This summer I hope you’ve given yourself permission to have a treat, take a break, do something totally indulgent and unproductive. That’s right, I’m encouraging you to idle away some time.
Maybe it’s a holiday you’ve planned by the beach. Maybe it’s wrapping up work before 6PM so you can take advantage of happy hour al fresco or catch a World Cup match. Maybe it’s taking a longer lunch or a longer walk or a bit of a nap in the grass when you have a spare moment because it really would be a crime not to with such nice weather.
Now I’m a hard worker by nature and far from what anyone would call lazy, but if there is one time of year that I don’t need a reminder to play, it’s most certainly July and August.
Behaving any differently would just feel wrong, disrespectful even, to mother nature and the generous gifts she is handing us: an opportunity to connect more with nature by getting your feet in the grass, submerging them in sand and salt water and letting your hair dance in the breeze. July and August are open invitations to surrender your senses to the sweetness of summer and let go. So will you accept?
If the idea of letting go already has you nervous and twitchy, then maybe you need to book yourself a trip to Italy. Seriously.
Italy – land that I love. I studied Italian and French at University in hopes that learning the languages would one day take me to these foreign countries so often depicted in glorious films about summer. There were the adaptations of Marcel Pagnol novels – Chateau de ma mère (My Mother’s Castle) and La Gloire do mon père (My Father’s Glory) to make me dream of Southern France, and then Stealing Beauty (and more recently I am love) that left me wanting to run through wild grass and flowers in the Italian countryside.
I’ve spent many summer weeks in Italy since then when my dreams were realised. One summer I spent studying art history in Florence and another I spent two months living in the Abruzzo region of Italy volunteering on different organic farms. One taste of Italy in the summer and I knew it would become an ongoing love affair. Returning to Italy whenever possible would become a priority to remind myself of the importance of la dolce vita the Italians live so well. To remind me (a juggling to-do lister) to slow down and enjoy life.
Motorbikes are fast in Italy. But life is slow. Italians speak at high velocity, but linger over a meal for hours. A day in Italy is full of unknowns and ‘possiblies’, but never void of some kind of pleasure. You must be patient, playful and passive and that’s when you see the beauty (same rules often apply to yoga…).
I remember there was a gelateria in Florence called Perche non? (Why not?) and it’s an expression I think of a lot when I’m muddled with indecision – most often confronted with an opportunity to treat myself, indulge in something ‘naughty’, let go a little but I feel too guilty. Then I hear it in my head – why not? And my excuses are usually pretty lame. This is a great way of eliminating the fears, the worries, the what-ifs that accompany my impatience to complete a project and embracing the ‘live a little’ attitude Italians demonstrate so well.
Over time I have learned that taking a break and spending time ‘idle’ can actually yield huge benefits. It makes me more productive when I return to work, more focused and able to prioritise, and more present to all those and all things around me. It makes me more human, less self-centered and simply healthier. This is also why I meditate.
I’m not the only one who has caught on to this marvel. Just this week an article in the Evening Standard magazine highlighted changes happening in the workplace to allow people more freedom with their work schedules in an effort to prevent ‘workaholics’ and increase motivation. New legislation around this could mean more flexible work hours, nap rooms in office buildings and company pets in the future.
Some people have no issues with ‘not doing’. And they may take it too far to the opposite extreme. As with anything, it’s all about balance. There is time to rest and time to work and both feed off each other. But definitely take time to rest. Ideally away from a screen. And look around. Notice the man who plays accordion by the train station every day on your commute and thank him; hold doors open and give your seat up because you notice people around you. Be part of the world, not just your world.
So in case you ignored the first invitation, summer and I (and Italy too) would like to invite you again to let your hair down a little. Run around a bit. Eat some gelato (there’s a fantastic place in Richmond if you want to stay local Londoners – even with dairy free varieties 🙂 Do ‘nothing’ for at least 30 minutes every day and stop checking your iphone so darn much.
If you can’t get to Italy or are minding your carbon footprint, then do rent a film on Italy (or some other glorious and warm location). It might be just what you need to finally convince yourself you need a break, that a break will yield good things and that life is simply too short to keep fixating on work that could get done, problems that could get solved, money that could be made.
Meditation plays a big role in my life and when summer weather comes, I take my meditation outdoors by taking meditation walks, pottering in a garden, staring at a body of water, shelling broad beans in the kitchen, etc. There are so many ways to meditate that don’t require sitting still (see more inspiration below). Can you think of your way?
Ways I slowed down, treated myself and enjoyed summer in June:
- Row row row your boat – Moving flat a lot in one city can be a big nuisance, but it also means discovering more, exploring more and getting to know all of London’s little nooks and crannies more intimately. Since moving out towards Richmond nearly a year ago, I have been determined to get myself out on a row boat for a paddle down the Thames. And in June I finally did. What did it feel like? Being hugged my nature and sunshine – idling time away in the most pleasant way possible. A synonym for ‘idle’ is to ‘rest on one’s oars’ so if you need an activity to help you slow down and take in summer, get yourself to Richmond ‘beach’ for a bit of paddling (beware potential blisters and summer breezes offering your hat to the swans).
- Got snapping – photography has always been a hobby of mine. I was inspired my my father who always had a camera in hand, always lagged behind us on walks in Maine to capture scenery through a lens. My first camera was a yellow Kodak kids camera and then I eventually graduated to a high-tech Canon SLR and assorted appariti; I started using a Polaroid and then even a twin-lens reflex camera before transitioning to digital. Nowadays my photography is mostly limited to the trillion shots I take and store on my iphone, but nonetheless, it still delivers the kind of satisfaction I crave from ‘taking pictures’: capturing beauty I see to revisit again later, looking for beauty, colour and light all around me and then curating my creations. It’s my favourite ‘do nothing’ activity that results in something. This June I wanted to fully return to my photography hobby so enrolled in yet another beautiful e-course by Susannah Conway called Photo Meditations– you’ll see some photos in this post (from my short trip to Italy).
- Made some kitchen creations – I’m always rolling up my sleeves and making a mess in the kitchen in one way or another. This month, inspired by London-based raw chocolatiere Amy Levin and her many free and friendly resources, I got back into making raw chocolate at home for two reasons: 1) to cut down on the cost of buying raw chocolate and 2) to make the EXACT texture, shape and size of chocolate I want. Raw chocolate is highly nutritious, has the perfect bitter/sweet balance and because of its potency, should be moderated. Raw chocolate has helped me cut down on store bought chocolate (sugar) consumption and save it for a special post-meal treat. There are 3 simple ingredients for a base: raw cacao butter, raw cacao powder and a non-refined sweetener like coconut palm sugar. For more info on raw chocolate, how to make it, and it’s benefits, visit her website Oosha.
- Had a cuppa – a World Cuppa that is. Now I am NOT a spectator sport fan (see note above re: upbringing by photographer/musician father who was not into sport). BUT, since moving to Europe 10 years ago, I have made it a point to try new things, to get involved in the local culture and see what happens when you embrace the things you want to resist the most. I have fond memories of the first World Cup I experienced in London – I was studying with an internationally diverse group of students at the LSE and countries playing against each other took on real significance and meaning. There was so much lively, communal energy in the streets. So now with a boyfriend who is a major football fanatic, I have surrendered again to the charm of a good old cuppa football. Best brew yet was the U.S. vs. Belgium game – not only did it keep me on the edge of my sofa, it also had me tearing up at the display of good sportmanship, camaraderie and pure passion often unseen in England matches. As I type this I am also half-watching the Wimbledon Men’s Final – when in Rome…:)