Saturday, August 30, 2014

Seasonal Mindfulness

Seasonal Mindfulness: 6 Tips to Experience the Changing Weather

Can mindfulness help us enjoy a cold, rainy day?
Ah, autumn! Many changes are underway as our hemisphere slowly tilts away from the sun:the temperature begins to cool, formerly green leaves turn to brilliant shades of orange, yellow, and red; and the weather becomes more unpredictable. Whether we need a light jacket, heavy coat, or umbrella can change from day-to-day, even during the course of a day!

In the city, seasonal changes can be a little more subtle. We're surrounded by buildings, cars, billboards, and concrete--not trees and plants--which vary little from season to season. We primarily experience the change in seasons by noting differences in temperature and daylight, two factors that can easily fade into the background of our daily experience. There are few dramatic markers: maybe that pothole has been getting bigger, but it is harder to notice and appreciate than a flame-red maple tree.

These times can be especially fruitful from a mindfulness perspective. Signs of change are around us (it isn't summer anymore!), and we just need to be more observant. For example, we might notice our local farmers' market is now carrying squash, spinach, and potatoes, not corn or tomatoes. Similarly, the trees on our street and in the neighborhood park are changing colors, too. Even the shrubs and flowers in front of skyscrapers can reflect the season, whether through withering summer flora or vibrant displays of chrysanthemums and decorative kale.

Unfortunately, when it comes to autumn (and any other season, for that matter), we rarely allow ourselves to fully experience what is happening around us. We pine for the warmth and sunshine of summer or live in dread of the cold winter months to come. Or, we might latch onto a sunny, crisp day and become sad that it has to end. Or, we might not even notice the weather at all, blindly walking out into the cold with sandals or leaving an umbrella at home when it rains. All of these attitudes reflect a rejection of the present moment, which does little to help us feel better. Ultimately, we need to accept the weather as is. You don't have to like it, necessarily. Few people like feeling cold and wet, for example. And you can take actions to insulate yourself from things that you do not particularly like or enjoy. The difference lies in the spirit behind your action: do you grip your umbrella with a tight fist and fight your way down the sidewalk (i.e., rainrage)? Or do you carry your umbrella and mind with a loose sense of balance and openness?

So, with this spirit, here are 6 tips in bringing mindfulness to the season and weather:

(1) Invite yourself to notice one seasonally relevant aspect of your surroundings every day. In autumn, for example, you might feel the cooler breeze blowing on your skin or even partake in one of the pumpkin lattes served up at your local cafe.

(2) Take a moment or two to experience the weather as it makes contact with your skin. You might focus on the sensation of a raindrop falling on your hand or the wind blowing on your face. Notice what arises in your mind and your body as you allow yourself to experience the weather in this way.

(3) Practice gratitude for the way that the weather is at this particular moment. What can you appreciate or be thankful in what is happening now? While this exercise encourages you to think a little (vs. being just nonjudgmentally aware), it can counteract some of our instant negative reactions. Even a torrential downpour can be pleasant when you hear the sound of rain on your fire escape or discover that street cleaning regulations have been suspended today.

(4) Becoming aware of the weather and your likes/dislikes, ask yourself, "What constructive action can I take in this moment?" Depending on the circumstances, we might choose to pause and prepare better for the weather (like buttoning your coat all the way up) or simply bring attention to your breathing. You might also introduce a little bit of advance planning, here. You can leave nicer clothes or shoes at work, for example, if your commute requires sturdier clothing.

(5) Check in with your body and relax. When we're stuck in bad weather, we get tense. Our face becomes tight, we hunch our shoulders, and we clench our teeth and jaw. Take a moment to notice what's happening in your body and relax. Does the act of relaxing cause you to experience the weather any differently? Also, pay particular attention to your body temperature. We tend to dress warmly in the winter--rightly so, weather-wise--and then continue to be buttoned up as we shop, wait for a table in a restaurant, and ride the subway. Interestingly, the NYC subway experiences more cases of people passing out from heat exhaustion during the winter than summer. Ultimately, this makes sense when you consider how we are bundled up then crowded into a heated, closed subway car.

(6) Finally, bring mindful attention to your judgments and reactions to the weather. Note your tendency to reject or hold onto what is unfolding around you. At this time of year, we might rage, rage, rage against the dying of the daylight (my apologies to Dylan Thomas), but we have little choice but to accept the annual cycle of our planet. Oh, and set back our clocks on Sunday.

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