Summer is the one season whose relationship with time is mysteriously dream-like, where leisure, idleness, pleasure and enjoyment come to the forefront, unbound by the awareness of endings, awash in sunny travel reminiscences of childhood, flooded in a sweet silent oblivion that is unaware of succession whose bright mid-day amusements secretly rise flooding the banks of the river of Heraclitus whose normally obsessive linearity becomes intercepted by a breezy dark shade and the forgetfulness of recreation that loosens the bonds of the quotidian with an insouciance that does not respond to the arbitrary movements of the sun and that gently expands as it descends into an underworld of warm endless nights.
It is the one season when time itself forgets and slowly slides down the soft humid banks into crepuscularity and remembers whether travelling or not, to take a vacation.
At the end of May, the reinvocation of one of Alice Cooper’s biggest hits, the annual release from the bondage of school as freeing as the release from exposition when time likewise drops off and expands into sun-drenched overgrown afternoons. The appearance of proliferations of wild lilies of the field with wide cups of the most delicate paper-like pale pink with stamens laden with the brightest yellow pollen flutters in the breeze of butterflies.
Proximity to the ocean takes on a palpable quality.
Sitting or lying on the cushions of thick grasses of endless lawns, interrupted only by a postal delivery of a long awaited book. Reading comes to the fore and transcends its seasonal focus to reveal and revel in its own hidden nature of magical evocation, becoming wavelike, projecting endless vistas of panoramic scenarios interiorly projected on seemingly random correspondences with exterior sites and places. Reminiscences arise merely to seek their own origins in time and place regardless of the current occupants.
Summer as well as the other solstice time of winter is traditionally considered as the main intensive meditation practice periods in Zen monasteries frequently with day long meditation practice periods that are strictly choreographed to include alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation practice and a midday light meal eaten in silence and meditative stylized gestures. This adds to the declension of the approaching experience of the temporal qualities when days extend to their longest that become cloud-like in motion, pendulous that seems to slow the motion of clocks almost to stopping; in an atmosphere alternating between stagnancy and the oppressive to the delightful expansion of breezes evocative of the tides.
The afternoon deliquesces into humid atmospheric manifestations and distills the season to form a subtly-sweet dripping absinthe all its own that causes images and reflections to appear in its intoxicating green pooling surface.
The first memories of initiation into the mysteries of the sacred spaces of libraries occurs in association of memories with summer reading programs. Small paper sailboats affixed on top of the long rows of the ultimate cabinets of curiosity, numerically signifying the entirety of human knowledge cabalistically with a decimal point capable of inserting infinity in between any number. Small handles that slide out seemingly endless exquisite long wooden trays holding neatly ordered stacks with hermetically intricate records and classifications of books arranged in varying schemes of taxonomic subject classifications that cross-reference each other ad infinitum in self-contained collections seemingly independent of the books they reference. The small handles that open to the exquisitely crafted wooden trays as sarcophagi or funereal niches that hold the magically desiccated bodies of knowledge and time enwrapped in meshes of cross-references into endless stacks of cards inscribed in hieroglyphics of multivalent references and meanings, texts about texts ensconced within their own labyrinth separate in time and space. Spells and incantations for the safe passage of their referents into the underworld of posterity for protection against obscurity and anonymity, whether read or recited or not, their inscriptions alone function as a visual incantation free of the succession of time, or a cartomancy of referents of mystical prophylactic or as small morgue drawers that are only temporary repositories for the remains of texts frozen in time awaiting anonymity, obscurity and antiquation.
Paper sailboats as small trophies for the quantity of books read without determining the quality of reading, that serve as vessels for the final subterranean voyage of the tin soldier floating through the sewers of memory of childhood fables and stories ultimately to merge with the ocean….
After living underground for nearly the span of an entire generation as nymphs, the delicate empty carapaces of the cicada that appear abandoned that still cling to the bark of the tree, symbols of transformation more literal than the scarab, of a blind subterranean creature that emerges from the earth to crawl up the sides of trees, plants or of any surface to gain elevation and to split out of its own back and abandon its old body with a new one that sees, flies and that sings. The sight of the abandoned carapaces also signal the first hauntingly shrill buzzing ululation of the cicadas of the season. The moment that their sound if first heard in the late afternoon strangely coordinated into an undulating symphonic wave of shrill sound that immediately induces a subtle déjà vu in the listener of the approaching season.
The shrill oscillating spanda of the cicada is thought of as a cooling sound by the Japanese. The abandoned cicada shells are a hypallage for memory and the abandonment of the spring while the shrill tides of the encompassing cloud of their sound from their transformed airborne bodies signal a hypostasis, a breakthrough of an underlying essential nature of time that retracts itself cabalistically to make way for the creation of pleasure and enjoyment that is unbound by itself.
Traditional Japanese residential architecture preserves this preference as it is considered primarily constructed for summer. Although using humble materials, nails are rarely used in its intricate joinery construction almost like cabinetry, its deep eaves shrouding roomless living space partitioned by multiple sliding panels that can all be removed if need be as in summer without air conditioning Japan’s humidity would cause thick green mold to grow on all closed spaces. Summer in the South U.S. is hard to imagine before air conditioning as those who could afford it would cover all furniture and leave for cooler climate temporarily evacuating. Within the seasonal hieroglyphics of Japanese aesthetics, summer is represented by black, the absence of color that references seeking the value of treasured shade. Amongst the polished verandas of cavernous darkness, wind bells are hung at the projecting corners of the eaves as another sonic strategy in order to seek a cooling effect along with the sound of running water.
Seeking the most salubrious effects of cool breezes, you resort to a variety of oblique strategies. Pleasure expands in the element of air that is maintained as Sthiti within your field of experience as active enjoyment. The vacation of normal residence towards scenarios of leisure becomes overlaid by an expanding reading list that compounds recurring recommendations that were previously neglected due to business and temporal concerns that conflates the scenes and themes with the external tableaux of the places of travel and leisure. The bibliography of the summer has a watery and oneiric nature and regardless of the cultural references of the literary canon, should include the japanophilic The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon of the etheric Heian court whose eponymic somnambulant reference is merely a book of lists with minimal narrative content, literary cloud-like accumulation of things that are considered elegant or inelegant replete with insights into the exquisite subjective refined tastes of the mysterious authoress as well as a literary oculus into the ethereally refined aesthetic life and expectations of the Heian court.
Marcel Proust and his Japanese counterpart, the Purple Lady whose Tale of Genji written a millennium before, exude a summer-like mist enshrouded atmosphere where memory is invoked by a synesthesia of objects perceived triggers stream of consciousness narratives of events of times that have passed that had a glamour and splendor that have faded in the present and whose splendor was even more brilliant in the dream like suspended time of reminiscence. Travelling to the heart of the season in A Midsummer’s Night Dream performed in a natural amphitheatre in the park after reclining on the humid grass of the slopes with a picnic with friends as the drama unfolds at night where fairy tales of the denizens of the forest mischievously mingle with the lives of humankind with the dreamlike magic of the moon. The sense of the summer affected by breezes is that of touch. Tantric esoterica affirm that while detaching from all other senses, the Shakti remains attached and delights in that of the tactile. Symbolic of union and erotic dalliance and pleasure it is likewise predominant in mystic union.
Floating serpentine banners of the most gossamer of silks, clouds of incense drift and float of the fullest spectrum of scent from the densest and darkest odor to the most etheric. A Babylonian libanomancy of the formations of the trailing rising tendrils of burning incense.
The taste of summer is bittersweet. The memories of childhood vacations or personal of your own in adulthood float by like breezy films projected on sheets strung up over the pool, its screen rippling in the cool evening breeze. Scenarios of vacations that travelled in their own leisure, that took on a time all their own where endings were not acknowledged. Where you were called out by name to get in the station wagon that had already been packed unknown to you and that was headed unstated on an endless adventurous drive across country into the mountains.
As spring heralds the path of positive recognition of the appearance and reappearance of new life and as autumn indicates the path of deepening appreciation, recollection and interiorization and as winter is the path of emptying and letting go, of the hesychastic path, summer through its facilitation of play, leisure and enjoyment opens up to the mysticism of creativity becoming a way to accomplish Abhinavagupta’s tantric request to “worship Siva in states of creative expansion and recognition” initiated through the refinement of awareness through the natural extension of the maintenance of pleasure and enjoyment. Gilded and bejeweled floating pleasure palaces of a lost imperial Burma featuring pagodas with flame like finials and interlocking gables whose hulls are adorned in the shape of a golden phoenix whose large pavilions features deep verandahs with billowing white silk awnings or summer palaces projecting out over inlets or lakes on elaborate piers supporting upturned bat-wing roofs with covered walkways.
Pool parties spontaneously manifest in exotically overgrown floral courtyards shaded by awnings. The large pool whose bottom is painted turquoise and whose warm placid surface reflects the slow moving clouds drifting through the courtyard’s framed expanse of cerulean sky. Banquets of exotic foods arrive on trays lined with banana leaves brought by kaleidoscopic groups of temporary residents, inmates of the vihara of pleasure awaiting the arrival of cooling breezes under shaded awnings and large umbrellas; their large balconies littered with a variety of tinkling wind bells and chimes that announce in a quiet cacophony the slightest movement of the air. Inexhaustible fountains of wine, beer and every variety of liquor flow, fuelling endless conversations, memories, games and thirst for enjoyment. Initiated by greetings and jokes, small groups of conversations form along with the free flow of music and alcohol and mix and comingle and join other groups freely and share stories and laughter. New neighbors gravitate towards the gathering and share their unique reasons to move into the retreat from care, and their own life stories as refugees from the outside world. As the sun is blown across the sky by the arrival of the cool breezes, the moon makes its appearance through its reflection on the placid surface of the pool lying in a flower strewn oblivion having slipped into the stream from a misstep in its labor of ghostly lunacy of gathering blossoms by the bank, kept afloat like Ophelia by the buoyancy of its billowing skirts and tresses as the bubbles that support her floating carelessness burst and initiate her descent into an undersea liminal realm.
While instinctively disliking the vulgar display of sun bathing, nevertheless the ocean holds a powerful magnetism that is unique to itself that makes it an inevitable place for a vacation as it is the flowing place where all moving bodies of water merge. A slender island south of the city arrived at for the day by street cars that no longer run, a Victorian pleasure island with huge oleander bushes down its main boulevards bordered by ornately gothic mansions, macabre in their tall shuttered windows signifying absence. Every street is accompanied by the faint sound of the ocean and the distant cries of sea gulls. Originally inhabited by Indians noted for cannibalism, the Spanish explorers were filled with dread at the island that was eventually named after one of their own and spoke of it disdainfully as the “island of doom” or as the “island of snakes”.
Thousands were washed out to sea in the evening victims of the hubris and positivism of one of the first turn of the century meteorologists, an island with a significant population of ghosts that roam the streets and empty lots and that interact with the living in strange and perplexing ways. Instead the beach becomes a place of liminal contact.
A Balinese gambling temple offered in appeasement of the last hurricane. Meditation pavilions and temples are erected to propitiate the goddess of the sea. Sidestepping gently into the ocean counting waves not facing it directly; offerings are laid on the appropriate wave to Yemaya, the nurturing orisha of the home and family and off in the distant seascape of the horizon, lightning strikes the water. The rising and setting of the sun and the moon take on mythic proportions in their grandeur revealing an unobstructed vanishing point of contact with a watery horizon that melts into the sky.
While not usually conducive to meditation, the beach, that transitioning space between land and sea, that luminal space home of Varuna, Poseidon, nagas and naginis and the Javanese goddess of the sea. Its waves remind you of the verse of Odysseus’ long perilous homeward journey; land of the souls of the drowned and of the underworld of dark spirits and entities that tempt travelers to doom or madness, a place of taboo to dare to travel on which could threaten to dissolve the ritual purity of identity and social status through its contaminating contact with its nefarious denizens, vehicle for the misguided fleets of the Age of Discovery and its ensuing aims of colonization.
If coming on an abandoned stretch of beach under an umbrella falling into a deep meditation, the ocean more than any other place amplifies its absorption; you evoke the goddess of the sea like the mythological Javanese prince who establishes a dynasty with her favor and promises of an annual marriage rite, by your meditative trance absorbed in the beauty and gravitational pull of the ocean that dissolves the awareness of time and that spawns the interpenetration of memory and imagination with its infinite watery expanse.
She rises silently from the water aided by her retinue of spirits. As June passes its zenith, the summer achieves it solstice and the sign of Cancer comes into its ascendency. The first water sign of the zodiac, her waters arise from an unknown source and take on a dream-like quality. You follow her lead like Orpheus, half in trance and her infinitely gracious movements have a slow rocking undulation and her garments and ornaments intricately crafted of all things from the sea. She beckons you to follow her descent as you find you no longer need to breathe in air. Like slow motion falling, her various silken banners billowing as she leads you to her underwater palace going deeper than memory you view her performers with an echoing gamelan orchestra, her dancers move intricately and weightlessly in slow rhythmic undulations appropriate to their undersea state, their eyes half rolled back as in trance. At its inevitable conclusion you ask for initiation into the slow but more secure lunar “wet” way of alchemy. Through a series if indirections you realize your request has been granted on the condition that you agree to listen to all the stages of the moon and all of her moods. Its bright reflective beams lead you out of your submarine mystic epiphany and back on shore at an evening revelry in the view of glittering moonlight reflecting in the tides.
That baptism into watery onieric beauty is as a waking knowledge of our collective nightly voyage into which we vacate whether fully recollected or not, its metaphors curiously mixed with specifics of strangely heightened significance, that false emptiness in which we realize post hoc its dreamlessness. In an age where busyness is the only authority we forget the heightened state of poetic indirect knowledge. I anoint the mattress with the cold ashes of incense previously enjoyed and sprinkled with water blessed with mantras preparing the vehicle for its nightly voyage through the dark moonlit river of the underworld; having seen the illustrations painted in the inner-most chambers of Egyptian tombs, delineations of shadows walking backwards with their hair and their arms splayed backwards. Seeking an onieromancy of desired secret knowledge.
The lost chapters of Thomas De Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis one title of which “Foundering Ships” that may have been set on fire by candlelight along with portions of the author’s hair as an effect of indulgence in opium even if no longer available to read exudes the affect of the ascendency of the sign of the Moon-Child on the calendar and on the psyche as it initiates the season where dreams invade whether waking or asleep. As the divinely heretical Abhinavagupta wrote that “dreams and reality are equally real since they both establish their being within consciousness”.
As the month of July appears and becomes established, the revelry of chasing the moon deepens, raging with the night, whose ordinary restrictions are dissolved like sand castles at high tide along with the gleaming dawn, as in July the veil thins and the borders and boundaries become permeable as clocks slow and stop of their own accord.
I remember the symbolic design of the peculiar earrings of the troupe of undersea dancing nymphs that are taller and more substantial behind the ear that they encircle and mount over the tops of than they are in front. The image of glimpsing the stable nature of the ocean through allowing the particular manifestations of the waves to settle.
The unraveling aspect of July that facilitates the recognition of the mirror beneath the waves or the person behind the ears rather than the centrifugal “I” in front, freed from the parochial constraints of school or even of its memory, as the month deepens it drifts unmoored into equivocal caliginous realms worthy of Hecate as the murder rate tends to increase along with crimes of delinquency as the passions flare and the heat begins to take on an oppressive stale stagnancy.
The realization that summer has lost its innocence is aided by the stormy effects of climate change that conflates and shifts metaphors and that threatens to erase seasonal reference altogether. Yet like Orpheus I dare to descend into the underworld of memory in search of the lost innocence of summer through the charms of language, but I fail likewise through a lack of faith and by my own curiosity to long to see it prematurely for myself before the spell of listening in the composition of description has fully taken place and I retreat silently in a cloud of forgetfulness.
As the sign of Cancer declines to its nadir and retracts, the star signaling the dog days of summer shines on the night horizon that indicates the coming of the annual inundation of the banks of the Nile, covering and fertilizing the agricultural lands with floods of thick black accumulations of silt and heralding with clanging sistrums and loud ululations the festival of the mysteries of the goddess of magic who recollected and reanimated her dismembered brother/ husband, the god of the afterlife whose black green body resurrects like sprouting seeds and the silent spreading alluvium overflowing the banks black and reflective in the moonlight, the lachrymations of the real Isis. But as July passes into August it takes on a tenebrous languor of decadence of its own as the shades of the past emerge from their subterranean portal that opens of its own accord to wander among the living in the dripping vaporous heat drawn by hungers and desires that can never be fulfilled. Like the steam of Turkish baths of archaic splendor and worthy of Cavafy reminiscing of ancient Alexandria and fatalistic at the hoards of barbarians at the gates.
The natural decay of August utilizes the frisson of the ghostly and macabre to its advantage as the repertoire of Japanese kabuki theatre used ghost stories and plots to produce a chill in their audiences to cool them in the depths of summer. Ghost stories of the exotic like those of Lafcadio Hearn, a transplanted hot-house anomaly himself whose Tales of Ghostly Japan or the August performance in the park of Hamlet’s ghost or the Weird Sisters of Macbeth invoke a ghostly pleasure like Lafcadio’s exquisitely jewel-like essay on incense that mentions a Chinese emperor’s funding of an incense that conjured the dead in the obsessive hope of seeing the spirit of a recently departed favorite concubine one last time, and of the tales footnote of a current Japanese cigarette brand that alluded to that legend in its name and that featured a transparent dancer that would appear on the filter as it was smoked.
Such offerings of miscellanea I offer as in the Japanese Buddhist O-Bon festival to the ghosts of the summer’s past as a gesture of compassion to assuage the unappeasable hungers of their ultimately transient state. Yet the dreams of summer inevitably evaporate like the puddles from a passing storm in the empty parking lot of an abandoned shopping mall, the lost temple of a forgotten god.
© Paul Smith, 2015