Wednesday, July 23, 2008

15 Things You Have To Do This Summer

Feel like summer passed you by? It’s not too late. There are still plenty of prime time summer days stretched out ahead of you. But you’re going to have to make the first move. Here are fifteen things guaranteed to jump start your summer.

1. Go barefoot

We all love our many shoes and flip flops, but once in a while leave them behind and feel the curve of the earth beneath your feet. Cool grass, white sidewalks, wet sand, smooth pebbles, that brown dirt path down to the lake – don’t let your shoes get in the way of these things.

2. Drink water from a garden hose

Some well-meaning health department wonk probably warned you not to, but “health” has many meanings. What about soul-health? We lost a little of our moxie when we put down the hose and picked up the pomegranate flavored vitamin water. Next time you’re thirsty step outside, grab that hose and crank it up. I don’t know why, but it’s liberating. And free.

3. Go swimming in the ocean, in a lake, in a river and in a swimming pool. Repeat.

Let your body slip under the water and remember, if not consciously then at least at the cellular level, the first nine months of life when you floated blissfully in embryonic fluid. Drift downstream and feel what it’s like to fly. Oceans, lakes, rivers and pools all have their different flavors, literally and figuratively. Make sure you hit them all. Do whatever it takes. Make it happen. If you only do one of the things on this list, make this the one.

4. Fall asleep in the shade under a tree

The blue sky light speckles beyond the leaves. Shapes without names. A thousand shades of green. The simple Being of a tree. Rootedness. The way it lives its whole life in one place, satisfied, purposeful, full of grace. If you let go of your incessant thinking and do this right, you will feel the earth turning beneath you in space as you slip into unconsciousness.

5. Hike the backcountry

Head for the hills and move under your own power over fields and streams, the way we moved for hundreds of thousands of years before we invented those confounded bicycles and automobiles. Feel the machinations of your routinized life dissolve and reconfigure into more natural shapes. Get reacquainted with your mother earth.

6. Make sandwiches and show up at a good friend’s workplace and kidnap them for lunch

Chance meetings and surprises are the sweet spots of life. As far as I know, there’s no rule against orchestrating these chance meetings just a little. Show up at your friend’s work with a picnic and whisk them away on an urban adventure. (Spouses, lovers and exes are also prime targets). An egg salad sandwich, potato chips and a crisp pickle on a bench overlooking the San Diego River can do wonders for a mid-week slump.

7. Wander around on foot downtown with no agenda for four hours

Get out of that glass and steel bubble called your car and see the city at eye level at three miles an hour. Stumble onto bookstores and cafes and Greek restaurants you didn’t know about. Get a little lost. Look up. Makes friends with architecture. Marvel at what busy humans have accomplished. Feel vicariously proud.

8. Rent a kayak and paddle around

Summer is the time when even novices are welcome, even expected, on the water. Take a sailing lesson, rent a row boat on a lake or paddle a kayak out through the surf at La Jolla Shores and explore the sea caves at the base of the cliffs. The sound of water lapping on a hull needs to be fresh in your mind if you know what’s good for you. You’ll kick yourself for not doing this sooner.

9. Go to a library and read poetry

Sure newspapers and websites and magazines and novels are all important, of course they are, but don’t forget where it all begins. Nothing celebrates the power of language like poetry. Language is our best attempt to get a handle on the wild and winsome energies of the universe and poetry is language distilled down to its most potent essentials. Good poets are magicians who wring the cosmos like a rain-soaked bandana and paint the page with its mercurial drops. Rapt in their shamanic spell we see with new eyes the transcendent, blessed ordinariness of our own lives. Then come the cleansing tears.

10. Pick up an instrument you don’t know how to play and try to make music with it

Caught in a rut of tedious proficiency? Tired of being so damn good at everything? Return to what Zen Buddhism calls “the beginner’s mind”. Make god-awful music on an instrument you know nothing about. Drop your ego, stop assessing everything and let your childlike fumblings wrest something new from the uncarved block, the field of pure potentiality that practiced artifice obscures.

11. Write a nine page letter to an old friend

Don’t think too much about what you’re going to write. Just start. Around page four you’ll start getting to the good stuff. You know what I mean. You might not even have to send it.

12. Visit a sacred place

I know, every place is sacred. But some places are more sacred than others. Find an ashram, a meditation garden, a labyrinth, a monastery, a church, a temple, a mosque – but go there when it’s empty. Emerson said, “I like the silent church before the service begins better than any preaching.” Sit still a while. Get out of your head. Slip into the space between thoughts, between words. Let the wooly eared theologians wrangle doctrine out in the parking lot.

13. Walk in the desert at night

Don’t fall off a cliff or stumble into a bed of cholla, but there’s nothing quite as cleansing as hot desert wind in the dark. Blood warm gusts swirl out of the sky like the breath of God, thick with the smell of stone and moonlight. Stars hang like sparks in the indigo between the mountains. Wonderful things begin happening to your skin and your muscle tissue and your troubled mind – a deep, profound stillness seeps into you like a drop of ink in water and your heart begins to beat in time with the rhythm of the earth’s deepest dream.

14. Go to a farmers market and buy some summer fruit

Buy some ugly little organic white peaches that flood your mouth with the fragrant flavor of river-fed orchards and blue summer skies and dew on the sage and poppies and lavender and bright Monarch wings and the morning star all distilled down into a fuzzy little ball that fits in the palm of your hand. Miracles come in small packages. Buy some for your neighbors and leave them on their porch. Refuse to take credit.

15. Get out of town for three days

Drive at least two hours (preferably more) in any direction and stay there a while. Hit the hotel pool. Get some sun. Read the local paper with an anthropologist’s eye. Watch the worst local TV news you can find. Make fun of the weatherman’s hair. Read maps and learn the names of new places. Make frothy drinks in the blender. Eat tacos. Watch old movies. It doesn’t take much to see that all our problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Catch up on your sleep. Feel your so-called real life slip back into due proportion. Feel the swelling of your self-importance recede. Let summer unwind you and leave you calm and collected, held by sensible boundaries, home at last in right-sized dreams. We do good work. We do important things. People are counting on us. But for now, let summer take you over. Live your life as if it were precious and brief and incomparably sweet. It is.