As we reach the hottest part of our Boston summer, I'm reminded of previous scorchers during which I sometimes ambled about my apartment grumbling and cursing the weather. One such day, my brain felt so addled by the heat I started to grumble about the third AC my partner and I hadn't installed yet. We had already installed two old ones that were groaning and moaning to keep up with the 100+ degree day. At the back of my mind, I knew that we couldn't possibly take care of it in that moment, but I felt so sweaty and irritated by the heat I struggled to muster up a rational response. I felt like a geyser exploding in the desert, words coming out of my mouth without making much rational sense beyond wanting to alleviate my current discomfort at all costs. My partner said something like, "it seems like you want someone or something to blame for the way you feel right now," which made me stop in my tracks and catch myself in my mindlessness. Here I was, exploding in a corrosive way over the basic natural phenomenon of excessive heat. There was no one to blame, and there was no reason to become a volcano myself. Could I cool the temperature in my mind despite the physical discomfort of the moment?
Looking back, there are many skills I could have employed at that moment. In the past, finding myself in similar situations, I have practiced 4-7-8 breathing. I have used my environment to find relief from the heat through shade, trees, pools, umbrellas and buildings. I have practiced gratitude whenever I find a situation that is a welcome relief from the surging temperature like the cool, crashing waves of Singing Beach. I also have found ways to chill myself in pleasant ways while still accepting the presence of heat and summer like making popsicles, preparing my favorite lemon and mint water or carrying a tiny fan. I have given myself a heat-related timeout before I resume conversation. I have taken cold showers and stripped my layers, and I have practiced many mindfulness strategies for acceptance.
Mindfulness teacher Jan Chozen Bays writes in Mindfulness On The Go that “we complain, “it’s too hot!” or “it’s too cold!” as if it shouldn’t be that way -- as if the sun, clouds and air have conspired to make us uncomfortable.” She argues that we can take a look at our behavior of “always doing something to adjust the temperature” and feeling “never satisfied for long” by practicing a mindfulness exercise to bring awareness to the sensations of heat and cold.
Her exercise is simple: We just pay attention to the sensory experience of temperature, notice our emotional and physical reactions to it and practice acceptance of the situation, no matter what it is. Whether we find ourselves irritated, sweating, shivering, peaceful or fearful, the goal is to own that experience and find that we can “face whatever life brings us.” This reminds me of an important principle; the idea that we can never fully avoid discomfort, and that sometimes the best way out is through.
Something that doesn't make us hot and irritated is Women's Equality Day which falls on August 26th this year. In honor of this day, Looking Glass Counseling is making a donation to the Malden based group Tailored for Success. Tailored for Success is a not for profit organization dedicated to assisting economically disadvantaged women, men and youth with job resources.
Melissa Lee Nilles, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor and expressive arts therapist with a Master's degree from Lesley University’s Mental Health Counseling and Expressive Arts Therapy program. She is deeply passionate about self-exploration through the arts, mindfulness practices and therapy. She seeks to collaborate with her clients using the tools of person-centered therapy, mindfulness, meditation, trauma-informed body-oriented psychotherapy and expressive arts therapy (through music therapy, art therapy, and poetry/writing therapy). Melissa also employs CBT and motivational interviewing to help you transform your life. She prefers a holistic, eclectic and interdisciplinary approach to addressing client concerns.