“I will always remember walking in an enormous field of sunflowers, which towered over me and I stood for a long time, bathing in the golden glow. I was mesmerized by the velvety petals, the intricate patterns of the seeds and the buzzing of the bees. The huge sunflower heads were like a sea of faces, radiating brightness and warmth. The song of the sunflower filled the whole landscape and kept me lingering there throughout the afternoon.
We store up such golden times in our memory bank and they can provide a focus for meditation. Whether we are revisiting such a haven or imagining one, we can spend time there, restoring our spirit and receiving sustenance from the beauty of nature. The splendour of the sunflower, reflecting the positive energy of the sun, is a great focus for meditation. Its vibrancy mirrors the sun itself and seems to give us energy and power, lifting our spirits.
The sunflower, more than any other flower, expresses the vitality of the link between the sun and the earth.
These bold and cheerful flowers keep turning their faces to soak up the rays of the sun and being amongst them causes us to smile. Astonishingly, they can grow up to twenty feet high and they encourage us to stand tall and turn to the light. Sunflowers are one of the fastest growing plants in the world, increasing in height up to one foot a day and have become a symbol of faith and adoration, of loyalty and constancy.
The sunflower was worshipped by the Aztecs and the Incas, as a symbol of the sun. Gold necklaces, in the form of sunflowers, were worn by priestesses. Traditionally, the plant was used in the making of medicines, dyes, body paints and foods. North American Indians placed bowls of sunflower seeds on the graves of their dead and in China sunflowers symbolized longevity. The Spiritualist Church has the sunflower as its symbol, partly because “it turns toward the sun as Spiritualism turns toward the light of truth.”
Sunflowers bloom from July until September and belong to the genus ‘helianthus’, from the Greek ‘helios’ – meaning ‘sun’ and ‘anthos’ – meaning ‘flower’. According to Greek mythology, there was once a water-nymph, who fell in love with Apollo, the God of the Sun. She sat on the ground and stared up at the sun all day long, for she was so in love with him. Apollo never even noticed her. However, the other gods, taking pity on the girl, transformed her into the sunflower. The sunflower has ever after followed the path of the sun in the sky, not wanting to lose sight of her lover.
This close-up of a sunflower is a good illustration of a mathematical formula found throughout nature, known as the Golden Mean or Golden Ratio.
Two intersecting rows of seeds arc around the centre of the sunflower, creating the striking pattern and are an expression of The Golden Mean. The ratio is approximately 1.618 and is represented by the Greek letter phi.
This proportion is found throughout nature in structures such as seashells, plants, flowers, hurricanes, galaxies, planets and the human body. The ancient Greeks used this formula in designing buildings like the Parthenon.
The head of the sunflower is made up of one to two thousand individual flowers. Each petal is a ray flower. The sunflower’s cluster contains florets arranged in a pattern of interconnecting spirals, which means that the seeds within the flower head are packed most efficiently. The number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers, which are closely connected with the golden ratio.
A marvel of intricate beauty, the sunflower is cultivated for seeds and oil. One sunflower head can produce up to 1,000 seeds and each flower yields forty per cent of its weight as oil. Sunflowers have also been used to extract toxic ingredients from soil, such as lead, arsenic and uranium. They were employed to remove cesium-137 and strontium-90 from a nearby pond after the Cernobyl disaster and have been used again in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Sunflowers have become the symbol of a world free of nuclear weapons.
Sunflowers are a reminder of the source of life and all that is good in life and make a perfect focus for meditation. We, too, can focus our gaze on the brightness above, lifting our eyes to the glowing light for inspiration. Sunflowers remind us to wonder at the immense powers of the sun and they conjure up feelings of delightful warmth. Let us give thanks to these beautiful flowers and spend a little while walking amongst them in our mind’s eye, bringing their nourishing light into our meditations.