The luxury of play

Torrey Pines has become a holy place to me.  I’ve made it a routine stop on my way back from dropping R at his dad’s house.  

I get out of my car and smell the bushy plants of the coast and the estuary.  It reminds me of the smell of the sage brush in Wyoming.  The breeze is blowing.  The sun is low.  The sea is calm but the beach is interrupted by swaths of tumbled rocks, evidence of the winter surf.  I start out walking with my earbuds in but soon I can’t resist the urge to run.  I take off down the beach sprinting as fast as I can.  When is the last time you did that? I wonder.  I remember running hard and fast as a kid.  People walking down the beach watch me as a sprint past, obviously pushing myself more than seems necessary.  But I don’t look at them.  I look inward.  I remember what it feels like to play.  To run hard, just because I can.  I feel strong and light.  I do this off and on down the beach, walking over the patch of rock and then sprinting on the sand to the next.  I think about dancing.  Sprinting like this—it feels like dancing.  

As I reach the metal stairs leading up the cliff to the beach trail, I turn on Maya Angelou on Oprah’s Super Soul podcast.  This is what I had in mind coming here today.  I wanted to recreate that feeling I had when I first listened to her words in this spot about a year ago.  The feeling that inspired me to write, “To love the rocks, the plants, the sand, the air, the sea, the creatures, all of God’s creation, is to see the face of God.  To love is to see the face of God.”   

Me in the thicket!

Listening to Maya’s words, I was again immersed in this love.  I wander into “the thicket” which is what I’ve named this short stretch of path that runs behind Red Butte.  The scrubby trees are pulled in close overhead and in a few places I have to duck to go through.  Something about the thicket reminds of me of my youth.  The tunnel of trees would have delighted me, probably because of its stark contrast to the endless openness of Southern Wyoming.  

As Maya’s words conclude, I pull out my earbuds so I can hear the birds singing.  I became so out of practice with play, I had all but forgotten what it felt like.  But I’m pretty sure this is it.  

Something about mindfulness and motion—I’ve been thinking about these two words over and over again this past week, trying to figure out when to move and when to be still.  When I came back from Hawaii feeling so rejuvenated I decided to make physical activity a priority.  I resolved to do something to move every day.  I’ve been back in the gym lifting.  I’ve been walking and hiking.  I surfed once (it was a terrible session, that I’m pretty sure prompted a short but nasty cold).  The motion has brought about a few changes.  My appetite is up and I’m sleeping more.  I’m also feeling more content.  

I’m curious about these changes.  In the past I have used motion, and not just exercise but general busy-ness, to feel okay.  About a year ago, I took a big step back from that.  I hit a wall and I wasn’t sure how to function with less going on in my life, but I knew I had to.  I had reached the end of my reserve.  So now, as I start to add things back in, I’m trying to be very mindful of how each thing makes me feel. 

Brené Brown advocates for the value of play in several of her books.  She writes, “If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating rest and play, and we must work to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.”  So when I have some time to myself, I think about play.  What would that feel like?  It comes in glimpses, and it must be like a muscle that gets stronger the more I use it, because I feel mine growing.  

I felt it as I sprinted across the sand.  I feel it when I dance in my kitchen.  When I pause to listen to a bird sing.  I even had a moment of it when I was playing cars with R the other night.  And I think it comes down to one word: immersion.  When I can immerse myself in what is right in front of me, it feels like play.  So that’s what I’m trying to do as I add more motion back into my life.  Be present.  Be immersed.  Even if it’s just for five seconds.  

“When you dance, you can enjoy the luxury of being you.”

Paul Coelho