It’s been hot lately in Newport Beach, California, and throughout the Western United States. How hot? It’s been so hot that Orson Welles has been selling shade. (That’s an old Johnny Carson joke that 95% of you under fifty won’t get…)
It’s been about 90–95 Fahrenheit with considerable humidity. I get it. Any of you from Arizona, Nevada, any state in the South, the Middle East, Near East or Far East, are saying, “Seriously? You think 90 with humidity is some kind of heat wave? Welcome to every day of my summer.”
In my defense, we don’t have air conditioning. I figure why spend all the money for something I need no more than 10–14 days a year?
Complaining in the Gerken household
Suffice it to say, we’re not used to sweating up a storm in our house so this heat and humidity throws us off our game. Lots of complaining. Lots of sighing. Lots of, “Holy crap, could it get any hotter?”
I surmise that many of you reading this are dealing with oppressive heat now or have recently. Here’s how mindfulness can help. The short answer is that dealing with the heat is no different than how we would use mindfulness in myriad other challenging situations.
Jon Kabat Zinn’s mindfulness definition
It’s useful at this point to define what we mean by mindfulness. I like the definition given by Jon Kabat Zinn, the man many consider to be the founder of the mindfulness movement in America. He defines mindfulness as:
“Awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
Yes, we all know that mindfulness is about being present for the moments of our lives. But JKZ adds a word that is absolutely critical to spiritual growth: Non-judgmentally. That’s a gamechanger. How?
Let’s use the example this article is about — dealing with the heat. You’re walking around your house or somewhere outdoors and it’s stiflingly hot. You might think you’re being “in the moment” when you notice how hot it is and go right to, “Damn, it’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk. Yuck. This is just gross and awful. When is this hellish heat going to go away?”
That is being in the moment. But it’s also judging that moment.
The mindful approach, and what I’ve worked on these past several hot days, is to say, “Wow, it’s hot. Okay. That’s what is.” I’m not saying it’s good and I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying that it is.
The spiritual masters tell us not to tell stories
What Jon Kabat Zinn, Michael Singer, Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass and yes, even the Buddha, would recommend to all of us mere mortals in this, and every situation life brings us, is to not allow our minds to create stories that judge, complain about or commentate on the present moment.
Any of these stories sound familiar?
“Damn, why does it have to be so hot? I can’t get comfortable in my house and I can’t get comfortable outside. This sucks!”
“That’s the sixth straight red light I’ve hit. This has been quite the unlucky day.”
“She broke up with me. I’ll never be with another woman again. She was right to break up with me. I’m worthless.”
It’s about adding suffering to a challenging situation.
So the most important thing to do when you find yourself wilting in the heat is to limit your misery to just…feeling uncomfortable. Don’t let yourself go off into Complainerville or Whinerland. Catch yourself before going down that rabbit hole and you’ll save yourself a ton of angst.
This is a monumentally vital issue
This is HUGELY important. I’ve written about this primary/secondary pain issue several times. I hope you’ll ingest this idea into your psyche and use it. Accept what is — heat, red lights, breakups — and try to deal with it from a place of non-judgmental presence.
And don’t forget the obvious but powerful mindfulness tool of simply placing attention on your breathing. It’s hot, you’re walking through your house, you notice you’re about to complain so you start watching your breathing. You prevented yourself from going down the rabbit hole. Mission accomplished.For a fantastic account of using your breathing to underpin your mindfulness practice, check out this great article by Don Johnson. He’s the most eloquent writer on Medium on these subjects.
Mickey Singer’s hot weather strategy
I’ll conclude by relating something I’ve heard Mickey Singer say many times. Mickey lives in Florida where it gets legitimately, scaldingly hot.
Here’s what he says when it gets uncomfortably hot:
“I live close enough to a star that I can feel its heat! On a planet that has lakes and mangoes and cars and all kinds of cool things. As far as we know, the trillions of stars, planets and moons in the universe are just a bunch of gas, ice and rock. How lucky are we?”
This is, of course, good old-fashioned positive attitude, something my parents employed to navigate their way through the challenges wrought by the Great Depression and World War II.
Don’t knock it. That positive attitude was the core underpinning for why my parents and others of their time were dubbed The Greatest Generation.
I got off on a few tangents there, but just remember: When it gets really hot, stop yourself from telling stories about how awful it is. Don’t deny that it’s hot. Just accept what is. Then use your breathing to help you stay present.
And thank your lucky stars that our star is situated at just the right distance to sustain life and all the wonders this wacky planet of ours offers…