The word solstice comes from two root words: sol, meaning "sun," and stice, meaning "to stand still." This makes sense, as the summer solstice is when the sun rises so high in the sky that it appears not to move. It's the longest day and shortest night of the year, and a time of celebration.
Every past culture has had its own take on the significance of summer solstice. Greeks and Romans saw it as a time to thank the gods of nature and fertility with feasts and rituals, while ancient Chinese devoted the day to honoring the earth element, femininity, and the yin parts of everything.
And while the specifics of their celebrations are relatively unknown, it's obvious that the Mayans and other past societies also saw great meaning in this day, expressed in the deliberate design of their buildings and structures to align with the shadows of a sun at its maximum height.
But despite the variations, there was a unifying theme in all these celebrations. Whether praying to the ground below or the gods above, each culture was, in its own way, cultivating gratitude, wonder, and awe at the life they were given on this planet, and reaffirming their connection to all that is.
By performing rituals and ceremonies that pulled their minds and spirits back to seeing all that the earth provides—a bounty so clearly articulated in the beauty and food of the midsummer’s dream—they were seeking these spiritual experiences, and acknowledging the immeasurable influence of the sun and other celestial bodies on their lives.
Gratitude and awe are sorely missing from our lives in modern times.
Replaced by an ever-increasing busyness and pursuit of external commitments and desires, we've left ourselves little space for contemplation and reflection, preventing us from seeing the immense wonder of our existence and all that we're given here. Never before in history have we had so much and yet believed ourselves to have so little, losing not only our larger meaning of life but destroying our planetary home in mindless pursuit of…something. Anything. The banalities of life have become too numerous, the stress too high, and the perception and true interactions far too low. We've lost our connection to our own spirits.
And so, in a way needed like never before, Solstice presents us with the necessary opportunity to stand still—just like the sun—and to devote an amount of time and energy to cultivating appreciation for all that we are given. To stop for just a moment amid all our have-nots and traffic jams and cellphone bills and find gratitude for the planet and the wonder of our own existence.
It's a time to cultivate a perspective that could change every aspect of our lives, empowering us with the realization that life is a beautiful, mind-blowing thing, should we choose to see it that way.
Today, I hope that you take a moment to stand still, in tribute to our sun, and actively cultivate gratitude, awe, and insight. Remind yourself to see the beauty of all that surrounds and is within you, and explore the unbelievable reality that you even exist here on this floating ball.
Whether it's for a minute or 20 (or perhaps you manage to spend the whole day thinking about how wonderful life is), know that through this practice, we may find the real meaning in our lives, and that this way of living is available to us every day, should we pause long enough to see it.