(A version of this post was originally published in the July 2018 version of Healthy Families, produced by Peninsula Daily News.)
By now, summer is winding down. Most likely, whether you are aware of it or not, your family rituals are too. Historically for me, summer rituals revolved around time on the water. I had the privilege of growing up on Lake Crescent. We played in and on the water nearly every day of summer vacation, tirelessly jumping off the dock, challenging our balance by standing and floating on our old black inner tubes, swimming, and making up various imaginative water games. As a teen ager, I mixed these in with voraciously reading our entire library and writing snail mail letters to my pen pals while sun bathing on our floating dock. As an adult, these moments are mixed in with the responsibilities of work, and caring for my garden.
What are your summer rituals?
Whether or not we’re aware of our rituals, we all have them. But much of the time we throw ourselves into the busy activities of summer, one day following another until we’re surprised that it’s suddenly time for back to school shopping and summer is almost over. We procrastinate on the tasks of summer we don’t enjoy, try to cram a few more fun summer activities in to the days remaining and wind up feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks we put off.
This summer I invite you to consider a more contemplative approach to your remaining summer days.
Part I: Identify and Savor
Stop right now, go outside, and look around you at the natural bounty of the summer season. What sights and sounds signal to you that it’s still summer rather than another season of the year? If you grew up in a different part of the country, what summer experiences from your childhood do you miss or are happy to have left behind? What are your favorite sensory experiences of summer? Take the time to name your favorite ways to experience the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and felt sensations of summer. To make this a family activity, coax your family to share their favorites over a meal.
Once you’ve taken time to identify your favorite sensory experiences of summer, I invite you to savor those moments, and allow them to stretch your imagination and your sense of time. Instead of rushing to clear the table or wash the dishes or check your phone after a meal, linger over your dinner conversations like the light continues to linger in the sky.
Part II: Free Your Mental Energy
Now think of a task that is part of your summer ritual of procrastination. If you were to complete this task, would it give you more peace of mind and free you up to enjoy the moments left? What larger purpose / goal is this task a part of? How might you tackle this task in a way that plays to your strengths and values, clears your mind from the nagging guilt of procrastination, and accomplishes the larger goal this task represents?
For example: one of the things I love about spring is planting a garden. I love watching the sprouts shoot up like magic. However, the task of summer weeding seems like it never ends, and as a result in the past I’ve often neglected my garden, choosing to ignore it rather than tend it, trying to cram more fun water activities into my summer at the expense of my garden, even though one of my favorite sensory experiences of summer is the taste of fresh vegetables and the sights and sounds of wildlife in my yard.
This year, after intentionally developing my spiritual apprenticeship to nature, instead of avoiding this chore, I tapped into my natural strengths of curiosity and wonder, set the goal of creating a wildlife friendly organic garden, and broke the weeding down into bite-sized chunks. That is, rather than looking at the overwhelming task of weeding my entire garden every day, I focus on a couple square feet, mindfully noticing more about that small area. How is the soil? What insects did I uncover? Are they beneficial? What can I do to keep them happy? If they’re pests, how can I get rid of them organically?
Practicing this mindful tending of my garden, and looking for ways I can cultivate my strengths and values has given me a deeper appreciation for the abundance of wildlife my garden attracts,
and expanded my knowledge of organic gardening. Now, when I look at my garden, instead of seeing it as a pile of work that still needs to be done, I take pride in the variety of butterflies flitting from flower to flower, the garter snakes helping me save my plants from slugs, the brightly colored flowers waving in the breeze, and the delicious summer vegetable crop interspersed amongst the flowers and herbs.
Part III: Reflection
When you appreciate and savor the aspects of summer you love, and tackle the tasks that keep you from fully enjoying the moment, you are invited into a more mindful way of experiencing the ordinary, and more opportunities for grace.
What are some of your tips and techniques for capturing the moments? What summer tasks do you usually procrastinate on? How can you tap into your own strengths and values to get those tasks done?