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Every summer has a story
Q: What's been the defining story of your summer?
Two months ago my mind trapped me in a dark place. My brain was overheated from too many responsibilities and action items in May. In my attempt to be a good mother, wife and daughter, I had overcommitted myself to school events, family celebrations and weekend trips. Before I knew it, my body triggered into “freeze” mode. Everything around me and inside of me felt frozen. I stopped talking, connecting, reading, writing, walking, cooking, and enjoying life.
While others were looking forward to summer vacations, I found myself bracing for a hectic vacation in India. My thoughts were leading me astray, creating more worry and anxiety. I needed to make a choice of what I paid attention to. I told myself - Just get through today. Maybe things will be different tomorrow. Maybe things will be different once I land in Mumbai. Maybe things will be different when I am surrounded by mountains in Ladakh.
“Try to be mindful, and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still.”
- The Venerable Ajahn Chah Subhato, Thai forest master and Buddhist teacher
As we traveled through India, I attempted to make a conscious effort to pay attention to the good things happening to me. At least we are away from the commotion in the big cities of India. It’s nice to have someone else planning our meals. The kids are finally off their screens and engaging with their friends. But despite my best attempts, negativity invaded my thoughts. I hate being on the move. There is trash littered everywhere, even in nature. Traveling with three generations (grandparents and kids) is not relaxing.
“...learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. …if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way.”
- David Foster Wallace, This is Water [audio of speech]
Over the summer I let my external environment and the people around me affect my thoughts. Unlike here in California, I found it impossible to avoid the squalor and cynicism in India. This made me prone to having more gloomy thoughts. We were on the road for three weeks covering ten cities and the constant movement completely depleted my energy. In this state I was unable to consciously choose what I paid attention to. I found myself stuck in the “natural default setting” [referenced in the quote above] requiring the least effort from me - I am the center of the world and look how annoying and unfair and inconsiderate the world is to me.
This summer was a hard lesson - in spite of being able to observe my thoughts I was unable to shift my perspective. It takes will and effort to have the awareness and discipline on what I give consideration to. There will be days when I will fail to pull myself out of the “default setting” of our unconscious human minds that is all too common in mainstream society. Fear, anger, frustration, craving, worship of self - our present culture thrives on this.
For now I give myself the grace of having the awareness of how my thoughts were affecting my mood. It is incredibly hard to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. But I hope that on most days I will make a choice to look at things differently - with awareness of what is real and essential so that I can stay conscious and alive each day.
Every summer has its story - going on an epic trip, experiencing a new culture, undertaking a challenging race or a climb, catching an electrifying first concert with your kids, or perhaps enrolling in a long desired course. For me this was a summer spent largely at home in San Francisco - a rarity for this wanderlust. Well into my third trimester, I wasn't allowed to fly to any exotic destinations. So we went on a couple of local weekend trips but mostly nested in anticipation of our new arrival.
As I started my maternity leave in July, I suddenly had more time to myself. With no travel plans of my own and everyone else on holiday, I found myself without my closest confidantes for those first few weeks. My therapist went on vacation. Mitali was in India and with the timezone change and her travel in the mountains we didn't connect at all. Another close friend was busy in LA with the launch of her brand new skincare company and another one went on a last minute trip to Ibiza. When she shared a photo of a beach shack with the sun about to take a dip into the Mediterranean Sea stretched out behind her I got nostalgic. It reminded me of summers past, spent on beaches in Tunisia, Turkey, Greece, Spain and Croatia .. that sense of freedom that I've experienced being around the Mediterranean Sea. A feeling I've never been able to catch on holiday here in the US. It made me wonder... was it the sea, the light or the European way of living?
While I missed the deep conversations with my closest thought partners, the sudden silence turned out to be a gift. Instead of missing that feeling of being on vacation, my focus turned inwards creating a calmer energy around me. I embraced a summer that allowed me to let our baby grow and the quality time with little A. My initial anxiety of whether my body would be able to do this - bring a seed to life in its 40th decade - subsided.
As I slowed down, I found myself marveling at what was happening inside me. At 35 weeks pregnant I penned down this little limerick in my journal..
My belly is a home
an entire universe even
to another being
alive and flowing in there
now isn't that something?
I envisioned our future with a new baby, the fourth member of our family and had conversations with little A about her role as a big sister. We took turns coming up with new names for the baby on a daily basis. I felt the love growing within me. So that's what my summer has been about - surrendering and loving. Surrendering the idea of having an ideal beach holiday. Surrendering the fear of whether I can keep up with this next stage of life. Loving my body, learning to trust its ability to create a healthy home for my baby. Loving the quiet time I got to create special moments with my family. It has been very different from last summer where we spent ~8 weeks traveling across Europe and I walked the path to Santiago challenging myself. But nevertheless a defining story of this summer.
Before heading into the fall, settling into new routines, sending kids off to school…I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on your last few months. What's been the defining story of your summer?