It’s the season of the fallen flower. It’s the season of heat when the rising temperatures cause the petals, so vibrant and alive just a few weeks ago, to wilt. It’s the season of paradox: we bask in summer light and longer days yet the hands of darkness are stealing away the light minute by minute; we revel in the heat yet when it reaches a crescendo and breaking point we seek shelter indoors. The winter of summer. The emotional paradox of this season is that when there’s heat there’s an expectation of joy – beer and BBQs, swimming pools and parties – and yet there’s an undercurrent of sadness because we sense, especially the highly sensitive ones, the loss of light that begins after the summer solstice, and we feel in our bones the interplay of life and death.
We live in a culture that desperately seeks to avoid death, so we play harder and drink more beer and anesthetize with louder music, as if we could drown out the sorrow that lives at the edges of our days, the sadness that tries to be known at daybreak before the noise begins or at sunset when the darkness mixes with the light. We push away the tender feelings but they crawl up our bodies like vines anyway, like morning glory that climbs through fences and over gates with such tenacious beauty that we wonder if it’s weed or flower.
This expectation of unilateral joy in a season where sadness exists is what spawned my work in transitions almost two decades ago when I was pulled into the underworld of the wedding culture and called to write about the grief, fear, loneliness, and vulnerability that punctuate this “only happy time.” Then came my work around the transition into motherhood, where, again, connection and loneliness, joy and sadness, confidence and fear, boredom and presence collide in one messy soup of love. Interwoven in my work around transitions has always lived the conversation about relationship anxiety, where I broke through the taboo that said that doubt and love can’t possibly live in the same heart and instead teach that love and fear are more closely related than we think. Our culture has a very hard time accepting paradox.
So we find ourselves here in the height of summer, a few days after the holiday of the 4th of July where the expectation of parties and BBQs – those ultimate experiences of the extrovert ideal that dominate our culture – is at an all-time high. And in the sanctuary of my sessions I hear about the sadness and loneliness that my clients struggle with when their holiday doesn’t match the culture’s expectation. If only we could widen our culture’s conversation to make room for the introvert who resists big gatherings, or the sensitive who, upon waking up on the 4th of July, is tinged by a shadow memory that leaves a thumbprint of sadness on her soul. She tries to push it away because today is supposed to be fun, fun, fun but it doesn’t work, and finally she remembers that it’s okay to feel sad on holidays, and if she can make room on her picnic blanket for the sadness and open to the memories, she’ll make room for the joy as well.
She remembers, then, that like the yin/yang symbol there’s a dot of death in summer and a dot of life in winter, and if she can open herself to these paradoxes and polarities she might find more ease inside herself, on this day, and in this life. If she could stop in the middle of the heat in the middle of a summer day – especially in the middle of a holiday when expectations for joy run high – and turn inward long enough to touch that dot of death, she might connect to a memory from childhood, to a day when she sat by the pool or at the lake’s edge and felt happy and safe or sad and alone, and no matter how she felt she would breathe into the bittersweet nostalgic sadness that arises now from knowing that that moment is gone, that her childhood is over, that her original family, no matter how healthy or dysfunctional (and every family has shades of both) has dispersed and reconfigured, and if she could breathe into that pang of longing on a hot summer’s day she would have practiced a moment of accepting that people are prisms and life is paradox, and a moment that she wanted to push away was instead metabolized into spaciousness and transformed into rain. And her heart opened because she let herself feel exactly what she was feeling. And in the heart-open moment she reaches for her partner’s hand when just a moment before she felt only irritation and wanted to run. The grief is the medicine. The self-compassion is what opens our hearts to love.
In this season of the fallen flowers we, too, may find ourselves wilting, so we dip our stems into pool water or lake water and replenish. The natural bodies of water do, indeed, replenish, but so does allowing ourselves to drink from the inside out by allowing ourselves to dwell in the shelter of the grief place. And a shelter it is, for when we sit with our grief it creates a canopy of leaves under which we can cry. Our fear is that the grief will overpower us and we’ll drown in our tears. The truth is that the tears, even if we don’t actually cry but sit in the sadness and breathe into it as best we can, create a shelter of safety. And perhaps this is the true winter of summer: not only the physical reality of staying indoors when it’s too hot to play but the recognition that there’s an emotional invitation to align with the element of loss that punctuates our days and nights as we slowly, slowly, move toward winter, and slowly, slowly, in the opening and accepting, also move toward love.