Realms of the Soul – July – Holding Onto Time

Article’s photographs by Fred Swan © 

The assembly of a Realm is an opportunity to give a voice to an inner intent, a memory, a hope.  It is a way of slowing the passage of time and provides a path to personal learning. Done in a partnership it strengthens a relationship.

“I put a seashell to my ear and it all comes back; the yellow sun . . .the sky, the children running on the beach that day, the killdeer birds marching in formation down to the sea, and back.  When my memory wanders, as it does… I put a seashell to my ear and it all comes back; that day . . .you.” Rod McKuen The Gypsy Camp

I’ve never looked at a seashell on a desk or table, windowsill or store shelf without being reminded of summer, particularly the first summers of my marriage and those later when our four children were young and then later still the summers spent with our grandchildren.  We used to have mementos of the summers with our children around our house – sea shells, sun-faded plastic buckets and shovels, broken sand dollars, and small figurines of creatures made from bits of driftwood. The wave-tumbled pieces of driftwood were embellished with plastic eyes that moved when you shook the creature and had pipe cleaner arms and legs. Our kids never seemed to tire of buying the zany looking figures from a woman who sold crafts out of a garage just down the beach from where we stayed every summer.  And rocks – we brought home lots of rocks; small sea-rounded stones that washed up wet in a tide and which looked far more exotic and precious than they did once they had dried on the railing back at home.

Apart from several weathered kites that belonged our grandsons and a few pieces of sea glass, we don’t seem to have any of those previous treasures left – but several of our children have said they have a driftwood sea-creature stored away “somewhere” –  I suspect on the misty shelves of their memories.

This month’s Realm of the Souls is a tribute to our past summers and a meditation for the one that is just beginning. It is a gathering of symbols of gratitude for the gift of the present season and it is a wish – a hope – a prayer really – for something personal that Kathy and I shared as we assembled July’s gathering of driftwood, shells, rocks, and a feather we found on the beach two weeks ago. We’ve included these objects with elements of meaning from our past, some candles (we buy them at thrift stores quite inexpensively), sticks of rose-scented incense, and Kathy’s favorite vase filled with sprigs of lavender from plants that are currently humming in front of our house from the sounds of honeybees.

As continues to be the hope of 2nd Tuesday, we share our personal Realms hoping that they will be springboards for the gathering of your own tributes, prayers, expressions of gratitude, and intentions. Here at the opening of summer, your Realm (or whatever name you use to describe your gathering of personal objects and symbols) may be a collection of objects and offerings that have been already evolving in the sacred places or special display areas of your home.  Your reveries of summer may – instead of beaches – involve mountains, lakes, city parks, an old house – places of great joy – landscapes of loss. The value of assembling Realms for your spirit is the process of gathering, of placement, presentation, and their destination – reflection and mindfulness.

A Realm may be as simple as an old letter or card placed in a position of honor where you can touch and reread it. It could be a watch or a ring that belonged to one of your parents and that you have placed in a dish beside your sink and alongside a photo of a summer moment from your childhood. A clay cup made by a child and given to you in pride could serve as a vase for summer flowers. Your favorite book could be adorned with a shell you once found.  A journal you are keeping – or an old one you have completed – placed beside your bed could become a display platform for your old dog’s collar as it waits for an early summer walk out from the tip of your pen and across the fields of your memories.

As a gathering place for this month’s Realm we used a three dollar cabinet door found in a thrift store and to which I added “legs”; a presentation board we used in May’s Realm.

The crab shell was found one morning about 12 years ago during a walk we took before the fog had lifted, its bleached form at the edge of the outgoing tide looking like a ghost whose house it was guarding had suddenly unmoored from its foundation and sailed away leaving the tiny apparition behind. The frail little fossil never fails to remind us of summer, the beaches we’ve walked, the zigzagged trails we’ve made looking for treasures on the sand, and the impermanence, but potential impact of any one life form.

We found the mussel shells two weeks ago, the sand they were holding at the time still being grasped within the folds of their forms which reminded us of the wings of purple angels.  Piled on a brass dish found at a garage sale –  the dish itself stacked atop an old brass cup – the shells and the pieces of driftwood tell a story about the relationship between land and water, the forest and the sea – life and death. The scallop shells hold tales of being symbols of Christian pilgrimages, light weight cups once used to drink water from, offering plates long ago extended by the hopeful hands of beggars, and in our more recent and personal history, convenient tools that were used by our children as they constructed and decorated sandcastles.

The smoke from lavender incense sticks – when placed near the drafts of candles – becomes theatrical, creating visual drifts and ever-changing streams of smoke that when watched, calm the chatter of a noisy mind. 

Tiled offering bowl with OM embellishments

The “Billiken” figure was carved in the early 1900s by Inuits out of brown “fossil” walrus ivory that was excavated from ancient hunting ground middens (waste sites).  The Billiken is a good fortune charm – “The God of Things the Way They Ought to Be,” and this particular Billiken was a gift to my wife’s aunt when she was a young child and is usually stationed on a collection of our children’s photographs which Kathy keeps in our bedroom. 

We have picked up sea glass over the course of our marriage, some found in the pockets of our son’s bathing suits, some from the coasts of other countries, some from nearby seashores.  There is an old maritime story that tells of sea glass being “Mermaid Tears.” It was said that every time a sailor drowned at sea, the Mermaids would cry and pieces of sea glass were their tears washing up on the shore.

We have a bowl of round stones that we’ve found on various beaches. Stones do not only represent the passage and process of time, but they can, in addition to being used in massage, be comforting.  The simple act of holding a stone in one’s hand can give you a feeling of being in control, of being grounded.

 “We have forgotten what rocks and plants still know – we have forgotten how to be – to be still – to be ourselves – to be where life is here and now. ” Eckhart Tolle

And the bell – we like the sound of bells. They calm, sooth,- they beckon.  They sing a chorus to the sounds of the sea and they – like wind chimes – sing the music of summer.

The geometric piece of translucent calcite is called Icelandic Spar and in ancient stories was referred to as a “Sunstone.”  Sunstones, in legend and recent experiment, have the ability to locate the position of the sun behind an overcast sky.   Icelandic Spar creates a double image (see ours held above a newspaper).  The sun behind clouds, when viewed through a piece of spar, creates a polarization of light that is believed to have aided Vikings to accurately sail cloud shrouded seas.

It’s been so cloudy the last week, we thought the Sunstone a most valuable inclusion in our early summer Realm.

The white feather was a recent discovery wedged up against the wet surface of the rock on which it now rests on the Realm.  The stone so beautifully formed, the feather so purely white, their continued companionship felt guided. Native Americans believe that feathers are gifts from the sky, the sea, and the trees. Feathers, like the gull feathers we have included with the driftwood and shells, arrive unexpectedly, but not without purpose.

Gather your memories, your associations of summer. Use the gathering and assembly process for reflection, study, as a tribute, an offering – a prayer.

And flowers – always add the flowers of the season.

“You do not think with ordinary mind and you do not see with ordinary eyes. You let things come and abide in your heart and let your heart return and abide in things.”  From No Recipe – Cooking As A Spiritual Practice by Edward Espe Brown 

A feather on a rock could alone be an island for your soul.


The theory of the Sunstone and other links to summer.

Enjoy! Summer! The things you already have!

Icelandic Spar
Cioppino for your spirit.