Summer is fast approaching. Parents are busy booking camps, signing up for tutors, arranging carpools to the millions of activities their little ones will be participating in, buying organic crudite, and pinning dozens of activities on Pinterest to keep the kids stimulated and engaged. When did summer become this? When did we move away from long days at the pool without swim lessons, hours on the baseball field without drills and practice, long, lazy pajama mornings, bike riding miles and miles without leaving the neighborhood, making mud without having to do anything but play in it, and taking the time to cook on the grill every night…and late because you don’t want to miss a minute of the sun being up. We have become so consumed with planning for the future activities, worrying about academic achievement of the new school year, and spinning on the wheel of being consumed by need to fill every minute with something “meaningful”, we are anywhere but the present. I read somewhere recently that we only have 18 summers with our kids. Eighteen summers that fly by in a flash of sunscreen and bathing suits and being mindful of that time is an amazing way to get the most out of each of those summers.
This summer, we propose a mindful summer. And this won’t mean we will be sitting on meditation cushions all summer. Not even close. It won’t be about being mindful every minute, or even everyday. It won’t be a panacea and won’t make our summer perfect. It won’t be about being calm all day or without frustration or stress. So, what does a mindful summer look like then?
Gratitude For What Is Around Us
When days are whirling by, it is easy to get get caught up in the stressors of life and forget to remember all the people, events, and things in our life to be grateful for. During a mindful summer, we are going to be purposeful about having gratitude. At meal times, we are going to discuss what we can be thankful for from the day. We are going to text, call, or write to people in our lives who we are grateful for and tell them why we are thankful for them. We are going to keep a family gratitude journal, and each night add to it from the events of the day. We will also be mindful throughout the day to stop and acknowledge when something arises that brings about a feeling of gratitude including sunsets, a yummy treat, a hug, time with a friend, the sun shining, our favorite song on the radio…the possibilities for gratitude are endless!
Without the strain of school schedules and homework, summer is a great time to practice compassion, both towards ourselves and others. We are going to take the time each day to shine compassion on ourselves, including the wish for happiness and health, as well as sending these thoughts to both people who bring us joy as well as people we find difficult. These daily thoughts remind us that we all deserve compassion and happiness. As we practice giving ourselves kindness and compassion, it becomes easier to show ourselves and others loving kindness.
However, we will do more than just send compassionate thoughts. We will make an effort to have compassionate actions by spending time sorting food at the food bank, supporting friends who are sick or hurt, bringing flowers to neighbors, and taking
sandwiches to food insecure people in our community. By choosing compassion, we build the feeling for others and for ourselves.
Stop and Smell the Roses
When we fill our summer days with activities, scheduling back to back camps, playdates, lessons, and practices, we leave no room for living in the moment. When we are rushed and over scheduled, we are always looking towards the next activity, the next place to be, or the next day’s schedule and leave no room for enjoying the moment. In a mindful summer, we will purposely not overly schedule our days. We are going to get up early and hike a mountain to watch the sunrise. We are going to get on our bikes with some water and snacks and ride and ride and ride until we are exhausted. We are going to get to the beach in the morning and not leave until we have swam in the waves at sunset. We are going to stay in our pajamas all day, read books, watch movies, and eat ice cream. We are going to go to a museum and wander around for hours. Most importantly, we are going to be aware of what each day brings with all our senses.
Notice What is Showing Up
Each day, we face a multitude of thoughts and feelings within ourselves and from our family members. Often times, we react to the emotions of the people around us and this can quickly escalate. This is especially challenging when confronted with difficult emotions. During a mindful summer, we will practice noticing what emotions are showing up, because they are already there! Author and clinical professor, Dr. Dan Siegel, teaches us to “name it to tame it.” In other words, we won’t try to change the feelings or brush them aside to move on. We will name the feeling that has arisen (“I am anxious”) and practice sitting with the feeling for several breaths. We will model this for our children as well as support them in naming their own emotions. Each time we practice noticing what is arising, including anxiety, sadness, frustration, enthusiasm and anger, we take the power from the emotion to dictate our reaction. We are then able to respond to the feeling in our own thoughtful way. By practicing noticing our emotions in the summer, we will be better equipped come fall, when the added pressures of the school day and homework are added. In this way, naming the emotions to tame them will become easier and more automatic and make dealing with difficult emotions easier during stressful times.
Set Daily Intentions
Summer mornings are inherently less crazy. Even when there is somewhere to be, mornings in the summer tend to be slower paced leaving a little room for setting intentions. Over breakfast, either at the counter or the table or in the backyard, we are going to take a moment set our intention for the day. Maybe it will be to perform an act of kindness. Maybe it will be to show gratitude toward someone or something. Maybe it will be to eat mindfully at each meal. Whatever it is, we will take a few moments each morning acknowledge the intention as we face the new day.
Finally, during a mindful summer we will take mindful breaks. This will look different at different times. It may be sitting quietly on the floor focusing on our breath. It may be laying in the grass and while concentrating on each part of our body, noticing any sensations. It may be taking five deep breaths in the car before sending the kiddos off to their activities. It may be taking a mindful walk, noticing all the sounds, smells, sights, and thoughts that arise.
The mindful breaks can take place when they seem necessary, such as when difficult emotions are running ramped or when we need to calm down to transition. But, they can also happen just because. Taking these mindful breaks gives us the chance to practice being in the present – noticing emotions and sensations, compassion, gratitude, and responding rather than reacting to whatever is showing up. These are all tools that my children will be able to take with them into the next school year.
We are well aware that not everyone has the time in the summer to have a mindful summer that looks just like this. Families have work, children have obligations, and life still needs to continue. Taking a few moments each day to plant the seeds of mindfulness, however it looks for each family, will make the summer more enjoyable and the seeds will continue to grow moving into the next school year. With only 18 summers with our children, being mindful will help us get the most out of each one of them.