The idea of summer brings many things to mind – backyards, bbqs, beaches, iced tea on the porch and days spent relaxing with family and friends. What summer doesn’t remind us of all that much is work, but, in a way, the play that summer involves is intimately connected to our ability to work and live well.
Perhaps it’s nostalgia for the days of summer breaks from school, but whether we’re the parents of kids taking a break from pre-school or a summer backpacking trip between university semesters, or we are single with no kids at all, everyone is collectively impacted by this time of the year. Just as students of all ages retreat a bit from their social and academic pressures to think about and do what makes them happy and at ease, summer time reminds adults to also take time out to consider ourselves. We take summer vacations, spend time with family and friends, and we may not be as motivated to want to go to work. We allow things to slow down this time of the year.
That’s a good thing.
Summer brings with it an invitation to so many activities that are vital to our health, both mental and physical. Fresh food grows in our pots and lines the stalls of farmers markets. The warm sun calls us out of the house and to walks around the neighborhood or along the beach. As the evenings stretch longer and everything is growing, summer calls us to be creative too.
We plant flowers. We tell stories. We take and share photographs of the sun setting. We wear our clothes differently. These things may seem like little, incidental and insignificant parts of our lives, but, they’re not, not at all. These small acts of creativity are essential to maintaining happy, productive lives. This is the case everywhere, for everyone, but, in West Michigan, summer’s invitation to take breaks and find small ways to enjoy ourselves and experience our place in the world are especially poignant. Set between the refrains of our magnificent lakes and our awe inspiring winters, summer reminds us that days are fleeting, work is hard and life is meant to be enjoyed.
Don’t miss out on this invitation. These little moments away aren’t just the icing on the cake of a good life; they are, really, the apple a day that keeps the doctor away. Go outside for a walk, enjoy the local festivals, go to the lake shore and play in the waves. Take the opportunity to experience the world around you, and understand that it is an essential part of getting in tune with yourself.
Jon Kabat Zin, creator of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine and widely regarded expert on the benefits of mindfulness defines the practice as, “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience.” Part of understanding and being part of experience as it happens is learning to know our senses. Deliberate acts of creativity bring us into contact with the nearly magical power of our ability to sense. Feeling the cold soil in our hands as we nestle a begonia in a cradle of dirt, smelling the waves as we hear them lap behind a zen garden we shape along the beach, catching rare colors as they gleam from bits of glass we plant alongside our flower beds, or tasting the fresh air as we breathe deeply and let bubbles fly into a sunlit evening brings us more than a moment of fun.
The act of creating can bring on healing benefits. Creativity makes pathways in our brains, we connect to memories in innovative ways and slow down the daily grind of information that can be so toxic and so boggling. Research indicates that being deliberative about making art or making artistic choices helps treat a host of mental illnesses – it can improve concentration, overcome depression, treat anxiety and combat PTSD. Just as vitamin C is good for us whether we have a cold or not, so too simple acts of creativity are part of healthy living.
The role of creativity and summer’s invitation to it remind me of the gleam I see in the eyes of my 7 year old daughter, which refreshes the world to me in new ways, time and again. Young children have kindness in their hearts that is so genuine and authentic, and we don’t think twice about whether playing pretend and being creative are a big part of kids’ vibrant approach to life. But, when it comes to adults, we think that “being creative” is something we do “when we can spare the time.” And, who has time to spare? Creativity isn’t something we should lose with adulthood.
Playing in the backyard, imagining a magical world of fairy tales and make believe. Catching fireflies, digging in the sandbox, playing in the dirt, running around a neighborhood in a carefree way, being outside for hours. Doing sidewalk chalk — these are all activities that need not stop with the end of adolescence. Carrying them with you into your adult summers (and seasons in general) helps you stay connected to the things that make you you, in so many ways.
As the summer winds down, remember to accept its invitation. You don’t have to join a yoga class or take sculpting lessons, you can start small. Be mindful as you do gentle stretching, journal, pay attention to light and color in photos you snap with your phone, listen to music, work on a craft or hobby, go for a walk in nature. Taking time for things that don’t take much gives us the stamina and the focus we need to work and be well.