Ahhh…Summertime. There’s nothing like those long summer days, starting with glorious sunny mornings, hot lazy afternoons, and extended time outside through light-filled evenings. If we slow down and notice, we respond internally to the nuances of the season. Perhaps we notice an increased sense of well-being or less stress, even if dealing with tough issues involving clinical or mental health. But, summer is short and can fly by – It is July 4th weekend already!
It is important to be mindful of where we are time-wise and to be aware of taking advantage of what the season has to offer. Sometimes, we Americans are not too good at enjoyment with our work orientation and busy schedules. In fact, it is noted that we are the second most overworked country in the world!
So, instead of waiting to unwind and relax on vacation, why not learn to have a bit of vacation every day? Yes, you heard me – vacation every day! That means integrating relaxation and enjoyment into each day – being in the moment and noticing the beauty around us, releasing stress, being more present to others and more available for pleasurable activities. This can indeed be done – that is, with a bit of a shift of mindset as well as willingness to experiment with new ways of living – learning to recreate, being more experiential, and taking loving care of ourselves through soothing our senses. These skills help us make for a well-rounded lifestyle and increased quality of life.
Recreation vs. Recuperation
Americans take much less time off for vacation and pleasure. This is probably no surprise for any of us as we know that it can be tough to take the time to get away. But there is a price to be paid for not taking time off or overworking. For instance, have you ever had the experience of overworking over a long period of time and then take time off, only to get sick? By the time vacation came around, it was too late. You may have planned to recreate but your body needed to recuperate. When we overwork and live disconnected from ourselves, we tend to operate on empty and there is no energy for fun, recreation, and leisure. We can even forget who we really are! Time off then becomes more about recuperating from exhaustion, irritability, and poor lifestyle habits – sort of like a short-term rehab! This is totally different from recreation which is about movement, play, interacting, laughing, and creating.
Recreating is actually needed and is productive – much like play is not only about fun for children, but is necessary in order to complete brain development. Recreating and its associated healthy activities help us grow and become more expansive and whole, both neurologically as well as emotionally. Perhaps that is what is meant by the old saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Watching vs. Experiencing
One evening last summer I was standing on the deck at the beach on the Cape anticipating the sunset. It was a beautiful evening, clear and warm with a gentle breeze blowing through the dunes. Some other people started to gather as well. The sun started to make its descent. Some of the people were talking and seemed to be more engaged in the topics at hand. However, this is what they missed – As the sun slowly set, there were wondrous hues of orange, pink, lavender, gold, and shades of blue streaming across the evening sky. The sun grew deeper in color from orange to fire red. The ocean seemed to grow louder as its waves hit the shore. The wind picked up a bit and the temperature dropped. Then the sun dropped under the horizon and the night sky emerged. Day literally turned into night. Amazing!
There is a distinct difference between watching as an observer versus experiencing it as a participant. Watching is passive and non-connective – sort of being there but not fully engaged, or looking from the outside in. Experiencing is about being completely present with our whole self or whole body – being one with the experience at hand. In the instance of the sunset the experience was about allowing the colors, sounds, and other qualities to touch us emotionally, physically, and mentally – being authentically moved internally by beauty and wonder – noticing the interconnectedness in nature and all things. Unless one is paying full attention and is completely focused, the moment-to-moment changes pass right by and the process goes unnoticed. Thinking is not experiencing. If anything, thinking takes us away from reality and the moments at hand.
What might we change if we were to tune into others more often and truly listen with our whole bodies? Or, notice the day when we walk outside for the first time in the morning? Or, tune into what we ourselves are saying, eating, thinking? Essentially, what if we were to notice the details as well as the depth of each moment? Do you tend to watch or experience?
Relaxation Soothing with the Five Senses
Self-soothing is a key part of self-care. The goal of self-soothing is to comfort you emotionally and physically by doing things that are sensually pleasant and not harmful. Self-soothing is a mindfulness practice when you are focusing your full attention on the feelings being experienced by your five senses. By being fully present on what you are experiencing in the moment, you will be able to get you outside of your head and away from troubling thoughts, feelings, and impulses.
Here are some ideas on how you can practice self-soothing this summer:
Vision: Plant a colorful flower garden or arrange potted plants on your deck or balcony. Watch the birds in your feeder and notice the different types and colors. Shop at a local farm market for vegetables and take time to notice the look of the fresh vegetables. Notice the colors and shape.
Hearing: Take a few minutes in the morning as you wake up to listen to the birds singing outside. Listen to the sound of the summer rain. Attend an outdoor summer concert and spend the evening listening to some pleasant music.
Smell: When driving through wooded areas put the windows of your car down and smell the sweetness of the honeysuckle. When you are in your garden, literally take time to “smell the roses!” Plant an herbal garden including basil, parsley, mint, and sage. Be sure to pick some to use in cooking and smell the freshness.
Taste: Take a pause and take in the taste of a fresh summer peach or other fruit of your liking. Tune into the taste. Take time to chew and taste your barbequed meal noticing the many flavors. When drinking an iced tea, slow down and taste it – don’t gulp!
Touch: When outside put your face up to the sun – close your eyes and feel its warmth on your face. If on the beach, feel the sand between your toes and the feel of the ocean as you walk along the shoreline. Feel the texture of the soil when planting flowers or vegetables.
Try making time every day to pay attention to these summer pleasures. Take them in and notice your response. Pay attention to what happens within your body. It would be interesting to hear about what you learned when you look back and reflect on your summer.