I first heard the term “Zen” in the mid-80’s from an uncle whom I overheard talking to my parents about a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig. I had absolutely no idea what the book was about, nor did I care. But the word “Zen” stood out to me and stayed with me until I encountered it again many years later as a student of Zen meditation and yoga in Canada.
The word appeared again when I was a curious expat teacher living in Southern Japan. My childhood self had no idea that the word “Zen” would come up again many times over the years of my own personal development and continuing journey towards self-understanding.
Zen and Me
My use of the word “Zen” in this post is not intended to be presented as correct or factual in regards to the ancient practices of Zen Buddhism. I hope that it is wholly evident to my readers that I am ignorant about the wealth of wisdom within the Zen Buddhist ways of knowing. I simply want to share that I have a personal mental association of “calmness” with the word “Zen”. But I digress…
The fact is, one of my childhood nicknames was “Radio Vancouver” because I was an extremely talkative child. In the mid-80’s, that same uncle who spoke of of “Zen” books made a summer appearance that I’ll never forget. Through my child eyes, he was the most exciting and intriguing extended family member because he introduced me to nature during the summer in ways that my parents never had. The adventure was Bicycle + Wind + Earth + Water + Fire. Well, actually no fire, but it would have been nice!
In any case, I can imagine how my parents must have rejoiced that summer when my dear Uncle offered to take one of the kids (me, the chatty one!) on a cycling trip on Mayne Island off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. Up to that point, I had cycled to school on my own since the end of the second grade.
I’d also enjoyed frequent explorations among the ferns and damp, squishy forested areas in our neighbourhood and behind my school with sheer delight. But a cycling adventure around an island?? I hadn’t done that yet. YES! My child self jumped at the opportunity. I happily rolled my bike onto the ferry to Mayne Island with anticipation and excitement.
Nature’s Charms Can Silence the Chatter
It was one of the most brilliant summer experiences I had as a child. To this day, 30 years after that Mayne Island summer cycling trip, I still carry strong positive memories of the experience – wind in my hair, piles of the earth’s soil around the foundations of a little cottage my uncle was building on the island and the magical sounds and smells from the ocean which surrounded us as our bike wheels cruised down quiet roads. We didn’t talk much on the trip. “Radio Vancouver” was “off the air” and totally immersed in another way of being.
Finding ways to enjoy “being in the moment” is one of the most powerful ways I know that both adults and children can find a timeless and satisfying sense of mutual wellbeing. Although my parents didn’t fancy cycling, they too had their own ways of finding some calm and joy along with a full house of kids every summer.
Lovely beach days at Spanish Banks with my folks as they read or enjoyed lying in the sunshine while we played creatively and imaginatively for hours in the sand. Strolls along Stanley Park’s forest trails and in the rose garden, skipping along and marveling at the natural beauty. The charms of nature in the summertime can bring much calm and joy to parents and children who seek it and open themselves to it.
4 Ways to Calm and Joy with Kids this Summer
As a teacher, I know too well the anxious faces of parents about to embark on a summer vacation with children after school ends for the academic year. The start of a summer holiday is a stimulating transition time and being with children for full days after the academic year ends isn’t necessarily relaxing for parents.
This summer break, consider focusing your attention on four of nature’s elements. Co-explore nature with your children. Here are four ways to intentionally aim for a joyful and relaxing summer outdoors with your kids:
1. Think Wind. Create your own wind experience on a bicycle, on in-line skates or on a horse if you have the chance to take some riding lessons this summer. I’ll never forget the first time I had a wee gallop on a horse in my teens. There was nothing but total respect for that animal and an awareness that I was moving at a speed that surpassed the abilities of my human legs. I felt free and humbled at the same time as the wind blew over my face.
Another fabulous way to catch the feeling of nature’s wind is to go hiking in the mountains if you have some nearby or perhaps just a stroll at the seaside. Seek a place to sit and enjoy the breath of nature with your kids. There’s something calming and soothing about returning indoors after an experience in the wind. Find it with your family and feel the joy.
2. Think Earth. Bug-observation season is best enjoyed during the summer. It’s amazing how quickly our childhood curiosity about bugs is influenced by social preferences to exist away from insects. Challenge yourself to get some magnifying glasses, small sketch pads and your curious attitude to take with you as you look at the life that lives in the earth, the sand, the mud and along the shoreline.
As a child, I could have spent hours exploring the intertidal zone at the ocean side when the tide was out. Lifting rocks will reveal more than insects! You and your child can spend some time making discoveries and sketching the vast number of life forms you see on the earth. It’s also a wonderful time to talk about respect for life and ecosystems with your kids.
3. Think Water. If a summer storm arrives and it’s safe to be outside, take the whole family on a wonderful sensory experience in the summer rain. No umbrellas. Get soaked and feel the waters from the skies on your bodies in the warm summer air. Dance, run and take photos or video with a waterproof camera. The shots will be one of a kind.
One of the coolest storms I personally have had the good fortune to enjoy without an umbrella was in Hong Kong during the rainy summer season. There is something positively primeval about being drenched in a summer rain. Once you return home and dry off, do have a hot beverage together and enjoy the calming effect of nature’s cleanse.
4. Think Fire. A wonderful calming activity is lantern-making. You can make safe-to-use lanterns using a variety of materials by following one of the many step-by-step instructions available on the internet. It can be an incredibly enjoyable and creative activity for children as parents create their own lantern alongside them.
Save the lantern for use on a beautiful summer evening walk or at a family event. Some cities have big lantern events that could be interesting to enjoy as a family. When I grew up, we used to go to the (now discontinued) Illuminares Lantern Festival in Vancouver. When I lived in Japan, I enjoyed watching the firelight on the lanterns at the Obon Festival. At the very least, please do enjoy candlelight at least once with your family this summer!
What are your most memorable and joyful nature-related summer family activities? I’d love to know so do share in the comments below!