Summer always takes me by surprise. Instead of welcoming this weekend I have to admit to an almost overwhelming sense of panic when the sun finally and unexpectedly shone high in the sky on Saturday. I wanted to be ready for it and in a position to seize the moment when it arrived, but I wasn’t at all. While summertime always suggests a lightness of being and a more happy go lucky philosophy, the beginning is always tricky and I find that I slip into winter with much greater ease. It’s possibly because real summer days are rare. As a friend said recently, “My two favourite days are my birthday and the summer.” Now I’m not complaining, the weekend was glorious, but if only Irish summers built up naturally and gently it would be so much better. There is a certain natural order in the weather gradually getting warmer day by day, as late spring turns to summer.

So there I was still enjoying the temperatures of April in late May and, out of necessity, keeping everything relatively covered when the summer sneaked up. Friday evening heralded the potential heat of the weekend but it was still cool enough in the shade and where I was, it was Saturday afternoon before it really got going. While I had moved to lighter fabrics and more summery shoes in recent weeks, suddenly I heard myself saying “Where the hell are all my sandals?” The butter became too soft when left out of the fridge, the duvet was too warm, and my flesh that was requesting exposure had that unattractive, pale, pinkish, pasty hew, of something that had been kept in the dark for far too long. Think newborn mice and you’re close. That’s when the panic set in, “What if this is it? What if it doesn’t last and I miss it altogether with all this messing around?” Suddenly nothing else was important but getting outside and I should have just gone outside, but, no, there were still things to do in order to be able to go outside in peace. Sitting into my car for a quick dash to the supermarket, I was instantly reminded of how my car transforms from an automobile to a small oven on wheels in the summertime. I keep meaning to test its abilities as I’m convinced that I could slow cook something without too much effort. Another mental note: “Must get car with air conditioning or soft top.” It’s the same mental note I’ve made for about eight years now. (I also smile as I notice how easy I delude myself into thinking that I don’t have air conditioning or a convertible because I just ‘never get around to popping out and buying one!’ Obviously the world in my head is very different to the real one.)

While in the supermarket I’m even more conscious that I’m still not out ‘enjoying the sunshine’! I race back home and that’s when the preparations start in earnest. There’s food to be packed, skin to be buffed, sandals to find, swimsuits to dig out, winter duvets to be changed over to summer ones; the list is long. As I get the summer duvet down from the attic and pack up the winter one, that’s when I realise that I really am sweating the small stuff now and my obsessive perfectionism is getting in the way of what is already a perfect day. If I’m not careful I will miss out and if I blame the pressure of life, then I only have myself to blame for the pressure. I stop and think for a moment. Whose standards am I keeping? Why am I spending time changing duvets, making fancy al fresco food, painting toe nails, making sure everything is clean and tidy before we leave the house? I obviously care what a burglar might think! I’m driving myself crazy with the need for order in order to be calm. While I’m a relatively relaxed person, I’ve suddenly realised that my calmness is dependent on my world having a place for everything and everything in its place. The bigger problem, though, is that I’m not naturally good at it. Aha, I’ve uncovered my own neurosis and need for control and I’m not half as Zen as I thought I was. Was it the heat or was I actually having an epiphany; a defining moment of testing myself to see if I could let go and just go outside and enjoy the weather while forgetting about everything else.

We eventually got to where we were going and it was absolutely gorgeous. I don’t actually think it’s possible to be depressed when the sun is shining. So there I was sitting silently in the sunshine looking like I was very relaxed but inside my head the little hamster was racing faster than ever on that little wheel. The thoughts were whizzing around. “I’ll get up really early tomorrow and get everything done and then I’ll be able to take the afternoon off…….hmmmm…..must go to bed relatively early tonight so I can get up at around 5.30am tomorrow, best part of the day……….actually if the weather is going to be like this all next week, best thing would be to get up and work from about 6am until lunchtime and then have the afternoon off………hmmmmm, but I need to get some exercise in before I go to work so that means getting up at 4.30…….no, no, that’s really ridiculous…….mind you I could get an hour of ironing in, the basket would be totally empty by Wednesday….is that exercise?……” And around that last thought it finally hit me that I don’t understand present moment living at all. I aspire to it, believe in it, hear that it is beneficial, even preach it but never get around to doing it myself. It’s just another note on my never ending ‘to do’ list…….finish project, pick up dry cleaning, buy christening/birthday/anniversary gift, grocery shopping, get more exercise, lose weight, live in the present and enjoy the moment! Well of course it’s not possible to enjoy the relaxing present moment when you are four days ahead of yourself planning to have some relaxing present moments next weekend when you’ll really stop and think about nothing!

Sadly I don’t think I’m alone in this total misunderstanding of living in the moment and enjoying the journey. I get moments of enlightenment when I think I’ve cracked it, but unfortunately I also lapse back into racing hours, days and weeks ahead. In these strange and difficult economic times it’s this looking ahead that creates the issues. Instead of sorting out the now and today’s problems, people look too far down the road. It is what they think the future holds and not what the future holds, that causes the real fear. Living in the present moment is a skill, but fortunately it’s a learned one. So this week I’m going back to self imposed school. I’m learning to abandon perfectionism and enjoy right now, even if the ironing basket is overflowing, I’m two dress sizes bigger than I want to be and my toenails are a strange shade of brownish yellow.