Last week I had spent a day at the beach with some friends I hadn’t seen in awhile and they asked me about how my summer has been thus far and what we’ve been up to.
I drew a blank.
I knew we had spent every day outside and a lot of time at the beach.
I knew that it has been a wonderful July and 4 weeks of summer (if you counted from summer solstice). I knew that I have been purposefully and intentionally delighting my senses with each opportunity that had arisen. From dusk to dawn, I was not only basking in the warmth of the sun but relishing the tastes of the season, the extremely diverse smells of the country and the city, the welcome sounds of thunder and rainfall after a spell of hot days, and the views of dawn and dusk as we check off another day spent outdoors.
But what exactly have we been up to?
I know I haven’t been here. Here on this blog. I haven’t wanted to sit at a computer at all. I check my phone once in awhile but sitting at a laptop even if it’s on my porch or on my back deck has not been an attractive endeavour. I feel like I am going to miss out on something magical every time I have sat down at this computer. I’ve toted my journal around and have jotted things down. But even writing this blog post has taken some effort. I’ve been adding to it here and there for about a week now.
I just don’t want to miss a thing. Summer has been so lovely around here and I’m not just talking about the weather. Every little thing has been amazing. The first ray of sunshine that creeps over the neighbour’s rooftop that always seems to take me by surprise. Watching #5 check on his little tomato plant as he whispers words of encouragement to it. Listening to the rustle of leaves in the mulberry tree and closing my eyes and marvelling at the sound which can be easily mistaken as ocean waves until I hear a familiar plink-plop as a straggler mulberry lands on the roof of the playhouse waking me from my oceanside reverie. Greeting the morning sun with a nod of gratitude as I take a deep inhale of my first coffee before I take that first sip that signals the beginning of a new day, a new chance.
This summer’s theme for me is “THIS MOMENT”.
I’ve been sensory loading each moment this summer. From spending time at the cottage with friends to enjoying this city that I was born and raised in including plenty of time at the beach, I have been RIGHT HERE. RIGHT HERE IN THIS MOMENT.
After a brutal 8 months of winter, and as soon as the warm days decided to stick around, I made the intention to feel this summer. To slow down this summer. To be smack dab in the middle of summer. I don’t want it to fly by in a flurry of busy schedules. I want to to see people that I needed to see. I want to read books and look at the stars. I want to create things on a whim. I want to explore our ordinary world with extraordinary care and detail. I want routine in things that bring me joy and that nourish my mind, body, and soul. I want to go on adventures with my family. I want to enjoy the bounty of the season and really taste that fresh strawberry or snap pea from our garden or that little tomato my son has cared for from seed, putting his little heart into every effort. I want to leisurely sit on my porch and have conversations until the big bright moon comes out to greet us. I want to watch the sky change colour as often as I can. I want to be outside. I want to walk barefoot for most of the summer and feel the earth, grass, sand, and water beneath my feet. I want to swim in pools, lakes, and oceans. I want to lie down and look at the clouds and let time pass like an old friend.
I will be content where I am, who I am with, and with whatever I am doing. A large undertaking for someone so used to worrying about what comes next and planning twelve steps ahead with 5 children.
With slowing down our pace and being very intentional with every movement I make, I’ve been noticing a lot of beauty around me including random labels filled with inspiring words plastered all around the neighbourhood:
We spent the afternoon on this impromptu scavenger hunt left by a total stranger. Some would see these labels as graffiti or acts of defacement. Why would words printed on white labels be anything but? There is a power in words. These little words printed in all-caps and in a bolded sans serif font. A boldness. I’m not sure that this was the intention of their creator, this mad labeller. Did he or she or they mean for it to be an urgent yet subtle call to remember, to inspire, to act? We thought so. So we responded. We wondered at the word “WONDER” and defined the word “UNIVERSE” and were humbled by the grandiosity of the word. We had trouble describing this two-lettered word: “BE.” And we sang when we found “SING” and danced when we found “DANCE.” And in the end, after finding all the labels we could, we truly realized that “BEAUTY” is definitely in the eye of the beholder.
So we decided to leave some of our own guerrilla art behind with whatever we find wherever we are:
We decided to create a little love message with pink rocks. We laid down each rock with care and as much love as one could infuse into a simple act. We left in there in the hopes that maybe it would make someone smile. Maybe it would inspire someone to pay it forward. Maybe this simple intentional act for strangers would lead to something more. We didn’t know what the impact would be on the people that came across our little messages, sometimes left in rocks, sometimes in chalk on alleyways and park benches, but this not knowing was the best part. This playful and innocent mischief that we often forget to participate in as an adult.
And did I mention we’ve spent a lot of time at the beach?
#1 has had a couple of beach volleyball tournaments and we’ve had some beach days with friends. Some of the tournaments can be intense. Crowds, nets, and constant games full of serious and structured play. Last year #1 played almost every weekend – sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. This year she needed a break. She wanted to have fun again. So she started playing with her dad and his friends. She only played a few tournaments this year to hang out with friends and not take it seriously. And at tournaments, we don’t take it seriously. I make sure that I take the time to take chilly dips in the water with the kids, screaming the whole time which they find absolutely hilarious. I play beach soccer or mini beach volleyball games with the littles until I am so hot that I stop and signal them to make a run for the water, screaming and laughing the whole way. I lie down and look at the clouds and tell stories to this little guy who just wants to hear that story I tell about the Little Boy and his best friend, the Seagull:
Staying in the moment. Seems easier said than done. It takes a bit of practice and an effort to be mindful. An effort to pay attention. Why am I feeling anxious about this? Why are the kids cranky and at each other’s throats? Why do I feel serene at this moment? How did I get here?
I took #2 and #5 on a canoe ride at a friend’s cottage. #2 was a little hesitant because it was windy and she doubted my skills as a paddler and general waterman. I get it. I don’t blame her. I don’t have much experience in the matter but I am quite confident in my physical strength. Maybe over-confident is a better word. I convince her that it will be fun and that we will follow a friend who is very experienced and knowledgeable about the lake and boating in general. She agrees and we set off. The canoe is a bit tippy, as canoes can be, and #5 insists on reaching for every open lily on the water, much to #2’s chagrin. With each lean, the canoe sways. I counter it nonchalantly but secretly running through my mind rescue scenarios should we capsize. I’m pretty sure the marsh wasn’t as deep as we had feared especially since our canoe would get stuck on raised banks half the time. The wind picked up and we started turning sideways. “I got this,” I say as I try to do a three-point turn with one oar. We go backwards and forwards sideways. She wants to turn back asap as panic rears its ugly head and it takes everything in me not to scream, “I’M DOING MY BEST!” Instead I say, “Paddle this way and hard while I steer us to turn.” I’m pretty sure I was doing everything counter-intuitive but my calm voice soothed the situation a little. Then #5 spots a heron and we stop and look. We gaze at it, transfixed on it’s graceful glide across the marsh as if time has stopped. That old friend. #2 wonders about the nest and if it’s the same heron we saw last year in this marsh. She starts to talk about different types of herons and now we are quiet trying to listen to birdcalls. All the while she is talking, I am able to get us back on track, right side-up. She smiles and is surprised at our change in orientation and happily paddles forward again. A tense moment flees quickly with a 4 year old spotting something that we would have missed in our haste to right ourselves.
The question is: Were we ever the wrong way to begin with?
Had we been faced in a different direction, #5 might not have spotted the heron.
Staying in the moment. I often remind myself that this moment, even if it seems uncomfortable, may be an opportunity to spot that elusive moment of beauty and natural wonder – like a heron flying across a marsh. I don’t claim to be suddenly full of patience and wisdom. I just know that life can be filled with these jewels that we can easily overlook because we’re too busy or too tired. But if we take a moment to sieve through the little specks that get under our skin, and our fingernails, and let them flow through us and past us, we are often left with a rare gem – like finding yourself dancing to a DJ’s music under a full moon. It happens.
These last few days I have watched #3, #4, and #5 create a new dynamic while #1 and #2 have been away on different adventures. As I said my goodbyes and held back the tears (again), I focused on the 3 in front of me. They spent a couple of days with their grandpa, aunt and cousins, and they came back home with a team-like collaborative spirit. We went for an epic bike ride with friends and they are now making puppets for a show they will perform for their big sisters upon their return. I notice that my away children haven’t called to check-in. My heart lifts and sinks simultaneously resting in an awkward place in my chest – they are doing well on their own without me. I resist the urge to call and let them be. Let them be in their moment.
It begins and ends with the senses. Really TASTING my food, opting for the freshest and local bounties of the season. SMELLING the beachfront air or the scent of wildflowers on a bike trail. FEELING the lightest touch of breeze in the scorching sun or holding the hand of someone you love and tracing every line and curve with your own fingers, committing it to memory – both equally comforting. LISTENING to the sounds at dawn – the hammer from a reno crew two doors down juxtaposed with the birdsong from a nest under our eaves. SEEING the sky change colour from day to night like my skin has changed colour slowly over the season and as I witness the glow of the city compete with the glow of stars, I feel a quiet melancholy.
Our senses define the edge of consciousness, and because we are born explorers and questors after the unknown, we spend a lot of our lives pacing that windswept perimeter… – Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses
This summer, will you join me in this experiment of the slow and deliberate? The complete surrender to the senses?
Explore your home, your neighbourhood, and your familiar world with a heightened sense of awareness, open to discovering overlooked nuances and treasures, living only in this very moment.
Although I am living “in the moment,” I still revel in routine. Tomorrow I will write about my new morning routine for the summer that has helped me be open to spontaneity and the unexpected.