Is it awful that I took the kids out for sledding today and kinda sorta hated it?
It was a sunny day but our park has no shelter and is very windy. We were all cold, especially AB because, against the odds, she had snow up her snow pants right away; E had to groom the sledding hill himself because it had not been broken in by other sledders (which meant he alternated between pure joy and abject frustration); AB furiously insisted on going on the swings, right after saying she had to pee, so… STRESS. There was plenty of screeching, for various reasons. I’m all for fresh air and tromping around in snow… and yet, it’s not always as fun as you think it should be.
When I was 18, a boy at Camp wrote a poem for me. Although I didn’t requite his crush, I still consider his poem one of the most romantic things I’ve ever received, because of its candour. The second line was “She’s just like sunshine through the trees,” and to this day I still feel kinda thrilled about that. Sunshine through the trees is one of my favourite things in the whole world.
A while back, I heard on CBC about a study showing that spending time in green space improves our mental health. Apparently, being in the presence of leafy trees actually makes us happier.
I think most of us can vouch for this. At the end of a long, white winter, I’m sure I am not alone in feeling an almost physical thirst for those luscious green leaves. It’s nice to get this confirmation: we are built to feel that way.
Family Camp at NeeKauNis last month was full of reminders of the things we are built to do and enjoy.
Here we are, in the age of modern medicine, where Westerners rarely worry about diseases that used to kill us in great numbers – smallpox and tuberculosis, for example – and we’ve handily encouraged a phalanx of new maladies all by ourselves.
We eat packaged food so far removed from its sources that we don’t even recognize the ingredients; then we wonder why we have troubles with our various organs and our energy levels.
We’ve surrounded ourselves with harmful chemicals in our food, clothes, grass, household products, and everything plastic; then we are devastated when opportunistic cancers have a field day.
We spend hours a day sitting, hunched over some screen or other, often sacrificing sleep for addictive overstimulation; then we realize – too late, sometimes – that our heart or lungs or joints or brains don’t work properly anymore.
We live in our container-homes, put in our earbuds so no live people can distract us, and avoid eye contact with the humans who serve us coffee or check out our groceries; then we shake our heads at the rise of prescription anti-depressant use.
I’m not speaking in self-righteousness. I do most of these things too. I’m not condemning modern medicine either, or technology in general. I really appreciate the benefits of ultra-portable computers, affordable antibiotics, high-speed transportation, laparoscopic surgery, and the wondrous capacity of the internet. I like Cheetos and Toaster Strudel, I watch TV on Netflix, I love Facebook, and as I’ve mentioned, I am very grateful for the existence of prescription anti-depressants.
But when I’m in a restaurant and see a family of four at the next table, not speaking, each absorbed in a separate hand-held device, my husband and I look at each other and quietly vow: That will never be us.
And at Family Camp, I remember that when those contemporary facets of life drop away for a few days, it does good to every layer of our selves.
It helps that there are children of all ages there. They’re all over the things that humans are meant to do. Just watching and listening to them is therapy.
Children run and jump and climb and slide. They laugh their heads off, and cry hard when they need to. They sing and dance with joy. They build and knock down. They splash and spin. They scrunch their fingers and toes in the sand. They get dirty with real dirt. They want stories, hugs, their own little space, and their own accomplishments.
I want those things, too.
When I think about what really, actually makes me feel good, it’s mostly simple things. The things I’m built to do. The same things humans have been doing for centuries – or longer.
Dancing until I am out of breath.
Cooking for someone I love.
Getting lost in a great book.
Sitting in dappled shade. (Sunshine through the trees.)
Plunging into cool water on a hot day.
Sipping a hot drink on a cold day.
Listening to music I love – or better yet, making some.
Hearing breezes, birds, crickets, rivers, waves.
Looking closely at something beautiful.
Reading to my kids.
Going to bed when I’m really tired.
Walking in fresh air.
Eating something truly delicious.
Sharing thoughts and feelings with a friend.
Doing a job well.
Having an adventure.
I know, they read like clichés, worthy of a curlicued garden tile. But there are reasons the inspirational-message market is so successful. Mostly, it’s because
1) It really IS good for us to dance as if nobody’s watching, sing like nobody’s listening, etc., because we’re built to.
2) We busy humans are remarkably good at forgetting the value of those seemingly easy things.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the thousand little jobs you have to do on a daily basis. I could easily spend all of every day doing small, necessary, basically mindless tasks. Which is not satisfying at all.
For me, I know, I need to think of those good-for-my-soul things as medicine. Taking my medicine is my responsibility, something I must do for my health. And in order to take it, I have to notice it. I have to be truly mindful and present.
That way, any time I can grab a bit of dappled shade or kid snuggles or good conversation, they will heal what ails me.