And one for the Summer Solstice!

Bryn Celli Ddu, east side. Wikimedia commons

My first post on this blog, on December 21, included a picture and info on Newgrange, the neolithic passage tomb in Ireland that is oriented to the morning of the winter solstice.

A few days later, I chanced upon an article (1) on Bryn Celli Ddu, “Mound in the Dark Grove,” a neolithic tomb almost as old, on the Isle of Anglesey off the north coast of Wales. The  passage there is aligned to mark the morning of the summer solstice.

The site began some 5,000 years ago as a henge, or circle of standing stones. The mound was added later. Bryn Celli Ddu was first explored in 1865, then reconstructed in the 1920’s. Excavations over the last five summers, in which the public was allowed to participate, reveal human activity at the site for millennia. This summer will feature an Archaeological Festival, with lectures, exhibits, and artists-in-residence as the work there continues. Of special interest is an evening of stargazing on June 21, at the time of the summer solstice (2).

What moved the builders of stone circles and passage tombs to go to such lengths to mark the solstice days for the ages? We’ll probably never know. By the time the Celts arrived, ca. 300-500 B.C, they had been gone for at least two millennia.

We also don’t know how stone age people constructed these monolithic sites.  In the days of Cromwell, workers, equipped with iron tools, were assigned to dig out the “pagan” stones that surround the English town of Avebury. Work stopped when, after tremendous effort, they loosened the first stone which then fell and crushed one of the workers. It’s more than enough to make one believe the stones themselves do not want to be disturbed!

Standing stones at Avebury

There’s much room for speculation – a solstice signals ends and beginnings. Perhaps the morning sun on such days brought the promise of new life or rebirth to those buried within.

In the end, however, the stones, like the features at other sacred sites do not easily give up their secrets. Perhaps all we can do is be still at such places. And look. And listen.

A New Year’s Meditation Challenge

On the About page of this blog, I mentioned meeting Anam Thubten Rinpoche, a Tibetan meditation master, at a daylong retreat more than a decade ago. As I have done as often as possible since then, I attended a daylong retreat with Anam in September, an event he cohosted with Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche, another master in his tradition.

Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche

I enjoyed Chowang Rinpoche’s teaching that day, and picked up a copy of his book Our Pristine Mind, which I have read twice. It’s an outstanding introduction and guide to the meditation practice that is the focus of my own efforts.

The core of this practice is described by analogy to the sky. When all the events that fill the sky with clouds or smoke or lightning, storms, smog, jet trails and so on – when all these changing events vanish, we’re left with something unchanging, luminous, and clear.

Similarly, masters like Anam and Orgyen teach that when all the events – moods, beliefs, emotions, depression, anger, confusion, fade from our minds, we discover our unchanging nature of luminous, spacious, awareness.

It requires an experienced guide to help us see this however, for the same reason that we need a mirror to see our own eyes – our pristine mind, like our eyes, is so close that we will miss it without some help.

Chowang Rinpoche’s book, online and in-person teachings are profoundly effective “pointing out instructions.” as they are called in this tradition.

His organization, The Pristine Mind Foundation, is offering a 100 day meditation challenge to start the New Year. It is free, and will include weekly teachings and guidance from January 1 through April 9. Simply click on the link above and scroll down until you see the information on the 100 Day Meditation Challenge.

I am delighted to be able to pass along such a valuable and accessible practice that has made and continues to make a profound difference in my own life!

Stillness on Winter Solstice Day

At 8:19 pm Pacific Time this evening, our hemisphere’s slide into winter will pause and then reverse. Many of us saw the earth-axis solstice diagrams in grade school.

Solstice diagram

It’s a difficult calculation, but astronomers can determine the exact moment of that pause, yet our knowledge pales beside what people of bygone times knew about this event.

Neolithic farmers in the Boyne Valley of Ireland constructed Newgrange 5,200 years ago, before Stonehenge or the great pyramids of Egypt. Newgrange is, among other things, a “passage tomb.” At dawn on the winter solstice morning, sunlight illumines the long passageway into the structure which, at 93 yards, is almost the length of a football field in diameter. It’s hard to imagine a more spectacular monument to the return of light and summer to the world!

Newgrange

We don’t have to travel to Ireland to mark the season’s turn back toward summer – in fact this year, it wouldn’t have done any good. Thirty-thousand people entered this year’s lottery for a chance to wait in the Newgrange passage for the rising sun. Sadly for the 16 winners, the sun was hidden by thick clouds this morning (1)

Recent mornings have mostly been cloudy here, but the sense of a pause, of rest, of stillness can still be felt if we are able to spend just a little time away from the stores and malls, and get outdoors in the winter air. I’m fortunate to have a park nearby for walking the dogs, but almost any backyard or open space will do.

The dark days, with the crunch of leaves underfoot, the smell of wet earth from recent rains, and even the chill air can point us back toward a stillness within that mirrors the pause of the planet as its axis shifts back toward summer once more.