Summer is the Time to Simmer
August 24, 2011
By Elizabeth Castoria
Ahhhh. Wait, let’s all do that again. Ahhhhhhhhhh. It’s summer. The air is warm, the sun shines, the grass smells cut, and the birds chirp like maniacs. If it wasn’t already hugely obvious, I love summer. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s hot weather (which is the best kind), there is often ice cream, and, even when the majority of any given day is spent at work, there are weekends and hours after work that are ripe with possibility. Oh, and you can get sun. Sun is the end-all be-all of things that you can get. Any day spent in the sun is a good one in my book, and basking on a little patch of hot sand (or in a pinch, grass) is my idea of heaven. The world can pretty much float along on its little orbit, tilting on its little axis, doing whatever little worldly business it has to do, so long as I can soak in a few minutes of delicious sunshine.
“But!,” screams the overachieving Type A in my head, “Isn’t that wasted time?” The whole question of whether roasting in the sun is bad for you (which most people defnitely seem to think that it is) or not (which I’d rather believe) aside, shouldn’t I be doing something? From barbecuing to kite surfing to rock climbing to volunteering or catching up on reading or something? To paraphrase “The Simpsons,” should I really settle for being a human being, when I could be a human doing? With so, so much to do in the world (including everything from trying to make the world a better place, to captivating readers’ interest and curiosity about the highly excellent vegan lifestyle, to finally giving my tub a good scrub), is there really time to just lie there like a lump?
Here’s the thing about summer and its attendant relaxation: It is a time unto itself. Of course, there are many times during the year (particularly if you live in San Francisco, like I do) when you simply cannot bust out a bikini and lie around. There are plenty of days when you are required to be inside, for perfectly respectable purposes like gainful employment or the fact that it’s raining and dreary out. Summer is not one of these times. Summer is when you are able to cast off the shackles of clothing layers and simply enjoy. And what happens when you fully unwind, in the way that only a person who is currently warmed by the sun without any pressing obligations can? You think better! In short, summer is the time to simmer.
When our minds get a break from the incessant stimuli that surround us, something really wonderful happens: things sink in. My brain begins to realize trends like the fact that I’ve seen the same color featured in a few different magazine layouts, that there have been more than a couple headlines about a certain subject, or that salted caramel seems to be everywhere suddenly. When the deadlines are, even momentarily, turned off, my mind starts thinking about the things that it wants to think about – like characters who could work themselves into a little short story, or the texture of a favorite comfortable chair – and forgoes temporarily the things it needs to think about – like what the best headline is for a given story, or what the cover text for our next issue should say.
I’ve practiced Bikram yoga on and off for the last 10 years, and, at the end of every class, there’s a blissful time called Savasana, when the posture you’re meant to be in is simply lying on the floor. Most teachers insist that this is actually one of the most important postures of the entire series, as the stillness found in being supported by the floor allows your body to absorb the benefits of the preceding 90 minutes of hot, sweaty effort, and the same is true for the mental gymnastics our brains go through every day. Creative problem-solving creates neural pathways that keep our minds active and engaged, and once those pathways are pumped, flexed and stretched from an overtaxing work week, they’re ready to soak in a little relaxation, so that non-urgent ideas can come shining through.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and you can certainly always push an idea out at the 11th hour, but is it your best idea? Is it the one that you’ll be proud to claim as your own once everyone else has seen it? See what happens after an hour spent lolling on the grass. Slather on your favorite cruelty-free sunscreen, pack a bag with ice, cups and the makings for Dark and Stormys, and head to your nearest sunshine. Let your skin, and your psyche simmer in the warmth of summer, and see if it doesn’t pay off when you eventually (and somewhat begrudgingly) head back inside.
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Photo credit: José Manuel Ríos Valiente