2016-06-30
It's July. It's hot. If you feel overwhelmed or stuck, it may seem like there's nowhere to turn. Houses of worship have shifted to lighter hours and offer fewer activities. Therapists and friends have that annoying way of departing on exotic, expensive vacations. At first you may say, "What is this?" You can't believe you've been left to your own resources.

But then, in the heat, you can expand. You can tune into yourself as a living organism, absorbing the rain and sun. These are spiritual months. You can grow larger in spirit as you move toward harvest. You can tune into your senses. And you can completely enjoy yourself in the process.

"Summer offers opportunities, not readily available at other times, to appreciate the abundance in the natural order of things and the cycle of life," writes Virginia Beach, Va.-based healer MeeWah Reynolds in a back issue of Body, Mind, Spirit magazine. "Verdant hues and bright colours, sunny days and soaring temperatures, the scent of newly cut grass and freshly turned soil, less and lighter clothing, trips to the beach, a vacation or holiday, travel, outdoor activities, weddings, gatherings of family and friends. Many of these associations and activities originated in ancient times and have been retained throughout man's history to the present."

It is easy, however, to become detached from all that keeps summer so sacred and spiritual. Hence, as we near the dog days (named after the dog tag star Sirius which rises in the night sky this time of year and adorns the dog depicted in the constellation Canis Major), Beliefnet is pleased to offer you ten suggestions and numerous website links to help you fertilize your internal summer growth.

1. FIRST, UNPLUG THE TELEVISION. While there are some valuable, rich, fun shows on TV, when you reflect on all the hours you've viewed it, vacant and slack-jawed, do you feel energized or ashamed? Make the break. Turn it off. Enjoy the extra psychic space and time. Fair warning: If you enforce this on your children, you must spend more money at first on art supplies, bug boxes, nets, board games, and building toys. That's the trade-off, but within a week, you'll see behavior changes that will surprise you. Check out these websites for further fodder on just much television distorts our world view and happiness at LimiTV.org and Neil Postman.

 2. SWIM IN REAL WATER. A spiritual summer calls for as much contact with a lake, river, or ocean as possible. Life begins in water. Our bodies are mostly made up of water. And relating to real water is to connect with the larger world. One of life's great pleasures is the experience of skinny-dipping with family or friends after dark in the moonlight and feeling the silky, black water caress your skin. Trust us, this is not that racy. It's a wholesome thing to do. (Safety tips.)

3. GAZE AT THE NIGHT SKY. You can create an unforgettable evening for your family simply by taking an old quilt to a hill on a clear night and looking up into the summer sky. "God is in his heaven. All's right with the world," said Anne (quoting Robert Browning) at the end of "Anne of Green Gables," and you will feel this way too. There it is in all its glory, the sky that unites you to the most ancient of peoples in faraway times. Web-links are impressive and abundant on this subject. A thoughtful man named David Batch sustains the Sky Watchers Diary for the Abrams Observatory in East Lansing, Michigan. He explains precisely which stars and planets are visible, where and when. The camping website gorp.com has marvelous articles on outdoor activities generally, including a good review of what's happening in this summer's sky.

Symbolist, ancient calendar lover, writing coach, and Seattle amazing person Waverly Fitzgerald has created a mesmerizing resource. From her, we learned of a sophisticated site, Mything Links, which offers star-related folklore and mythology compiled by Kathleen Jenks.

Remember that the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans weren't the only people spinning yarns out of the star's configurations. The children's book "Old Father Storyteller" by Pablita Velarde offers beautiful instruction on how to find six Pueblo constellations. Long Sash is quite similar to Orion, for example.

And finally, astrology lovers will certainly be interested in Australian astrologer Bernadette Brady's software that spins out "fixed star" natal charts. From her company now based in the UK, you may purchase a chart that describes what the stars (not planets) were doing at the moment of your birth and how those stars have been tugging at your psyche ever since.

4. PLANT A BUTTERFLY GARDEN AND SET UP A HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER. You know to watch for fireflies, but have you considered taking the concept deeper? Butterfly spirits will come to your garden in larger numbers if you plant a few herbs and flowering bushes that appeal to them. Feeding migrating hummingbirds when they buzz through your town (or linger year-round, as they do in California) can be one of the world's most thrilling activities. Hummingbirds are living blessings. There is no other way to describe them. And you'll find the stalwart hummingbird trackers at hummingbirds.net very special people. Hummers like red plants and sugar water. For more information on luring and feeding, go to Birdwatchers.com

5. TAKE A MEANINGFUL WORKSHOP. School's out. Time to learn. Spiritual and religious retreats and Zen centers are now hot topics on the travel pages of major newspapers. We've found a terrific site called Find the Divine where you can locate virtually every religious and spiritual retreat center in existence (phew!) with space for feedback, chat, and evaluation. Or check out Beliefnet's review of some happy settings for transformational seminars featuring nationally known people teaching everything from meditation to ecstatic dance to whole foods cooking.

6. WALK BAREFOOT. When Moses approached the burning bush, in Exodus, God spoke to him and said, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground" Summer is a time to be more conscious of the sanctity of the earth and while going barefoot sometimes takes some getting used to, it is good for you in several ways. "Your feet walk upon the Earth and through this your spirit is connected to the universe," says Cherokee "Moonmaiden" Jenny Wallace. And did you know barefoot runners and walkers are now organizing to spread the word that, as a society, we've been abusing our feet, not only with street shoes, but with those thick and bouncy jogging numbers we think are therapeutic? Consult barefooters.org for information on barefoot get-togethers all over the country as well as quotes from pro-bare podiatrists who speak knowledgeably about "chronic overloading" and "design flaws introduced by the preoccupation with optimization of plantar comfort."


7. MAKE OR BUY PRESENTS FOR THOSE YOU LOVE. If you are a person of the spirit, you know that now is the time to holiday shop. You can think. You can select, not grab, the right gift. Of course, the purists insist it is better to "make"-and they are probably right. "Creating makes me feel confident, consuming makes me feel vulnerable," claims New York crafter Callie Janoff, co-founder of Church of Craft, a national community of individuals who gather to learn and create (quite a few of them knit). "When we consume we leave ourselves open to being evaluated by what and how we consume. When we create, we instill in ourselves a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that is more powerful than the evaluation of others." Feel safe in the knowledge that either way will work. Forage now, collect for the coming winter, and enjoy your December.

8. SIT UNDER A GREAT TREE. It is too bad that tree-hugging is now symbolic in some people's minds of everything wrong with environmentalism and the New Age. So don't hug the tree. Just sit and relate to it. Climb it. Meet someone you love under it. Eat a ripe fruit grown from it (another bright idea from Genesis). Suspend a hammock between two trees and climb in.  Also consult the beautiful website recently launched by storyteller and creative arts therapist Cristy West called Spiritofthetrees.org. It's cram packed with tree resources and stories about how trees guard the truth, console us, and dispense wisdom.<br><br>

9. CONSIDER WHERE YOU ARE BURNING OUT. Light a torch in the yard or start a bonfire on the beach, and acknowledge how far you've come. Then face where you are flaming out like a flamboyant, crazy maniac. "Normally we think of being burnt out as something that needs to be corrected," writes Waverly Fitzgerald in her School of the Seasons newsletter. "But burn-out is actually part of the natural balance, putting an end to a period of intense work, ceaseless giving to others or expanding achievement…" Perhaps, as Arthur Waskow suggests in his book "Seasons of Our Joy," the dog days provide a chance to examine where we need to regroup and gather our resources. What tasks, projects or commitments have taken all of your strength? How might you symbolize that depletion with a ritual?

10. READ ETERNALLY BEAUTIFUL THINGS. When Beliefnet polled friends and columnists, reading inspirational material came out the summer's winner. "Read a book of spiritual depth," says Rabbi David Wolpe, "and do it before a mountain, a sea, a forest, a cave, a flower, a star strewn sky." Says spiritual author Phyllis Tickle: "I have assembled a shelf of carefully-chosen books to be my companions...a lot of fiction (which I do not normally read in any quantity), some of the Desert Fathers and of the Celtic mystics, a volume or two on Eliot's poetry, and a delicious collection of Jewish folk tales." Meditation expert and author Sharon Salzberg took a vow to read everything on her bookshelf upon the completion of her wonderful book "Faith," and now she says she's going to really focus on accomplishing that task.  For ideas on great books to start with, check out Beliefnet's Spiritual Books feature.


To my mind, the greatest, most sacred of all summer poems is William Butler Yeats' "Tales of the Wandering Aengus," a poem so perfect, so filled with desire and knowledge of life's poignancy and expanse, we've decided to run it here and stop telling you how to have a more spiritual summer. Just drink it in and enjoy.<p> 

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.


When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air


Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun




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