie family and then forgot about that odd story.
When we purchased our home our builder mentioned no less than thirty times that there were windows on all four sides of the house. I thought it was odd that he kept mentioning that fact. If I’d remembered correctly, all our homes and apartments had windows on all four sides. What was his point?
That was seventeen years ago, and the importance of summer solstice and winter solstice has now become grounded deep into my body. In the winter, the sun sets a little after four in the afternoon and doesn’t rise until eight in the morning. On summer solstice, the sun reigns supreme until almost nine-thirty at night and arrives to wake us around five in the morning.
I have learned how to weather the extremes and lean into rhythms of ebb and flow with the sun and the tides. I have embraced sleeping nine to ten hours in the winter and six or seven in the summer. I have become less afraid of extremities. That has not always been the case.
I lived much of my life trying to be the stable and solid ground of my family. My father’s family was inundated with bipolar depression. They could be wild and adventurous or quiet, aloof, and depressed. In the fifties no one talked about being bipolar. My critical mother often scolded me not to give in to those “highs and lows.”
I became attuned to my father’s depressions and avoided the critical gaze of my mother. I lost myself in vigilance and care for others. On a high school summer trip in Paris, I was relieved that a priest was one of the people crammed next to me on a crowded bus. To my horror this man vaginally fondled me. I could not speak and could not move, but my face revealed my agony to one of my chaperones. When the bus doors opened and people shimmied out of the doorway the chaperone rushed to me and asked what happened.
There was nothing more I wanted than to be cared for by a hip and beautiful young teacher, but the shame of what had happened was too great—and a lifetime of masking need too ingrained—to allow for care. To this day I wish I could have asked for care.
I learned to avoid the dreaded extremes by being suspicious and critical of any desire that raised the tide of anticipation. I poked holes in desire so that it would sink before it sank me. But I always seemed to be in relationship with people who dragged me into the extremes that I was reluctant to choose. I married a man of extremes who is not prone to depression or swings of grandiosity, but he did take me into the wildness of the Northwest.
Our first fall in Seattle came, and the rain stayed until July. It was the year that Mt. Baker had more snow than ever recorded. The rain was daily and relentless. My friends who had lived in Seattle their entire lives said they had never endured a winter like our first.
Somehow in the soft drizzle rains of Seattle I began to see my critical inward gaze. I began to pray weekly with women who knew Jesus and spoke a different language of love. They opened my eyes to a new reality. I realized I was unjustly living in a prison of my own making. I learned to care for myself and listen to my body and be kind to it. I changed. I am still changing. I am blessing desire, dreaming, and taking up space and time for myself. I have exchanged my critical inward glare for Jesus’ joyous delight in me.
It sometimes seems selfish to ask, to desire and choose space and time for me. I find it much easier to support the desires of my husband and my children and grandchildren. It is safer and easier to birth their dreams than to sacrifice for mine. I have been the prison guard of time allotted for myself, and I have learned that I have the keys to unlock that prison.
Since that first year I have embraced that there is a polarity in life. I have learned to weather the darkness with vigorous exercise, aromatherapy, and sleep. I try and make allowances for the low times with an all-day date in bed with candles and a good book. In the summer I make peace with the birds that start singing at four in the morning and chuckle with the memory of my father’s annoyance with those same birds when my parents used to visit.
In this embracing of solstice extremes I have become less fearful of not being stable and even-keeled. I am less afraid of depression that shows up even though it is unwanted. I have enjoyed the wildness that can come with a bit of mania that summer beauty allows.
I realize the abundant freedom I have at this stage of life and remember the constraints of being a young mother. So much has been lost not being in the spring of life, yet there is a silver lining with the autumn of life and the gift of acceptance of self and the knowledge that I am to be pleasing Jesus and no one else.
May the added light of summer solstice enliven you to dream again, to create in ways you loved as a child. May you claim your time and not the warden’s that you used to think you were allotted. It really is about pleasing no one but Jesus, and He is all about your freedom to soar.