Everyone loves summer in the Northwest — the sun, the warm days, the cool nights — and yes, the long days that stretch into evening.
I know, we all like to complain, just a little, when a cloudy, cool or rainy day shows up. Or when the temperature climbs. But today, the sky is blue, and the sun peeks through my window shades. I love it.
There’s still stuff to do — laundry, shopping, cleaning, kids and cooking. But in summer, life slows down. The kids are out of school, so parents, who are homework cops during the school year, are on vacation, too. There’s less chauffeuring. There’s just more time inside the longer day.
Northwest gardeners roll up their sleeves and keep their summer gardens going — fertilizing, weeding and watering. I like to watch my potted tomatoes grow. It’s a joy to see green orbs turn into ripe, red fruit. The long days of sunshine make everything grow big and tall.
In this season, we head to the mountains, to the water, or take bike rides on the Centennial or Burke-Gilman trails. Living near Green Lake in Seattle, I like to sit on the grass and watch the world stroll by. When it gets warm, I take a swim, letting the sun dry me off. Late in the day, Diane and I like to walk the lake.
Our challenge: How to keep your summer peace during autumn’s rush.
Give your mind a rest — listen, look and feel. During this dry season, all of us spend more time outside. Today, I went on a bike ride on the Burke-Gilman Trail. I listened to birds sing and tree leaves rustle. I savored the panorama of lush greenery as I glided by trees, ferns and shrubs. I felt the warm air on my skin.
Let your thoughts, plans, and to do lists take a back seat to sensation. They’re still there, like background noise, but instead, focus on your senses — sight, hearing, touch and taste.
Take some time to savor the soft, sweet juice of a ripe peach. Don’t wolf it down. Stop and pick blackberries on the trail — focus on their sweet-tart taste in your mouth. Bite into sweet corn and feel the crunch in your mouth. In other words, be here now. Sensory awareness helps you live more in the present and less in the past or the future.
Breathe. When my mind is busy, I remember to breathe. Take a breath in through your nose, hold it for a beat, and take a long slow, exhalation out of your mouth. These long slow out breaths slow your heart rate, and turn on your parasympathetic nervous system, which provides for rest and digestion. Just take a few of these cleansing breaths several times a day, and soon it will become a relaxing habit.
Stretch. All of us sit too much and don’t walk enough. We hop in the car to go to the store, the post office or to visit friends. And so our muscles shorten, especially in our legs and low back. Take a few moments every day to stretch and lengthen those muscles. This is especially important as we get older.
Take a moment of quiet. In between coming and going, stop for a moment and hit the pause button. Shift your attention away from thinking about the next activity or the last one. Take a long slow deep breath, let your shoulders relax, and smell the sweet air before you begin again.
And enjoy these beautiful days of summer.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.