Dupont Henge today

The Express had a little article on Friday saying that today at 12:30 the sun will shine directly down the tunnel of Dupont Circle’s south entrance. Anybody want to go see?

I should have kept a copy of the article, because now I can’t find it online. From what I recall, an attentive Metro rider noticed this phenomenon one day and then calculated when it would happen again – once on either side of the winter solstice, it turns out. He went to the occurrence in November to confirm his calculations, and it worked.

The article quoted him as saying a couple of interesting things about how observing natural phenomena like this has been linked with seasonal celebrations. For me, it was neat to see people discussing that kind of awareness of how we shape our relationship with the natural world in a non-Pagan context.

Meditation Moment: Bringing the Outdoors In

Last month I wrote about how being deeply present in a single moment helps us relate to all moments; this month, I want to extend that approach to thinking about space as well as time. As Pagans, we tend to cultivate our connections to the world around us, especially the natural world. Meditation can help us deepen that connection.

Many of us practice in urban areas, but still want to connect to the rhythm of the seasons and natural cycles. It can be ideal to find a location outdoors in which to meditate, but few of us have the luxury of doing that every day. So we need to find ways of bringing the outdoors in for us to connect with during meditation.

The goal here is to be present in a particular place, just as last month we talked about being present in the particular moment. We want to be present with this individual stone, or shell, or flower, or twig; not with all stones, or all flowers, but this one, in particular, in all of its uniqueness. It is an example of the place it came from, a connection to that one spot. But just as being present in each unique moment helps us connect to all moments, narrowing our focus to a deeper contemplation of this one location can paradoxically help us appreciate the totality of the world we live in.

Meditation’s connection between the minuscule and the majestic – now and all time, here and everywhere, myself and all living things – makes this contemplation of nature much more than a decoration, more than a superficial acknowledgement, and into a deep act of awareness. When we want to have a more meaningful relationship with the web of life and the natural cycles that support it, we can start small. Recognizing the uniqueness of one thing and the richness in one small corner of reality helps us appreciate that each corner is similarly rich and full.

If you can make meditating outdoors in a particular spot an occasional addition to your regular practice, that can help you establish a relationship with a specific place. Then taking a small reminder – a stone, a leaf – back to your usual meditation space is part of an ongoing process of connection anchored in that location, not just a scattershot series of one-off connections with a multitude of places. Even if there’s no special place where you can go and meditate, maintaining a connection with a particular spot is a better way to anchor yourself in the rhythms of nature; connect to one tree or one group of living things in your area, and use reminders of them as your focus for meditation.

If you really want to connect to the seasons in that place, make sure to change your focus on a regular basis. Take your reminder back to the place you got it, and return it to nature with your thanks, then find something else, something new, to focus on, to help you experience the constant change and wonderful variety found in your particular location. Especially at this time of year, when flowers are blooming and trees are unfurling their leaves as fast as possible, don’t let your focus get fixed on a single object to the extent that you ignore the changes taking place in your little corner of the world.

Get physical about your experience of place, too! The physical world engages our senses in ways that an abstraction like time can’t. Feel the texture of trees’ bark with your fingers, taste the tart sweetness of blackberries later on, listen to the birds and the wind in the leaves and the patter of the rain. And yes, stop and smell the roses – and the honeysuckle and lilacs and everything else, too.

I mentioned that a connection to place can serve as a kind of anchor. Just as the ability to draw one’s attention to the present moment can be a part of grounding and centering, the deep awareness of a particular place can also be a form of grounding – the literal meaning behind the metaphor. That familiarity with a location can be a touchstone, a reminder of the relationship that we hearken back to every time we pause over a meal or give thanks for coming home safely after a trip.

And since you know that by connecting to your one place, you are also connecting to all places, even when you are in unfamiliar surroundings you know you have the ability to ground yourself there as well, to tap into the connection to the same deeper reality, and if you need to, to become familiar with this new place as well.

The beginning of this month is the celebration of Beltane; it’s time to fall in love again. One of love’s amazing qualities is that it takes us outside of ourselves. By engaging with someone else, we gain a whole new perspective on the world, and on ourselves, and we gain the opportunity to change and grow in ways we could hardly have imagined alone. This Beltane, consider falling in love with the land. When we do, when we bring the outdoors in, if we fully engage with it and start to develop a relationship, it too, like all good loves, will take us outside of ourselves.

Seasons shifting, 14 Nov

I took a walk on Teddy Roosevelt Island again today. The weather is amazing here; it’s in the mid-60s, very comfortable with just a t-shirt on, and some people were even enjoying shorts. Still, I can tell that it’s getting later in the fall not just by the change of the angle of the light, but by the way the leaves aren’t quite as thick on the trail as they were a month ago. They’re getting swept aside by feet and paws and wind, and they’re breaking down until just the feathery ribs and veins are left. The constant crunch underfoot is dying away. Still, there’s plenty of green on the island, and I wonder if that’s because of the relatively mild weather so far or something else. In the last week, the big beech trees on the eastern side have gone from green to copper leaves, and they’ll be falling soon. I’m left enjoying the weather but also worrying if t-shirt weather in mid-November is making toxins stronger. And I wondered if I’ll still live in DC a year from now, and if not, where I’ll be. And…

And then, out of nowhere, the Horned Lord showed up in the form of a four-pointed whitetail buck, calmly picking his way along the marshy edge.

For the rest of my walk, I treasured that sight, and enjoyed the weather and the way the sycamores are gradually dropping their leaves to show their white-grey dappled branches along the shore. I made my way home again, where I work on conserving energy, and making the most of every day, and somehow, my spirits are uplifted enough to get me through.