The year is 1995. I am a senior in college.
I have powered through my first three years, taking everything I could handle each semester, starting with advanced classes because I had tested out of the 101 courses.
By now, I have fulfilled all the requirements for graduation and nearly all the requirements for my major and two minors. I’m taking it easy, at last. I’m taking mostly classes I’m excited about.
Like the history of justice. Like an honors project that delves into Carl Jung and T.S. Eliot and the power of the collective unconscious.
You know, easy stuff.
Okay. I was never one to take it easy.
So, like I said, I’m a senior in college. I’m wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. Sandals or bare feet, I don’t remember which.
It is May 1. Or somewhere around that time. May-ish. That’s how I remember it, anyway.
No, that’s not right. It’s much earlier in Spring than that. It’s Montgomery, Alabama and it’s only barely warm-ish. There’s a brisk breeze. Must be February or early March.
I am leaning back against a sloped brick wall, the sort that forms a kind of hand rail, next to the steps up to the college career center. In one of my electives, an unbelievably fun and powerful class that will have echoes through the rest of my life, we have been out on field trips, studying nature in a way that I have never been introduced to before.
I know that it is early Spring, because the reptiles are only just beginning to come out. And only on sunny days. Must be February, then.
We’ve spotted a few lizards on these field trips, and a snake.
I’m lying on this low brick wall, sunning myself.
Eyes closed. Limbs outstretched. It is a brisk morning and I am chilled. I want to know what it is like to be warmed from the inside. To be endothermic. To be a snake in the sun on an early Spring morning.
I lie and I wait.
What is it like to be a snake on a cool but sunny early Spring morning?
To feel your cells come alive again. Awakening after a long sleep. To feel radiant heat enter from the outside, to warm from the outer layer in. To feel energy enter and permeate. To feel it picked up by your blood and coursed deeper into your body.
To be warmed from the outside in.
To take power from outside and use it on the inside.
This morning I sat down to write for you. I want to write for you every day, if I can. When I can. It is part of what I am doing with my life now, now that I have been freed, now that I have freed myself to do what I am here to do instead of only what society expects me to do.
I sat down to write but first I read a bit from a friend (Fióna Ni’Giolarua) who is a spiritual practitioner in the tradition of my ancestors.
She was talking about Beltane, May Day, which is today, of course.
She said that it is traditional not to give the first drink of water from your well to a stranger on May Day. If you do, you give your prosperity for the year away.
I decided not to give the first drink of water from my well away.
I went outside, because that is where I like to be.
I went outside in shorts and a sports bra. Bare feet. I took my yoga mat. And I lay on my belly in the sun.
It is a bit brisk, a bit chilly, a bit breezy. But it is sunny.
I lay in the sun and allowed the warmth to enter me from the outside. Like a snake in the sun.
I became warm.
Now listen. This is all leading somewhere. Sometimes there are nice tidy transitions into the point of a thing, and sometimes you take an abrupt turn around the corner and BOOM there you are.
Here we are.
The point is this.
We are not supposed to be self-charging batteries just because we’re exothermic.
Modern society would have you believe that if you are only good enough, strong enough, tough enough, resilient enough, stubborn enough, brilliant enough, work hard enough, that you can power your whole life exothermically and probably everyone else around you too.
It’s a lie.
Exothermic animals need sun too.
After a while, I got up from my mat and opened the chicken pen to watch them run about the yard. When they are tired from running about the yard, some of them lie down in a patch of sunlight and stretch out a little wing to catch the sun. To let it warm them from the outside.
And when they are warm, they get up and run about some more.
I built their chicken tractor in about two days, as some of you know. I put a lot of love and energy and thought and work into it. I also did something differently than I used to.
I took breaks.
I stopped to watch them enjoy themselves. I stopped to enjoy myself.
And in those breaks, new ideas came to me. New ways of doing things. New energy and enthusiasm, too.
Because of the breaks, I finished both better and faster than I ever have on such a project.
I know you’ve experienced this. The brilliant idea that strikes you in the shower. The solution that dawns on you on a long, solitary drive.
We’re not meant to run endlessly and tirelessly. It’s not good for us, even though we are exothermic. Even though the machine of industry would like for us to run run run.
Industry doesn’t like us to stop and think. We might find solutions that don’t involve giving all our energy to the machine.
It doesn’t want us to know that there is a limitless supply of energy and warmth and ideas and solutions lying out in the sun, waiting for us to take a break and let it in.
It doesn’t want us to know we’re not self-recharging batteries to be plugged into everyone else’s needs.
I powered through the first three years of college. I loved the hell out of all three of them (minus that toxic relationship with the narcissistic boyfriend but we’re gonna skip riiiiiighhhhtttt over that bit… for another day, perhaps–and no, Greg, I’m not talking about you bahaha).
But that fourth year. That fourth year is when I learned to know a brown thrasher from a robin, a house sparrow from a yellow warbler. That fourth year is when I learned to lie under a dogwood tree, awed, and watch clouds skitter across the sky through the unique branching pattern of the tree’s limbs, its flowers delicately framed among the puffs of white, expanse of blue. It’s the year I sat under a giant, ancient live oak tree and listened to its tale of bringing nutrients up through its roots into its body, up to the leaves, up to the sun, to feel the rush of fluid and nourishment up and up and exploding in joy through transpiration.
That fourth year is the year I learned to lie in the sun.
There’s an ancient Irish invocation I sing every morning when I wake. I try to sing it in Old Irish, though my pronunciation is probably wrong. But I know the translations are wrong too, and by singing it in an approximation of the original language, I feel that I bring more of its soul into the world again.
The invocation, in English, goes like this:
I rise today with
Strength of sky
Light of sun
Radiance of moon
Heat of fire
Swiftness of light
Breath of wind
Depth of ocean
Steadfastness of earth
Firmness of rock
It is an invocation that reminds me that I am not alone, that I am not limited by my personal “assets”. That all the world has conspired to put me here, to bring my consciousness into being at this exact moment, and all the world conspires to provide all I need to make the most of this moment.
Today is Beltane, variously spelled, an ancient Irish/Celtic/pre-Celtic holy day that marks the first day of Summer. Summer is a time of productivity and action. It is also the time of sun, when we no longer have to light our own fires and warm our own bones, but can allow the sun to do it for us.
Beltane is often celebrated with dancing around a maypole, with brightly colored ribbons. With fires and marriages and pool openings. It is a time of joy and warmth and both productivity and ease, both at the same time.
As you begin this new season, may you feel the strength of all that is here to support you. May you know that rest is part of production. That time to think, time to be, is as important as time to do.
May you rise today with strength of sky and light of sun. May your sun warm you from without and fill you with the power to accomplish all that is in your heart’s desire to accomplish.
Today, physically or metaphorically, may you find a way to lie in the sun.
May you be blessed.