A couple of days ago I headed out to a park close to my house to take a walk around the pavement right at sunset. I knew I would be in for a treat as I watched the sky change from silvery blue to fiery orange and listened to the birds singing in the pink and green springtime trees surrounding me.
It was just as wonderful as I thought it would be until it got better. In the grassy area in the center of the walking track was a boy, maybe seven years old, flying a kite. I loved watching the kite glide through the air high above my head, then crash to the ground, only to slowly rise again, soaring against the sunset sky. But the best part was watching the boy’s face covered with the most blissful smile, looking up at the sky, as he ran, galloped, and held tight to that line.
My lips could not help but curl into a smile too as I experienced the joy he was feeling in that moment. He wasn’t competing with anyone. There was no ribbon or trophy to win, just play for the sake of play, for the sake of joy. We could use a little more of that in our culture.
In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages her readers to take artist’s dates. You spend a 2-3 hour period weekly to take yourself on a date, to do something fun, with no agenda, nothing to achieve or accomplish, to simply follow your curiosity.
She claims this is the hardest part of her book for people to follow. Many people are apprehensive about play. Many people are apprehensive about not accomplishing anything. Many people in our culture are also filled with anxiety and depression and not enough joy. Perhaps taking ourselves on little play dates to indulge our curiosity could help us tap back into that joy.
Several days ago I was on an artist’s dates of my own and decided to walk an unfamiliar trail at Little Creek Park. I had no idea how long it was or where it would end, but I went exploring anyway. Along the way I unexpectedly stumbled upon an empty playground. “Well, this is about play,” I thought, so I jumped on a swing and starting pumping my legs.
Swinging was my play of choice as a child. As an adult I thought of swinging as the lazy kid’s play. I was always sitting on a swing while the other kids played kickball or tag. But as I pumped my legs on that swing, noticing my heart pumping just as fast as my legs, I realized that play disguises the work involved.
When you are joyful, you don’t notice that you’re running or pumping or holding tight to that line. You are overcome by the joy.
Memories surfaced of me as a kid sitting on a swing laughing with my friends beside me, singing silly songs, closing my eyes and leaning my head back to feel the wind on my face. We don’t have to lose that, you know? We often choose to lose it, but we don’t have to.
I know you have a million things to accomplish. You need to send in your taxes and get your car inspected and go to the dentist and pick up your prescriptions. And the list goes on and on. I get it. I have the same list. It is perpetual and ever-increasing.
The list is important, but let’s keep it in perspective. It’s really not what our lives are about. It’s really not what we came to the earth to do. The list curves around the perimeter of our lives. I have to remind myself not to make it the center of my life. I hope at the center of all of our lives is a feeling of meaning and purpose, a connection to others, to the earth, to the Divine, a love of life.
I pray you will take time to play, to explore, to feel joy. I hope you will have spontaneous dance parties in your living room when your favorite song comes on and hula hoop in your yard while your neighbors watch and laugh with the people you love about the dumbest things.
Joy gives us strength for all of the rest of it. If we allow enough joy in our lives, even the perpetual list won’t feel so heavy any more. I pray you will never feel you are too old or too sensible or too busy to go kite flying at sunset. Hey, maybe I’ll see you there.