During the summer months, Nature provides you with a wonderful invitation to BE in the present moment and become mindful. Will you accept her invitation to enjoy what she offers you? Or will you be too busy “doing” and be unaware of the beauty of nature? In her book, Waking up to this Day, Paula D’Arcy writes that “awakening to the present moment – to now – is to look without filter.... (to) stop relating to life and others primarily through expectation or through mind activity... to meet each person, place, or thing directly.. (to) wake to the day.” What is mindfulness? It is the ability to be open to LIFE as you observe your thoughts and feelings in a non-judging way. When you are mindful, you observe the experience before you rather than evaluate it. Rather than forcing or directing your thoughts or emotions, you take a step back, take a breath and view the moment with curiosity. (Inhen & Flynn Mindfulness). By learning some simple concepts of mindfulness you can actually have a better summer.

Unfortunately, if you are like most of us, you have been taught to stay in your head. You react to life judging your experience as you measure it against your expectations of what you think it should be. When you evaluate your experiences and yourself in this way, you develop an internal chatter of commentary and criticism in order to make sense of the situation. You begin to interpret the occurrence through the lens of “old tapes” that are residing in your head. Many of these tapes were created around old messages and convictions that you incorporated as a child. Often these “old tapes” are one-sided, out-moded or untrue and yet they continue to be the bedrock of your beliefs. Generally, these viewpoints have the theme of inadequacy and tend to be vague and negative statements that cause distress. When you hear these tapes played in your head, stop a moment, take a few deep breaths and try labeling them “old tapes”. Identify the stories, judgments, and beliefs that keeps you stuck. Begin using “soft metal notes” as you redirect your mind back to the present moment and focus on what is equally true. “Soft” refers to nonjudgmental, and you make these notes by simply labeling the process that you are doing at the moment, such as “feeling”, “thinking”, or “worrying”. This labeling will help you take a step back from your feelings and become more objective. When I become aware that my mind is off on a disquieting flight, I say the word “click” which reminds me to take a few deep breaths and focus on some beauty in the present which is equally true.

In order to become more mindful this summer, I invite you to practice the following steps:

Recognition is an important first step because it helps you become aware of what is happening in a particular moment. An easy way to develop this habit is by taking five minutes each morning to stop and notice the beauty of day. Look at the sun rise, the spring rain or the birds chirping because they are just as real as your day’s agenda. If your thoughts start nudging you with the “to do’s of the day” notice them, say the word “click” and send them off for those few minutes. Take some slow breaths and just allow yourself to breathe in the moment as you pay attention to nature around you. Notice how your body begins to relax and become calmer. If distractions persist, investigate the thoughts or feelings by using “soft mental notes”. In refocusing your attention on the way your body is experiencing the moment, you will actually become more mindful of the moment. Explore where in your body you are feeling sensation: your neck, your heart, your head? What does it feel like? When else have you had this particular feeling? Allow yourself to accept what you are feeling, notice it with curiosity as you develop a feeling of non-attachment and continue to become aware of LIFE in the moment.

When you use the practice of recognition, you step out of denial and become more honest with yourself because you are acknowledging the reality of your experience. For example, the driven, stressed-out executive, who denies the cost of her lifestyle, will still be suffering even if she is not in touch with the reason for the disturbance. When you deny your dissatisfaction, your anger or your pain, you exacerbate inner suffering. This is also true when you deny your longings and desire which will squelch your spirit and increase dissatisfaction and conflict. It is only when you acknowledge your situation and the toll that it is taking on you that you can decide whether or not to evoke changes and take charge of your life.

Non-Attachment is when you no longer adjust the interpretation but simply notice the situation and your feelings as they exist. You let go of judgment and logic and become less bogged down with the “what if” or “if only”. As you allow yourself to step back and be curious, you will discover that you have more inner resources and discover limitless possibilities. Life will throw you some curve balls this summer but resistance is a waste of your time and energy. Your baby sitter will cancel at the last moment, your elderly parent might get hospitalized and your car might break down. As I am writing this article, I am recovering from foot surgery. A favorite expression of mine is “if these are the cards that I have been dealt, how do I want to play them?” The recovery process demands that I stay home and keep my foot up for two weeks and allow others to assist me. While the experience is challenging, as I “play the cards that have been dealt me”, I have gained some wonderful insights. For example, I have become aware of how much I need to be in control. While I will allow others to assist me, I tend to be highly critical if it is not done exactly the way that I desire. Today, as I was home alone to fend for myself, I had a greater appreciation for what it is like to be disabled and the concessions that one makes. The milk for my tea was slightly sour but it was just too much effort to get up and make a new cup of tea. Practicing mindfulness, I noticed it, took a step back, and moved to acceptance as I drank it anyway. True strength and resiliency comes from becoming non-attached and unconcerned about the particular situation. As you develop indifference to adversity or joy you create more interior strength and possibilities as you move into the stage of acceptance.

Acceptance is living out the Serenity prayer: “To change what you can change, accept what you can’t change and the wisdom to know the difference”. Acceptance invites you to be aware of your reality and let go of any subtle resistance to your present situation. It does not mean that you cannot work to improve a situation. It is the recognition that at this moment in time this is your reality and there is little else that you can do to change it. Acceptance should not be confused with passivity; rather it is the willingness to include, with open-mindedness, whatever exists before you. When you practice acceptance and no longer resist a situation, you will notice that dilemmas that seem intractable often become workable. A few years back, I had a free ticket to Greece. The only catch was that I had to spend 7 hours in Orly Airport in Paris! What to do about this situation? I could curse the airline gods or accept it. I figured I had about 5 hours of free time. I brought my knitting, my journal and a book. I packed fruit, nuts and water in Greece and had 2 Euros left to spend. I decided to make the day an “adventure”. My goal was to investigate the airport and find the eatery that would give me the biggest bang for my buck (Euro). I spent the hours checking out every shop and kiosk staying curious and inquisitive. I finally found a croissant and tea avec latte (tea with milk) in a little cafe, for less than 2 Euros. I was even able to leave a tip!!! I was so busy having fun, that I was late for boarding.

This summer, could you begin to accept the interruptions in your life as part of life? This is especially true if you are a mother whose school age children are home for the summer. Their constant demands will challenge you to let go of your own agenda and be present to their moment. Or maybe you are someone caring for an older parent or working for a demanding, inconsistent boss; when a crisis arises, your needs must be put on hold to attend to them. What if you stopped resisting these interruptions since you have to deal with them anyway? What if you simply notice how you feel, using “soft mental notes”, then just address the needs? How would this change the situation? For one thing, when you stop resisting and accept your present reality, you will relax and be happier. You will also notice that you have extra energy to explore more creative solutions to deal with the problem.

This summer, through the use of mindfulness, you can learn to enjoy each moment as nature beckons you into “Life”. In the morning, take a little time and examine your day or your week. Decide to re-prioritize as you let go of “non-essentials” and unnecessary “shoulds” and add some time for “adventures”. Let go of “old tapes” that have limited you and kept you stuck in old beliefs. Release connection to what you have been trained to believe as you open your mind to all the possibilities before you. The only control you really have is in the present minute. Give yourself permission to just BE as you listen to the birds, feel the breeze and smell the flowers. Notice your body as it begins to relax and you will feel more grounded. The beauty of this moment is as true as the pain of your past or the challenges that are around the bend. Since both are equally true, what would you rather focus on? The way that you live each moment this summer is actually practice for the way that you live your life. Will you choose to become more aware of the joy in Life or will you continue to be distracted and bogged down as you ignore the invitation to live fully? Summer is such an easy time to enter into Life because the beauty of nature is all around you. See if you can find a slot of time, even if it is just an hour a week, and commit to taking off by yourself to “Be” in nature. You could go for a walk, go to a park, find a tree, get a blanket and look at the sky. The opportunities are endless. Could you commit to spending more time with people who bring you joy? Are you entitled to schedule an activity that makes you happy? Would you begin to look at interruptions as an invitation to stop and be present to something new and different? Will you begin to tap your right brain for creative ideas and solutions? When you commit to a posture of mindfulness, you will find that this new perspective will relax you, exhilarate you and help you to have the wonderful summer you deserve.

Blog/Reflection questions:
What will you commit to doing differently this summer?
What is one activity that would make you very happy?

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.

Author's Bio: 

JoAnne is a sought after and experienced lecturer who believes in the connection of emotional health to body, mind and spirit. She has integrated clinical counseling with holistic techniques and has formalized her knowledge by creating the Journey Back to Self program. She began public speaking in 1991 and has offered this workshop at the National Association of Social Workers Conference, The Connecticut Business Woman's Forum, BayState Medical "Spirit of Women" and New England Yoga studios.