Summer got a slow start around here – the school year dragged on until the end of June because of our snowy winter and Mother Nature held back on real summer weather for much longer than is typical. Yet here we are, halfway through July, and summer feels suddenly like it’s in full swing and I am having fun!
Honestly, I think I love everything about this season. I love the longer days that allow me to again get up with the sun rather than before it and to be outdoors until almost bedtime. I love the slower pace that happens both in my work and personal lives. I love the fact that, not only are my college-aged kids home, but all my kids have fewer demands on their days so we’re spending more time together. My yard this time of year makes me happy – whether I’m working in it or looking out the window and enjoying all the colors. Thanks to my yoga practice, I have even learned to love humidity, which works like a charm to make a stiff girl feel a little more bendy.
As happens in the midst of all “feel good” times – relaxing vacations, fun-filled days carved out of busy weeks, really meaningful conversations, and (apparently) even seasons – a part of me wonders if there is a way to carry some of these feelings with me into the rest of my life.
While I know neither the weather nor the pace of summer days is sustainable beyond August, I do think there is a mindset I can hold onto as the days start to get shorter and my kids head back to school. This summer, I am taking very seriously the assignment my spiritual director gave me when I saw her last month: “Say ‘yes’ to all the fun that comes your way.” In fact, you could say it’s been my mantra for the season.
While this may not be a hard instruction for you to follow, for some reason it can be a tough one for me. Perhaps this struggle is due my deep and abiding love of To Do lists. Perhaps it is a result of my daily “early to bed, early to rise” routine. Perhaps it is because I actually really (really!) love my work, so I have a hard time stopping. Who knows? I’m actually not sure it matters because if you share this challenge with me, your reasons will be your own.
What does saying yes to fun look like, you ask? Let me give you a few glimpses from the last seven days of my summer:
It turns out that saying yes to fun is fun! (Duh.) Less obviously, it turns out that saying yes to fun doesn’t mean that my classes aren’t getting taught or that my personal yoga practice isn’t getting done or that the bills aren’t getting paid or that the meals aren’t being cooked or that I’m not in the throes of re-imagining my website. Because all of this is still happening. (Well, most of the meals are getting cooked. Some nights saying yes to the fun has meant saying yes when my daughter asks for take-out Indian food. Hardship, I know.)
My point is, this summer assignment has revealed that there is always room in any day (yes, ANY day) to say “YES!” to a little fun. This, I believe, is a joy of this particular summer that I suspect is sustainable no matter the season.
So, your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to do as my spiritual director says – say “yes!” to the fun that comes your way this summer. While you’re at it, consider doing as I’m doing – think of these summer weeks as a time of practice so that saying “yes!” to fun will be a well-engrained habit by the time the season changes again.
When was the last time you got lost?
When a friend asked me this question earlier this week, I really had to think about it. Because of my iPhone and constant access to GPS, I can’t actually recall being physically lost in years. Even far afield in places such as Iceland and Bangkok, we were able to navigate from point to point with comfortable levels of confidence that would have been unimaginable ten years ago.
After thinking for a while, I asked my friend if it was possible that getting lost had become more of an abstract experience. In other words, for me, these days I get lost in confusing or highly emotional moments, in crises and when rushed or panicked.
The question she asked in response was fascinating. “Don’t you think getting actually lost used to train us to be more comfortable when we are lost like that?”
She has an excellent point.
Try to remember a few times when you were lost. Perhaps you were driving and made a wrong turn, which turned into a series of long turns. This happened to me once after I exited a highway. I found myself totally turned around on a series of country roads surrounded by endless corn fields. There wasn’t even a farmhouse in sight. Just row after row of corn.
I panicked. My breathing got shallow, my heart raced, my palms got sweaty and my stomach clenched. My thoughts started careening in ridiculous directions – what if I never got where I was going? What if I ran out of gas? What if it got dark?
Even then, pre-yoga, I remember thinking through my panic, “Pull over. You need to stop – actually stop – right now.” And that’s exactly what I did. I turned off the radio. I stopped the car. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing. I don’t know how long I sat there, but I know it was long enough to settle down. It was long enough to remind myself that I’d only been off the highway for five or ten minutes, so I couldn’t be too far from someone I could ask for directions. In other words, it was long enough for me to get comfortable with the idea that while I was lost, all was not lost.
When I opened my eyes, I felt calm enough to really look around. First, I actually took a second to take in the beauty around me. It really was a beautiful spot, quite unlike any in my own part of the world. The corn stalks were brilliant green and the neat freak in me loved witnessing the farmers’ orderly rows. If I’d had an iPhone, I would have taken a picture. But, then again, if I’d had a iPhone, I never would have seen that vista as I would not have been lost in the first place.
Feeling calmed and re-centered, I put it car in drive again. Wouldn’t you know it? In just a few minutes I came to a little farm store and a shopkeeper who straightened me out.
In hindsight, that experience of getting lost was indeed good “training” for more abstract experiences of being lost. What did I learn?
While getting lost has always been one of the things that rattles me most (and is one of the reasons I love my iPhone more than I ever thought possible), it seems that it could serve a higher purpose. Perhaps having to feel my way through unfamiliar territory has helped make me more comfortable navigating the crazy twists and turns of life that could otherwise leave me spinning and clueless.
The next time you feel lost – when your child is acting in a way that worries you, or you can’t figure out how to meet the goals your boss just set for you, or your efforts to learn how to do something new feel fruitless – maybe it would help to pretend that you’re actually lost. Turn off “the radio” and “pull over.” Find a moment or two to be still and quiet. When you start to feel settled, look around. You might be surprised by an unexpectedly beautiful aspect of your situation.
PS. If you still can’t figure out what to do or where to go, you can always ask for help.
“The secret to change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.” Dan Millman
I am, as I have done for almost every year for the last 25 years, spending the first week of July at our family lake house in New Hampshire. It’s tradition! And, slowly but surely, we are happily making our way through the list of the things we traditionally do during this week.
Ice cream – nightly? Check.
Wishing I had brought a sweatshirt as I shiver through dinner at the Bristol House of Pizza? Check.
Long hours devouring good books? Check.
Incredibly long (but beautiful) drive to eat incredibly delicious pancakes? Check.
Alternating between serious conversations and hilarious laughter with people who matter? Check.
Yoga on the porch overlooking the lake? Check, check, check.
But this year, as much as things are delightfully the same, they are also very different. While the house and the lake and the woods and the activities are the same, our cast of characters has changed. My niece just started her first “real world” job and cannot join us. My mom, too, stayed home this week for the first time in family history. For the first time in 22 years, we spent the beginning half of the week with only one kid in the house. (Can I still call a 19-year-old young woman a kid?) The rest of her generation is trickling in over the course of the week as they return from travels or free up from their summer jobs. Plus, we’ve added our two two-year-old puppies to the mix this year. Change is everywhere.
All of the tradition of this week is serving to highlight all of this change. I miss my mom. I miss her when I notice that we forgot to put up the Fourth of July decorations and when I walk around her garden and in the late afternoons when she doesn’t come down to visit with us on the dock. I miss my niece and her happy chatter and hilarious giggle. While my husband and I have settled into a new puppy-friendly lake schedule, I miss the ease of being able to do what I want when I want without a second thought. And I miss happy chaos of the kids we’re still awaiting.
Life is forcing change. That’s what it does. And, because up here, what it is changing is tradition, the changes are a little harder to navigate and make me feel a little wistful.
But, as the week has unfolded, I have learned that, even up here where everything is saturated in tradition, change is not all bad. In fact, some of these changes have contributed to making a good week a great week.
Watching my dogs explore the woods around our house at a gleeful sprint has left me smiling and giggling every single time I take them out. Watching them discover the joy of long swims around the dock has fulfilled a lifelong dream for my whole family (we’ve tried, dog after dog, unsuccessfully for decades to create swimming dogs). Because I love spending time with the “kids” when we’re together, having fewer of them here with us has left me with more time to bond with my dad, brother and sister-in-law. And including my daughter in “adult-time” has been really, really fun.
I started this week at the lake a little blindsided by how much I was yearning for the old. You might even say that part of me was fighting for the old and resisting the new. I don’t know if it was my dogs (after all, they are little, furry happy pills) or a deep-seated, little bit of enlightened self within, but something led me to refocus. While I still have moments of wistfulness when I miss what “was” or what “has always been,” by directing most of my emotional energy toward enjoying what is, this week has been precisely the restful break that I had been craving.
Additionally, embracing a different kind of week at the lake has reinforced the lesson that it’s always better to work with life’s change than to resist it. When you do, you join forces with the creative power of life to build new joys and even (maybe) a few new traditions.