It’s officially summertime: the calendar says so, the freckles on my shoulders say so, and the thick, sticky air seems to agree. The summer can be a time when things get frantic. Being from New England, I can attest to the pressure to enjoy the good weather while it lasts. Enjoy this sunshine and warmth, dammit! But I, for one, am looking forward to trying to fight the summer frantic antics. This summer is all about slowing down.
I’m in my 2nd year of working in public education, and truth be told, I’m still adjusting. People regularly proclaim how lucky I am to have summers off. I can’t disagree; it’s an excellent benefit. But instead of thinking, “Gee, I am lucky!” I get hit with a pang of guilt. Surely I should be doing more. Most people work year-round. Most people don’t have the privilege of weeks or months off.
My response to “I’d love summers off, too!” is not eloquent or witty. No, usually I stammer about the poor pay, or the 12 months worth of work stuffed into 10 months, or the fact that well, I’m hourly, so I have to find a summer job, like I’m a 16 year old kid looking to mow lawns. Yes, I work in summer, too! No, I’m not getting defensive, why would even think that?
Our culture and its Protestant work ethic is deep-rooted and pervasive (I got stuck with its pressures and I’m not even Protestant!!). Of particular importance lately is being productive. Improving ourselves, making progress, getting better and doing more. What a wildly unsustainable way to live a life, though. To live as if the point of life is to get better and do more all the time can only lead to feelings of burnout, or feelings of failure. What if we work hard, work better, work more, but don’t improve? Don’t make enough progress? Don’t earn enough? What is ‘enough’?
At the end of winter, the weather, the election, and the stress of work all sent me to seek some help and perspective with a very kind, very funny therapist who consistently challenged me to be mindful and investigate my own assumptions. I’ve since stopped needing to see her (for now, at least) and I’m thankful for her introducing mindfulness practice into my life. The point of doing the dishes is to clean the dishes, not go somewhere faster or think about work. The point of going to work is to contribute some skill and earn money in return, not prove our worth or validate our existence. The point of living is, well, to be alive: alive to every moment of our lives, alive to every sensation and observation and moment – fast or slow, full or empty.
So this summer, instead of guilt or pressure to “do something” with my time, I am simply going to be alive to the heat, to the sun, to the freckles on my skin, and trust that it is enough of a life to fold laundry, and drink cold coffee, and read until my eyes fall closed for a nap.