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An August pause
An exclusive letter & exercises for Retreat tier members
When we last gathered together, it was was the midsummer solstice and I was wondering how often to we should join together to rest.
Our next full gathering will be in November but that seems like a long way away. For now, we’ve reached the next moment in the Northern astronomical year: Lammas. And that seems like a good moment to write to you again with a few ideas for pause and reflection.
Lammas is the traditional Christian festival that falls on August 1st, a time to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest. Its name derives from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘loaf mass’, a blessing of bread. But its origins are probably much older. In Gaelic culture, this halfway point between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox is Lughnasadh (“lunasa”), the feast of the god Lugh. (If you’re curious about the history of Lammas, there’s an excellent post here by Clerk of Oxford.)
There are a lot of ideas to play with here. First of all, we have the first harvest, which is traditionally grain. The fields near me are full of ripe wheat, dry and rustling, the muted gold of the English countryside. The harvest festival falls a little later in the year when the apples are ripe (which is more or less on my birthday), but at this point we’re celebrating the start of a season of abundance.
For our rural ancestors, it would also be a time of hard work. Harvests do not wait. The traditional Lammas loaf - like the one I baked in Enchantment - always has a mouse on the stalks of the wheatsheaf to remind parishoners that if they did not reap quickly enough, the mice would get there first.
But Lammas also speaks of the turning of the year torwards winter. The peak of summer is gone, and now we are invited to gather in our resources ready for the darker times.
So here are some thoughts on how to mark this moment-in-between. If you want to, you could turn this into a mini-retreat of your own:
⚘ Bake your own Lammas loaf - I use this recipe for the dough. It’s not the easiest one to work, but perhaps that’s what makes it a good ritual. You have to knead it for a long time until it becomes pliable, and then, after a rise, you can make anything you like with it. Plaits, animals, amorphous shapes - whatever takes your fancy. The last time I made it, I layered it with a paste made of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, and - oh boy! - it then became very good to eat. Just a thought. Please send me photos of your bakes!
The point here is the time it takes. The dough massages the palms of your hands, and your mind roams. It’s a lucid, calming space in which you can bring your whole self, whether you’re pounding out your frustrations or immersing yourself in remembering.
⚘ Go on a gathering walk. The hedgerows around me are beginning to fill with wonderful things to eat: the first blackberries and elderberries, some very early apples, cherry plums. I even found some oyster mushrooms in the woods last week. You can choose whether or not you want to forage, but it’s a lovely exercise just to notice the abundance around us at this time of year. And it’s not just for humans: many of the grasses and wildflowers have set their seeds, and they’re full of hungry birds.
⚘ Where are you in the year? At the moment, we are experiencing the first hints of autumn. Spend some time writing in your journal about your experience of this particular moment in the year: what is calling to you at the moment? How does this season feel for you? What are you enjoying? What are you weary of? What are you dreading about the sesaon to come, and what are you looking foward to?
⚘ A recorded meditation for you. This one is all about sensing the change in the year. It takes about 12 minutes (with some space at the end to drift along for as long as you like).
A couple of notes - there’s absolutely no need to look at the video that accompanies it - it’s just a way of hosting the audio, but do feel free to build a little altar to the season like my one. And I’m always careful to remind you that you do not need perfect silence to meditate - my own recording is made at home, and so there is some background noise. If you feel like any unwanted sounds intrude, just acknowledge them rather than trying to push them away, and carry on. We meditate in real life, not on some idealised plane of existence :)
I hope that offers you some gentle ways to pause at this time of year. Please let me know how you get on in the comments!
All good wishes,