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Summer Recreation That Nourishes the Soul

    Summer is here. This is the time everyone hopes to get away from workaday drudge and relax. To go to the southern coast and feel the ocean waves crashing and swishing against our sun drenched body; or to sit at the lodge at the head of fresh pine-scented walking trails, leading up the mountain to that jewel of a lake we yearn to plunge into. These are the things that let out the playful spirit, trapped so long under the weight of assignments, routines, and deadlines whose daily grind has drained our life spirit dangerously low.

    What is happening when we escape from routines and relax into the childish glee of splashing in the waves, or lose our cares cruising on the lake or river? I would suggest most are looking not so much for ways to get far away as to just to gear down the frenetic pace of life and of our mind. For it is the mind, and not our bodies, that shouts commands to work faster and do better. I would like to address five ways in which we can use summer to leave the fast, furious mind behind and relax into our bodies.

    Getting more sleep The body thrives on sleep. Few realize that, until the advent of electricity, the average adult slept nine hours or more a night. People did not stay up late into the candlelit night; they used it to nourish their bodies with sleep. Just a couple of centuries later, many of us are sleeping just six hours or less and working much longer than eight hour days. The body has not evolved for this rapid shift. With your vacation time in summer, give sleep a high priority. Travel and night life are great joys, but don�t let them cheat your body out of the sleep that will help it regain equilibrium and give you the strengthened immune system that will see you through many more decades of happy and meaningful life.

    Experiencing play and fun Long, warm, relaxing days offer the perfect backdrop for letting down your guard and having innocent and rollicking fun. If you have kids, try joining them in the soccer games or tennis, not in a competitive spirit, but just for the pure joy of playing. One summer, for example, I began allowing an extra half hour on my trips to the health club. I would go in the middle of the day, when it was not crowded, and spend the half hour after my workout just floating in the pool, doing flips and gently dancing in the water. The manager of the club asked me one day, �Mr. R., do you actually do anything? All I ever see you doing is playing water games.� The more we follow the body and sense its needs, the more we will see that happiness is not complicated, but simple, and within reach of us all.

    Making time to do nothing The greatest enemy of the mind that relentlessly drives us is relaxation. Summer is the perfect time not to rush between crowded travel destinations, but to relax. In the summertime, wherever we are, we can absorb the joy of nature around us and relate in the fullness of love to our friends and family. In the modern world, we have been encouraged to drive ourselves mercilessly. We endeavor to get more and more done in less and less time and we don�t mind working twelve hours a day to do it. We become a human doing and not a human being, who can relax, laugh, and just be. Believe me, if you try it, see how loud the mind screams if you just lie down or sit quietly and do absolutely nothing. Watch the birds bathing in the birdbath, or observe the undulating patterns of the sea lapping onto the shore. Try to notice more in the environment that surrounds you. You will find blocks fall away from your vision and you see new and gorgeous scenes around you. That is exactly what summer is for�to rest and be fed and nourished like a child by the universe around you.

    Vacationing in a slow and not a frenetic destination We are encouraged by the travel industry to see as many new places as we can, preferably quite far away, or to go to very crowded resorts and stay in large, impersonal hotels there. This kind of vacation is very much an extension of all the time in the year, spurred on by the mind to go, go, and keep going. The body speaks a different language. Where can we go, our deepest self would say, to boat out on the lake and dive off the rocks into the welcome cool water, or sit in a hammock between palm trees sipping our daiquiri or tropical smoothie? Where can we go where, instead of dragging the kids from place to place, we can spend more time with them hiking or surfing or playing football on the beach? Mark Twain once said, �I would love to go on a vacation, if only I could leave that fellow Mark Twain behind.� Summer is the time to leave the mind-driven workaholic behind and relax in beauty, sunshine, and the warmth of humanity.

    Finding that place of comfort in ourselves When we are led by simple pleasures and relaxing activities, we find that wherever we are, we can find a home within our own bodies. It is a home that we can visit wherever we are, whether in Cancun, the Bahamas, the Riviera, or just in our own garden and back yard. When people ask, �Where did you go this summer,� the best answer would be that we found that place of relaxation permanently within ourselves. We followed the wishes of our own body there and said goodbye to the harsh commands of the mind forever. Our whole being then reverberates with the words Mahatma Gandhi once said: �I am always on vacation.�

    � Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal

    Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal is the author of The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditation. He is also the co-author of Eknath Easwaran�s edition of The Dhammapada and the author of Keats and Zen. He has taught meditation and courses on Han Shan at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Dr. Ruppenthal is an international workshop leader in passage meditation and in courses for those looking for end of life spiritual care and for the spiritual step component of twelve step programs.

    Visit Stephen�s work at www.directawakenings.com