How to Meditate In Summertime
Summer! The perfect time for barbecues, beaches, and books you don’t tell other people you’re reading. Not necessarily the perfect time to meditate.
Let’s face it: sitting indoors for half an hour is a lot more appealing in the depths of December, when there are fewer reasons to go outside and our bodies slow down in the winter. So should you just slack off in the summer and get back to meditation when the kids go back to school? While totally understandable, doing so can be counterproductive. There’s a momentum that builds up when you meditate regularly. Like anything else, meditating becomes a habit, and once it’s part of everyday life, it becomes almost automatic. But if you interrupt the habit, it’s almost like there’s a “starting friction” when you take it back up again.
Moreover, part of the value of meditation is being present with whatever is going on in your life. Sometimes that’s sweetness and light; more often, it’s the everyday craziness that we all live with all the time, especially if we have, you know, jobs. Or a TV.
If you unplug from meditating part of the time, you’re only getting part of the picture. Part of the point is to meditate when you don’t feel like meditating, or don’t think you need to. Ironically, as we’ve just said, this can often be when things are going well – when it’s nice outside and calm inside.
Okay, so what to do? One option is to beat yourself up and feel guilty about being a bad person who doesn’t stick to their commitments and is too flaky to get anywhere in life. Try this for a few weeks and let me know how that goes. Another option (which I prefer) is to change up the way you meditate to better match your lifestyle. Here are four examples.
1. Get Outside
First, try meditating outside. You’ll want to find a quiet place where people are unlikely to interrupt you: a park, a beach, or maybe your yard when your kids aren’t around (another benefit of summer, right?). Don’t worry about looking weird – this is 2018. People meditate. It’s not a big deal.
Probably you won’t be as focused as when you’re in your usual spot, but that’s fine. See what’s different and what isn’t. Make sure not to just drift off into la-la land, with your mind wandering or zoning out, but let yourself enjoy the moment. Why not?
2. Adjust the Focus
Second, if you’ve been doing this awhile and have different tools in your meditation toolkit, consider selecting one that doesn’t require as tight a focus. For example, just staying on the breath is a great core practice. But in the summer, maybe you want to spend more time with other methods like “open awareness” or cultivating lovingkindness. Because they don’t require the same amount of inward-facing attention, they might fit better with your more extroverted summer mood.
3. Go to the Light
Relatedly, you can bring some of that light into your meditation. Mindfulness isn’t just for noticing the hard stuff. It’s also for appreciating the good stuff! If you’re having a great day on vacation, rather than think “ugh, now I have to meditate,” consider something like “oh cool, now I get to pay attention to good stuff rather than tough stuff.”
Maybe you can notice the feeling of happiness, how it feels in the mind and body. Or that nice tired feeling at the end of a day outside. Whatever is going on, remember what Sharon Salzberg says: it’s not what’s going on, it’s how you relate to it. You can relate to the joys of summer by enjoying the moment, not trying to make it last forever, and not listening to Don Henley all the time.
4. Don't "Meditate"
Finally, and this is really the most important part, meditate when you’re not meditating. What I mean is, develop a mindful attitude when you’re talking with friends, going for a run, or sweating bullets in a parking lot. You can do the same things you do when you’re meditating: notice what’s happening, notice thoughts as they arise, notice that you don’t have to believe every nonsensical thing your brain is telling you.
This, to be honest, is the whole point of mindfulness. It’s nice to have half an hour when you’re meditating, calm and focused, but it’s way, way nicer to have a mind that can stay somewhat calm and focused in the middle of a work meeting. And that happens by developing a meditative, mindful mind instead of just pursuing the hobby of meditating.
Try this out for yourself. I’m on the beach, I’m noticing the sounds, the sights, the warmth. I’m stuck in traffic, I’m noticing the sounds, the sights, the warmth. I’m not “meditating” – I’m integrating mindfulness into the other 16 hours of my waking day. That is the real secret sauce of mindfulness, and the best part is, it goes really well with barbecue. Enjoy your mindful summer!
Dr. Jay Michaelson has been teaching meditation for fifteen years in secular, Buddhist, and Jewish communities. Jay is a journalist on CNN Tonight and at Rolling Stone, having been a weekly columnist for the Daily Beast for eight years. Jay was also an editor and podcast host for Ten Percent Happier for four years. He's an affiliated professor at Chicago Theological Seminary. Jay’s eight books include "The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path" and the brand new "Enlightenment by Trial and Error".