moving through summer

grass-wind-field-summer

I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through.  ~ Hafiz

Summer is an exciting time. A season of travel, movement, being. We have been programmed to think of summer as a time fit for slowing down, a time of rest and relaxation, but my isn’t it one of the busiest seasons of all. I don’t know about you, but each year as the month of June approaches, I long for those lazy days. I recall the summers I spent as a child, swimming in our backyard pool, playing cards on the living room floor with my brothers, riding a bicycle to the drugstore for a scoop of ice cream or a pack of bubblegum. I have so many fond memories of days spent doing nothing more than waking, eating, playing and sleeping.

For many years my family lived in a five bedroom split-level house tucked into a suburban cul-de-sac in a neighborhood full of children. It was an idyllic backdrop for childhood adventures. Furnished by a single father, our decor was sparse and indestructible. The front room was originally designed to be a formal living room, with elaborate faux-landscape wallpaper, white shag carpet, and a grand window with sheer drapery meant to be drawn back dramatically and pooled on the floor. You know, the kind of room your parents kept meticulously clean but never allowed you to enter else you die. Well, once we moved in it became our play room. Along the faux-landscaped wall sat a lone geometric print black, red, and gold crushed velvet couch. The only other piece of furniture was a tall maple cabinet that housed our beloved Sony Trinitron color television, replete with a dozen silver push button channels with green glowing backlit numbers, and our pong and Atari video game consoles. What more did we need? My father preferred the family room off the kitchen and set it up with a tower bookcase holding his elaborate component stereo system, two custom-built speakers, and another equally funky tweed couch and that was it. In our formal dining room? A weight bench. God bless my dad for providing us with such a wonderful place to call home, with good schools, winding streets lined with leafy trees for climbing, neighborhood friends for moonlit hide and seek games, a pantry full of healthy cereal and boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. When I wander through this house in my mind, I don’t see all the missing furniture but only feel the sunshine and laughter of summer.

While those days of simply waking, eating, playing and sleeping are long gone, we can still make time for summer. In many respects, the slowness of summer is a state of mind, because let’s face it, it’s already August and we have jobs and family and obligations and places to go people to see. Reality is racing all around us — it doesn’t stop for an iced tea in a patch of shade. That new movie you’ve got to see. The restaurant you’re dying to try. The friends who just called to let you know they’ll be in town, tomorrow, with all their kids AND the drooling dog. That calendar fills up, even if you’re retired or perhaps a teacher like me with summer spread out before you. But what if we were more deliberate in our leave taking? What if we set aside one section of our day and moved more slowly through it. What would that kind of summer look like for you?

I’d enjoy long stretches of morning and spend as much time as I could in my pajamas, reading or just listening to the breeze through open windows, to water trickling from a backyard fountain. I’d never pass up an invitation to travel, I’d linger longer over conversations with strangers — grateful for good fortune when it brings me to kind people who like to talk and tell stories as much as I do — and I’d savor the extra time I have to experiment in the kitchen, making jam and baking bread. It’s in these moments, those moments in between meetings and parties and appointments and classes, in between weekend trips and laundry loads, where my movement, my being, is filled with summer.

 One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.

~ Jeannette Walls


What if we set aside one section of our day and moved more slowly through it. What would that kind of summer look like for you?

 

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i’m gonna miss my bacon

You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason they are heavy.

letgoIn just a few weeks I am going to jump again, only it won’t be off a cliff but rather onto a bandwagon.  I’m going to do a cleanse.  That’s right.  One of those 21-day mind and body detoxes Oprah gushes about on all of her media channels.  Oh, not one of those juice diets that had Gwyneth Paltrow hallucinating after ten days or one of those coconut water and aloe smoothie cleanses the glamour moms at drop off talk about just before bikini season.  No, just an old fashioned return to Simple.  Natural.  Pure.  And during this time when I’m sweating in some Bikram yoga studio and abstaining from every culinary joy . . . sugar, caffeine, wine, filet mignon, . . . the bakery! . . . I am also going to wrestle with some toxic thinking.  In these few weeks before the fall term begins, when I have time for a spiritual reboot, time for reflecting on the cresting present, I’m going to clean house, open the windows and let go of some burdens I’ve been lugging around for too long.  When I take them out to the curb, my hope is that there will be surplus room in my heart for more kindness, more love, more holiness and more joy.

What should I read for the journey?

 am i being kind and The Radical Practice of Loving Everyone by Michael J. Chase

Follow Your Joy and Happiness Now! by Robert Holden

The Importance of Being Extraordinary audio conversation with Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle

 

    
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The best portion of your life will be the small, nameless moments you spend smiling with someone who matters to you.  ~ author unknown

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the examined life

The men are gone.  This is the opener of an article called “Five Ways to Make Mindfulness More Manly,” but I am fearful it may become the mantra for my newly developed writing course.  You see, after 20 years of teaching college freshman how to write, and running through the gamut of themes–writing about literature, writing about identity and cultural diversity, writing about shopping, brand identity and advertising–only to absolutely loathe reading their papers, I decided to totally revamp my course and make it centered on something I love.  While I teach at a large urban community college and can not make my classes overtly about contemplation and spirituality, I have been struggling with what to do.  How do I crawl the last few yards toward retirement with my soul intact?  Whelp, I jumped.  And hopefully not into the abyss!

Two weeks ago I was given a last minute summer course assignment, an online course I had stopped teaching because my curriculum was so dated and tiresome and the papers so mind-numbingly boring I could.not.go.on.  But this was the particular class I was given, and teach it I must.  Instead of making it easy on myself, though, and sticking my brain in the freezer for six weeks with the canned curriculum, I jumped and decided three days before go time to totally reconstruct the class around David Foster Wallace’s brilliant speech “This is Water.”  It’s a commencement speech for college graduates, but why not, I thought, hit the students with his sage advice sooner?  Maybe I could encourage a little transformation or if not that, at least dangle before them the potential for returning to a more Socratic style of living the examined life.  I had nothing but this speech and the kernel of an idea, but here I am, hoping I find my wings on the way down.

Foster Wallace’s speech ultimately is about mindfulness.  It’s about paying attention, listening, living a compassionate life that takes the needs and suffering of others into account when our tendency is to assume everything is all about us.  Our frustration.  Our boredom.  Our happiness.  Our schedule.  Our plans.  We tend to think everyone else exists to get in our way and muck things up, which of course leads to a lot of anger and frustration, which then leads to unhappiness.  His speech is also a scathing critique of much of what a liberal arts education has become in the way that it encourages our students to be selfish and self-centered rather than compassionate.  Of course, I am thrilled and terrified at the same time by the prospect of engaging my students in this conversation.  What if they hate it?  What if it is just the thing they are hungry for?  And then as my friend Marshall (Kozo) points out in his article, there’s the hard fact we live in a culture where men are taught that mindful contemplation and spirituality are not very “manly.”  Maybe there is something I can do to change that.

 

7Keys

 

But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

~ David Foster Wallace “This is Water”

 

 

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