The trees are deepening their green every day and the flowers are popping off in full symphonic bursts. The wild roses flutter snowlike down the hillside and between the birds, the bees, the peepers and the neighborhood kids there is music every hour of the day.
It is a complete summer paradise.
And here I am, in the midst of all, feeling completely overwhelmed.
This seems to happen to me every time the wheel turns into a new season (but most especially summer)—the deep thrill of change is almost always accompanied by an unexpected roller-coaster drop of overwhelm. The tip from spring into summer is brilliant – but it’s a frequency upshift that can take a whole lot out of those of us who are sensitive.
Some years ago I found Dr. Elaine Aron’s work on highly sensitive people and it all clicked for me. Turns out, there is a scientifically-distinguishable subsection of the population whose nervous systems are simply more sensitive, and therefore more easily overwhelmed, than the general populous. Highly sensitive people experience things more vividly, feel more deeply, and are affected by subtleties that many others wouldn’t even notice.
It’s a gift to be sensitive. It is what allows the sherbet of a sunset to completely melt you, and a summer thunder storm to rinse you clean with its rain-washed air.
But it also means that, like the sweetest softest mulberries on the vine, we need to learn to take care of ourselves that much more tenderly.
Early summer is overwhelming for about a bazillion reasons. But for highly sensitive people the transition from the permission to be interior that winter gives to the flurry of summer social activities, relationships blossoming, and things coming to a head can feel like too much to handle.
It took me a long time to recognize that my tides of anxiety (the ones that cause those heart palpitations, and emotional freak outs and insomnia) arise almost entirely out of overwhelm. The very nature of overwhelm means that our senses get backlogged— making it difficult for us to get clear enough to understand why we feel so off. For me, one of my first signs of overwhelm is that I have trouble making a decision. When I don’t know whether I should go out or stay in, eat rice or quinoa, watch tv or read a book… I know what I really need to do is address my overwhelm.
Today the river has overflowed its bank after a long week of rain. It has come up to the lowest branches of the box elders on the bank and is threatening to submerge the patches of spiderwort blooming further up on the grass. And yet… when I tune into this rush (which, by all accounts, is the definition of bursting) I don’t get a feeling of overwhelm. Instead, I just feel a fullness. A happiness to be in the rushing life of one’s self.
Summer is a time of growth, expansion and output, to be sure. But I think we humans often interpret this to mean that we need to be responsive to all of the outer demands on our time, space, and energy.
But what if summer was actually inviting us to tend the inner lushness.
The plants and animals that come to life in summer aren’t chained to external dictates for how they should put energy out into the world. They are following the thread of their inner desires to bloom, eat, play, rest, make love. They are spinning out from a center of their own flowering and following the joy of that unfurling.
So instead of demanding that you keep up with the pace of growth around you, what if summer was really asking you…. What inside of you wants more lushness? What aspect of your inner life force is wanting to overflow its banks in a rush of joie de vivre?
Maybe it’s your desire for midnight swims or long afternoons to read. Or more time to play. Or stretch or sketch or sing.
Whatever it is, summer is already saying yes to this inner lushness.
All you have to do is say yes to yourself.
. . .
Keep reading for my three go-to practices for reducing season overwhelm. And remember that your sensitivity is special, and you are so not alone.
3 Ways to Ease Seasonal Overwhelm
1. Go for “Weather Walks”
I find that so much of my overwhelm comes when I feel out-of-step with the world around me. One of the first things I do to address any overwhelm is ask myself— how can I go even deeper into the season itself to absorb its natural medicine?
One of my favorite practices is to go out for weather walks, walks that are very specifically undertaken to get out in the elements and interact with the weather that most people avoid (rain, snow, sun, wind etc.). I walk to let the natural mood of the season touch me completely, and allow it to guide me with its natural flow. Immersing myself with what is actually happening within the land around me never fails to help me re-ground in myself. Plus, it’s a good way to get some outside time with less people around! (always a bonus for us sensitives and introverts).
2. Find a plant who is in their glory right now
Is there plant right now who is truly glowing during this time? An herb that is blooming, setting leaves, soaking it all in, or absolutely slaying during this season of shine? Connect to them. They know exactly how to harness this moment and they will teach you how to ride the wave of this season. One of my favorite ways of working with a plant is to take their flower essence, keeping it on me whenever I need a drop to help me come down off of overwhelm.
3. Weed down your sensory input
This season is often a rush for all the senses. It’s wondrous, but can also tip us over the edge. Reducing the sheer amount of sensory input we receive can do wonders to downgrade an overwhelmed nervous system and help you reset your sensitivity so you can really feel again. Try taking a mandatory evening away from the phone. Or turning off almost all the lights in your room during a storm and just listen to the wind. Close your eyes while you smell a flower or pop in earplugs as you walk down the street. Try picking out your clothes by touch alone or wrap yourself up like a burrito in your blankets and watch the sun go down. Think about letting one of your senses rest at a time, and see if that can help you to refind your roots.
There is a specific slant to the late afternoon sun that floods my living room with a cast-iron butter of deeply heated light. It’s always that last stretch of sunshine that seems to glow the hottest. In the downward arch of day, the fever of collected sunshine gathers like a stove coil around the rim of the sky, flooding the world with heat. That glow itself kicks up a kind of exhaustion, the feeling of every hurried project just aching to be complete. Recently, it seems the close of each day comes with a command: find your completion or, for goodness sake, find some release.
In Appalachian summertime each day marks a creation in progress. The basil leafing out in pairs from where it was last snipped. The sunflower rotating like a mandala from pollen to seed. The bees carrying fulfillment from one flower to another, rubbing their bodies against everything soft and petaled in their path. Every morning it as if the rising of the sun turns on the great hearth of the world and each new creation, stirred of dirt and mineral and rain, is placed within the hearth of the earth to ripen.
Throughout the summer months there are so many individual projects, visions and collections, tiny destinies awaiting to be fulfilled. I imagine the sun must be like a pâtissier in the great kitchen of kings, sending out emissaries in every direction to tend the grasshoppers and zinnias and bees. Perhaps the clouds take part as well, gentle assistants roaming over the hillsides to check the cobalt beginnings of the blueberries bushes or tend the heavy branches of peaches. Each cumulus a white haired women, trailing cotton aprons and the tracks of great care.
Just as the embered end of a long day in Summer bring forth an almost overwhelming peak of heat, the last stretch of August can, at times, seem almost impossibly bright and big and full of needs.
Sometimes, in the thickest ring of a day, I’m just able to keep up. Matching my pace with the flowers expanding ever-wider, the vines finding new perch, or the grasses that risebefore your eyes like well-leavened bread. But then, just as the sun begins to ease back towards the horizon it is as if someone finally opens the door to the oven of the world, to halt all of creation at its peak. The earth floods with a deep heat and everything living is given the signal that it is okay, okay now, to nod your head like the sunflower. It’s okay to give up creating for a moment. To take oneself out of the furnace and find a peck of shade. To put your feet in the creek, to allow yourself some peace.
Perhaps, all along, summer has been the ripest season for such reprieve.
We often see high Summer and the dead of Winter as opposite wings on the wheel of the year but the truth is that they have more in common than we might imagine. Like the Yin and Yang, anything that is opposite also holds the other within it. The essence of Winter, and its demand for rest, recuperation and the regathering of vision, is flecked like mica throughout the high summer months. In Winter, we rest because there is nothing to plant but dreams. In high Summer, there is a similar pause. At the hottest peak of the day, there is often nothing to do but take our well-mixed creations out of the oven. Let them cool on the windowsill and give ourselves a moment of quiet regeneration and soulful reprieve.
Summer as a time of rest is almost unheard of around these parts. For all those that garden or homestead it can feel as though the tasks are never-ending. And even those who don’t tend the land seem to fill their coffers with well-intended parades of vacation, work projects, or pie making, but the end result is often the same. We pray for Autumn to come so we can receive a break from the break.
Like the waterfall buzz of cicadas, the high-whine rush of summer always seems be repeating the need for growth. We see the sunflowers grow twice our height in the span of a month, the grass following quickly behind, and there is some deep internal nudging inside of us that says. You, too, must grow so tall, so quickly, so fast! In high summer, however, there comes a natural time when all our bustling projects fall flat. Like seltzer water left out on a sunlit patio. Try as we might (and, to be sure, we try mightly!) we never get quite enough done as these long sunny days would suggest. And perhaps this is when we should simply it let all fall like the head of a blossom gone to fruit and seed.
This Summer I have had dedicated myself to practicing the art of relaxation. At the beginning of this summer I contracted Lyme disease (for the second time in two years) and so, very quickly, my attention to plans, both bold and bland, fell away. Rest became my most important prerogative; I went seeking the mica speck of Yin amongst the overwhelming sunshine of Yang. Most afternoons, when the heat reaches its peak, you can find me lounging in bed (the darkest and coolest room of the house) with a tall glass of chilled tulsi tea and a good book. Some days this Summer this was about all I could manage. And it was enough.
This season, I find myself asking new questions. What if we can find our fulfillment in long tides of rest? What if, going even deeper into the season, means finding stillness in the rush of summersong? What if, the most profound lesson of all is to be able to bask in that mirror of Yin within the Yang? And what happens when our entire structure of To-Do lists collapse in the face of allowing ourselves something the nectar seekers never once deny themselves– good old fashioned contentment.
// Allowing Contentment //
Every day, in every way, we are all trying. Trying to weed the garden, or get dinner on the table, or find the love of our life, or heal our heartbreak. We try to be better, be happy, to take care of ourselves. Some days I think we are the only beings in all of creation who try so hard! The sunflowers in my garden dwarf me, but not once did they ever stop to try to be magnificent. They simply took in their surroundings and grew. The hummingbird tests each fushia flower and never once grows frustrated. Even the ants, those who work to rebuild their colonies with each overturned stone, go about with a dedication that excludes even the option of trying. They are simply doing what they must. It makes me wonder, what would happen if we stopped trying, like the sun in its last sling of heat easing in the horizon, and simply allowed ourselves to move in natural ways of contentment.
Allowing is a difficult concept for most of us to swallow. Allowing doesn’t mean comprising your goals, your dignity even your boundaries. It means making space for what is. And when we allow for exactly what is, doing what needs to be done without telling ourselves that we are trying to do it, we make the space we need to truly live.
After I was diagnosed with Lyme disease this summer I was left with one simple goal. How can I enjoy, I mean truly, enjoy myself. How can I be so filled with my own contentment, that spilling fullness of life, that there is room for little else in my body but more own vital vigor, my own zest for life?
On the days when all I can do is lie in bed with my books and watch the fan whirl, I embrace allowing. There is no trying in this moment, only the sense of doing what I must. It has been rough in patches, I won’t lie. But over my time spent in bed this summer I have learned something incredible.
Allowing is the gateway to loving what is, yes, but it is also the gateway to embracing exactly who (and where) you are. And when you can love that person, and all her needs for quietude and nourishment and podcasts and comfy pillows then you can accept almost anything. Including the slow tendriled creep of healing back into your life.
Self love is a term that is often thrown around, but not fully embraced. And frankly, it can feel incredibly difficult to try to love oneself. And so I say, stop trying and instead, on this hot and humid day, simply allow yourself the pleasure of finding contentment. Contentment is a gateway to recognizing yourself in your most peaceful form. It is a way of being receptive to oneself and ones destiny. And it feels so damn good.
So, for today, I ask you. What brings you contentment? Can you take yourself away from the To-Dos for an afternoon and let yourself be like summer scones just out of the oven. Sighing, resting, sweetening before your eyes. Because this is the truth that is sung by the hearth and the oven, the fire and the sun itself. Creation never becomes complete until it is taken from the heat and allowed, with time and space and tender breath, to let go of the hubbub of transmutation and find its final shift into peace. After all, this— the cooling, the rest, the reprieve— is what makes any fresh baked delicacy ready to dined upon. And what makes that banquet of being alive so very delicious indeed.
On the other side of the strawberry moon, after the late spring blossoms of Beltane and the thick pulses of Hawthorn blooms arises a season that weaves itself around the helm of a single word – fullness.
At this point in the season the full arrival of summer is undeniable. Roses are spilled like wine over the countryside and the branches of riverside trees are heavy enough to sweep the water’s surface with their wands of green. Light finds its way into every leaf of the day and even our nights are lit by the floating embers of fireflies.
Here, the fullness of summer arrives in waves both infinitesimal and quick. Like a jar left open in the rain. Slowly, in swells beneath the perception of our fast moving eyes, everything becomes full. The arrival into summer can be like waking up with a jolt in the bright light of late morning. As your eyes adjust to the fullness of the day you realize that the slow trickle of dawn, with its dispersed moons of early morning fog, have all but disappeared. There is only the high sun and ocean-bright light and insects running like waves through the thigh-high grass.
Summer’s fullness is a mantra, known and carried by every species in these hills. For us humans it means planting the last stragglers into our gardens and tending the sudden tangle of weeds, late-night parties and an endless train of events. It means wild harvests of herbs that last only a week and calendars so full of bustle there is barely enough time to keep the floor swept of barefoot dust and weeds. To embrace summer fully is to be like a bee, in constant motion from the lip of one sweetness to another, to exhaust oneself with so much color and opportunity.
We are just a few nights away from the longest day of the year, our Summer Solstice, and the very strand of life has tightened into an almost watertight weave. Open fields are a ticket of thimble flowers, blackberry fruits and rose thorns. The canopy is crowded thick with ropes that wind themselves from forest floor to crown heights in a cordage of grapevine. What was once a wind blown cove is now a cave of green and shadow. Every branch is so full of life, the mountains themselves change from the blue hue of a winter-colored moon to a newborn coat of emerald. In Summer, the entire world of growing beings weaves itself into a kind of container, a place to hold even more than was possible before. The crosscatch of canopy and forest floor braids itself tight as rivercane, the traditional baskets of the Cherokee people of these mountains. The sheer abundance of life works together to create space for more.
++ Weaving Yourself into the Basket of the World ++
In Appalachia, life grows upon life. There is no end. As a temperate rainforest with some of the highest biodiversity in the deciduous world, the warmer months can be dizzying. Summer here is an initiation into a world of almost overwhelming life. This year I seem to have taken on more than ever before (Hence my two month delay in getting up another blog post!). My schedule from now until the last sigh of summer is already at its brim and, if I’m to be honest, sometimes I wonder if I have enough hands to hold and plant and tend it all! On those days, I like to walk out into the arms of our forest caves, or find the perfect circle of a deer bed in the high grass, and remind myself that the world can contain it all, and so can I. I must only let the earth weave me into its own way of embracing fullness.
Whenever it seems that I am whittling away my life with To-Do lists and calendar dates, I remember this—we are, in truth, nature creating itself. We are a part of this vast and precious ecology, a spectacularly tiny but unbelievably special node in the consciousness of this entire world. When I feel as if I couldn’t possibly hold it all, I return to my place as co-creator on this earth. I bring my heart back to its roots, at the humble foot of this mountain of growth. I am here to bring the gift of myself to this world and when I allow myself to become a prayful part of the container of life on this earth, I can always hold more. In nature there is always space for growth that benefits the whole. When I connect into the gifts that arise from a consciousness of connection, there will always be space. When I give such soul gifts, the world itself expands, and I end up finding more fulfillment than I ever thought possible before.
In Bill Plotkin’s book Nature and the Human Soul he talks about this idea of widening the circle of your identity to become a part of this basket of the world. In an eco-centric society (a culture based around the ecology in which they live), as a person ages they naturally come to a place where the hoop of their recognized identity includes the more-than human world. As we come to understand ourselves deeper we can find more levels on which we can identify with the earth and through this widening we stretch ourselves into vessels of meaning that can literally hold more.
What makes busyness so exhausting is its divorce from soul. The problem isn’t that our days are full, it is that we don’t fill our days with that which truly fulfills us. The only reason why we can look at the growing world and feel such dismay at the blackberry bramble that continues to peek up through the steps or the weeds that must be pulled is because it strikes such a low-hearted chord of recognition in us. So many of us are like gardeners, pulling that which grows wild and cultivating perennials that don’t actually bring us joy. So how can we begin to grow gardens that truly sustain us? Find work that, through its fulfillment, we feel deeply soul-full? Perhaps the best place to begin is simply to ask yourself what you truly want to be full of…. Curiosity passion, wonder, trust? Begin here.
++ Into Emptiness ++
In these mountains the stumble into summer means the arrival of near-daily storms, afternoon tempests of thunder and green. After a full day of humid rocking the very mountains themselves seem to creek with the need to release. Soon enough, a dark, wasp-like cloud gathers on the late afternoon horizon and you know relief is just a strong wind away. The fullness reaches it brim, and then it spills over. The gardens are watered, the plants in the meadows drink deep. There is an almost audible sigh as the forest refills its streams. It is one motion, the filling and the spilling. Without reaching such a state of fullness, the rain in the wooly tangle of clouds would never be released. Without this constant emptying, Appalachia wouldn’t be the unbelievably ecological rich place that it is.
If I watch long enough everything in the world seems to tell the same tale. Fullness leads to emptiness, and emptiness to full. In order to experience emptiness (the pause before the inhale, that space in which anything can shift, the nothingness out of which newness can take hold), we must always move through a moment of being unbearably full. Even as I resist the fullness of my schedule I look out upon the world and see a place that relishes such a brimming basket. Waterfalls and the full blown bloom of lupines. An entire ant colony under each rock in my garden and the red clover blossoms that arise every time I neglect a corner of my lawn. The world speaks in such tones of fullness, and so I embrace my own place in creating more. I spend my mornings writing, I prepare for classes until late into the night. I eat honey by the spoonful and tend my garden between bursts of harvest rains. I buzz from flower to flower covered head-to-toe in the sacred paint of this earth’s pollen and, in between, I find moments, if only as brief as the span between a hummingbirds thrum, to empty once more.
This past weekend I let myself be free. At around 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon on Friday I pushed all my lingering work in a drawer, packed the car with a basket of food and my favorite blanket, and drove west into the sea-blue mountains. I stopped often, taking time to dip in the river and swim under the branches of mimosa trees in their full fuchsia-bloom. There was no aim, other than to sit on thick river moss and find familiars in the stones. Later, after the swim, after a thunderstorm, after the sun crept back out to dry my hair, I took a winding road up to a high mountain meadow to watch the sun set. One of my favorite places on earth, Max Patch looks out onto the blue folds of mountains in all directions – north, east, south and west. It was all the food I needed. I drifted up to the top of the world with a bottle of sparkling water and my thoughts. Quiet wind and clover up to my knees. I watched the sun descend through the clouds in bright drops of strawberry and wine. There was nothing to do but be. It was sherbet-perfect, nothing less than divine.
It’s been a while since I’ve taken myself on such a date. The months leading up to this year’s Solstice have been beyond full, brimming. Tending the garden of one’s life is a full time job. Planting, planning, nurturing the germination of every single seed. I have sometimes felt like a clematis vine…. my spirit having gone from its early days of sleep, to creep, to now leap… and it’s all I can do but continue to climb. After a long season of work, everything inside of me seems to ache for the kind of exploratory leisure that makes even the smallest moments come alive. With the sun at her lazy zenith, and the whole hemisphere saturated in life, I find myself seduced by a novel concept – the leisure of time.
We spend our time. Have you noticed? Day-in, day-out I often find myself quantifying time in dollars or what “makes sense.” Parceling out hours into quarters, constricting it like a cuckoo to a small wooden clock. Yet… in my best and most transformative moments, time is a kind of creature– shapeshifting and alive. Time is as diverse as a well-fed creek. On a slow sunny day, wind-blown and dry, it may move as slow as threads down the mountainside. And yet, on the next, with thunderclouds overhead, hours rush as fast as ocean waves. Time moves the way we invite it to. Our attention, our intention, is the spring that feeds all waters. In every moment we have the opportunity to decide: how do we want our time to flow?
To me, it is a simple fact. When I let myself wander, allowing long moments of soft fascination and pause, life feels eternal. When I un-dam the spontaneous flow of my imagination, creation simply flows. The best inventions are born from such spaces of effortlessness. What if all we needed to feel fulfilled, as rich as strawberries in a bowl of porcelain cream, was to allow ourselves time to ripen?
When I was a child, summers were like fairyland eternities, and I was invited, every hour of every day, to play. Bare feet and half-finished flower crowns, cold sprinklers and baskets of berries. The whole landscape of my imagination unrolled, like cloth at an emperor’s rich feet. The older we get the more we are encouraged to step away from this imaginal realm, pushing ourselves out into a terrain where the space between thought and creation is so much denser. As we grow, many of us abandon our beautiful tapestries of imagination and play, and the weave, like a well-loved but forgotten dress, fades.
Every moment of every day we choose how to experience our lives. When I focus on that which feels incomplete, stressful, small or scarce, I bring the whole of my being into relation with limitation. When I consciously choose to shift my mind, investigate the beauty, the blessings my life (and all the beings in it) my entire existence expands.
This past Fall I contracted Lyme disease. It has been a long road of rebalancing and recovery, and a seriously deep journey of learning. In truth, one single revelation has been my biggest teacher: Whenever possible, do what you want to do, when you want to do it.
When I engage in the activities that feed me – writing, reading, medicine making, exploring – I am full of energy and vigor. I forget that I even have spirochetes in my body. When I linger too long on the computer, push my body to work past dark in the garden, or pour too much energy into other people’s projects— I get sick. It’s that simple. It’s that novel.
My invocation for this summer season is plain but powerful. To enjoy. Life, like rivers, like well-fed streams, moves fast. If I don’t take pleasure in my existence now, then who will? When?
So how about a toast?
To choose, in this moment, to invite the deepest leisure into our days. Let’s allow ourselves the time to be delightfully present, inquisitively alive. Seek soft adventures, bask in sunlight thick enough to drink. Let’s invite life to ripen in its own time. Allow our deepest fascinations be our guides.
As Walt Whitman says: lean, loaf, invite your soul. It’s summertime.
In the spirit of following ones fascinations and inspirations, I am delighted to introduce One Willow’s newest elixir (and my most constant summertime companion).
Sundresses and sangria, fresh cucumbers from the garden and mint tea. In summer, even the simplest things can be a cause for celebration. Frisky and effervescent, Easy Livin’ elixir incites a deep devotion to summertime’s bliss. Crafted with melon-scented wildflowers, strawberry syrup, birch bark mint and champagne, Easy Livin’ encourages you to embrace an expansive season of
leisure. Whether you are reclining on sun-warmed rocks or falling under the spell of a twilight romance, Easy Livin’ invites the softest fascination to be your guide.
Summer is a time of deep abundance— baskets of blueberries and rope swings into cold mountain streams. Easy Livin’ reminds us that our richest creations arise from such moments of effortlessness; the best ideas appear like fireflies, bright and fluent in the dusk. This sun-drunk elixir encourages us to live from the inspiration of the present and recognize that all we truly need to be fulfilled is to let ourselves feel free. Picnic in fields of wildflowers or watch the crickets jump in cascades. Sip mojitos in the early moonlight and flirt with the very idea of evening. Easy Livin’ reminds us that we are allowed to take the deepest pleasures in our lives. Today is a fizzy drink, full of lively possibility and faint notes of jubilee. You must only tip your cup and toast to your own vibrancy.
+ Extracts: Black Birch (Betula lenta), Pedicularis (Pedicularis canadensis),
Kava (Piper methysticum)
+Essences: Strawberry, Hibiscus, Kyanite
+Strawberry syrup & Champagne