Found Sunglasses: Existential Elation and the Summer Solstice
I write this just after the Summer Solstice, and I am on FIRE.
The heat of my excitement seems to come directly from the Sun in its annual prime. Varied, multi-hued, beautiful images—recognizably concrete or mercurially abstract—are bubbling up from the deep spring of my psyche, ideas like reflected glints of light from liquid crystal, tumbling merrily over each other in my head. I am drunk with sunlight, elated about the lush fullness of trees and plants all around me casting dappled midday shadows, the humid air lending my hair that certain wave I love, the scent of freshly mown grass tickling my nose, and the ever-present birdsong that celebrates summer in one of the best ways possible. My blood sings in harmony with the great song of life, and with Rumi, I agree that “the breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.”
I am also feeling mischievous and impulsive, displaying a vexing tendency toward inappropriately timed jokes that fall just short of their well-meaning intent. While inspiration, intuition, and creativity flow as freely as mead at a Viking feast table, I have noticeably more difficulty focusing and sustaining attention. I catch myself making grandiose, visionary plans, with little thought or worry about organizational details or financial challenges. It seems unlikely that I could hold grudges or harbor irritable feelings for long even if I wanted to do so—even in the presence of those who do not necessarily have my best interest at heart.
This is how I experience what my field has unimaginatively labeled “hypomania”—a state that I typically experience more frequently as the days lengthen to their peak before declining again toward the darker part of the year. Of course, such a reductive and pathologizing term will never encompass the pervasive sense of wonder and perpetual astonishment that accompanies the more problematic aspects of this state.
Before writing this article, I read again what I wrote for this blog during the Winter Solstice. I am now shaking my head, wondering how the author of those ruminative, morose words could even be related to me. In the grip of the existential elation that marks this side of my seasonal mood pattern, during which time energy seems plentiful and readily available, I find myself wondering how anyone could feel depressed or sad when such Beauty is eager to reveal itself to any who are awake enough to fully experience it.
I know deep down, however, that if I did not descend into my winter “dysthymia,” I could never fully appreciate, understand, and utilize the fertile potential of my summer euphoria. Winter contemplation and planning lays the groundwork for summer productivity, which reaches its peak when my concentration is most poor. I find I am better able to “ground” or develop an earthier foundation for the visionary work I can do in summer. At the Summer Solstice, I feel little need to question or second-guess myself; I simply live my purpose in a more fully embodied way.
Teaching, counseling, and writing bring me the most joy at this time of year. Moreover, amid current brainstorming for my courses for the next academic year, I am recalling how often the innovative concepts or ideas born of summer inspiration nurture and enhance my teaching throughout the energetic ebb time of winter. In this way, I have learned how to ride the waves of my emotions and moods, using the costs and benefits experienced during each half of the year to greater advantage. Summer’s beauty and fire warms me through the winter; winter’s practicality anchors and supports me during the summer.
This notion of inspiration grounded and supported by practicality also reminds me of just how much we need our artists and poets! They are not merely indulging a creative whim or hobby. It is they who play a practical and critical role in revealing and illuminating the Beauty of the world. They are best equipped to put Mystery in our grasp, and to enable us to enter into lived experiences in our own unique ways without reducing them or destroying their complexity or uniqueness. They may also inspire and awaken creativity and wonder in those who have not come to such experiences directly or tangibly themselves. I feel strongly that artists need to be supported and nurtured in their own creative process, which is frequently not easy or pleasant for them. They certainly sustain US when we become lost in our own shadows.
Before this writing today, I took a moment to watch the sunset. The last rays of the setting sun turned low-lying clouds into rosy splendor. Trees on the horizon seemed otherworldly. The setting summer sun brought to my awareness the three rays of the neo-Druidic awen symbol, which seem very sun-like to me in appearance. Harris (2011) states the Welsh word “awen” may be roughly translated as “inspiration” of a poetic, artistic, divine, or sacred nature, and that the Welsh root of the word suggests “breeze.” I feel it captures well what I experience and channel at this time of year. I certainly like it much better than “hypomania”. It encompasses the sacred nature of inspiration as well as the divine calling of artists to awaken us to magic and beauty, blowing like a purifying breeze through our souls.
It carries its own dangers too. Those who archetypally embody or channel awen in the myths—stortyellers, bards, poets, magicians, and tricksters—are not always stable, reputable, or sane individuals. The enormity of the sacred can erode the boundaries of conventionality, and creativity can be like a storm or a river that refuses to flow in orderly channels. I experience awen most strongly at this time of year, being in the grip of the divine spirit that inspires wisdom…or madness. The sun illuminates my path, or it can blind me if I stare at it too long.
Perhaps if I don these sunglasses I found last winter, I can stare at it safely. Can I get an awen?
Harris, M. (2011). Awen: The quest of the Celtic mysteries. Cheltenham, UK: Skylight Press.
-- Drake Spaeth