TALES FROM THE TRAIL – PLAY

Make regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will bring few regrets and life will become a beautiful success.

-Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

On Wednesday past I headed out early for my solo Wild Wednesday walk in the Mourne Mountains – a weekly date with myself which has become an integral part of my self-care ritual over the past year or so, largely due to working through Julia Cameron’s magnificent book The Artist’s Way. Have you read it? If not, I highly recommend it if you are curious to explore living more abundantly and creatively in your everyday.

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Hello girls!

As I wound my way up the very steep slopes of Slieve Meelmore, head down into the fierce wind, I became lost in some beautiful memories from my childhood, partly in a bid no doubt to ignore the effort my legs were having to make to keep me upright! During the summer holidays all the kids in our street would gather outside to play the days away. We as a family didn’t go on luxurious holidays to far-flung places, neither did our neighbours, instead, we congregated outdoors first thing in the morning and made up our own fun and games until our Mums called us in for tea at 6pm. It was then bath-time followed by bed for a good night’s sleep before starting all over again the next day.

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As I walk, I recall clearly one particular summer, the sunny days seeming to stretch out invitingly into forever, that we decided we were going to create our very own Summer Olympics. Kids of all ages gathered and we earnestly set about the task of designing colourful posters, crafting medals out of cardboard cereal boxes and pieces of ribbon from sewing kits, choosing activities, electing a compere to oversee the proceedings…it was all biz as we turned our street into the ideal location for our special event.

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As I climbed towards the summit of Slieve Meelmore, snow now crunching underfoot much to my delight as I reached the higher level, I was flooded with warmth as I relived those games in my mind. We spent days immersed in the very serious task of the fun and frivolity of our Summer Olympics, it was probably 1990, which now feels like a lifetime ago, yet the feeling it created in me was as fresh as though it was yesterday. My body remembered the zing of taking part in the relay race with my chums and the rush of joy, arms held wide, as I dashed through the finish ribbon held up by friends. It was the best summer ever! How good it was to be free, without worry, to play all day and return home with scraped knees and rosy-red cheeks! Our Mums would wave at us from the kitchen window or they would gather for a chin-wag as we merrily created an entire new sporting world for ourselves running up and down the length of our street. Our worlds centred around those days of laughter and memory-making that would last us a lifetime, not that we knew just how much impact it would have on us back then!

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As I reached the mountaintop on Wednesday an involuntary laugh erupted from my throat, my body’s reaction to the spectacular vista my eyes were seeing. Stretched out all around me was the glorious Kingdom of Mourne, bathed in bright winter light, the highest peaks dusted with snow – I felt as though I had climbed through a portal into Narnia, I was awestruck. The adjectives to describe the pure delight I was experiencing escaped me….so I ran and jumped, whooped and frolicked, alone on the mountain without a care in the world!

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I settled down for soup from my thermos, perched on a rock beside the Mourne Wall to shelter from the wind, and thought about how fun it was to play. I often find that my inner child bursts out, sparky and willing to be silly, when I’m outdoors in nature. I suppose it’s true to say, it’s when I feel most alive and at home. As a I ate my lunch, the greatest views all around me, I thought back once more to those summer days of play. We had so much fun, there’s no denying that, but from my perspective now as a Mum, I realize now how much we had also learned during those days. There were meetings and negotiations, there was grafting and teamwork to bring our vision to life. Our enthusiasm for our game to really come to life manifest one glorious sunny day because we encouraged each other, worked together, created freely, dreamt about our goals, put in the hours, used what was available to us and had a good laugh along the way. It was brilliant and something we were immensely proud of, especially when we handed out our lovingly painted medals to everyone – we were all winners that day!

Serious art is born from serious play

-Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

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It’s interesting to me that we as parents, adults, educators and leaders clearly see the benefits of play for children, yet for ourselves, we perhaps view ‘play’ as a luxury or a waste of time when life is so hectic and there’s so much to be done. We see for children that not only does play bring great joy and pleasure: to get lost in little games of role-play, or to while away hours chasing friends in made-up fantasy worlds, building forts, working out puzzles, creating masterpieces and so on, but also, that play is a valuable space for learning and development, where the essential skills and tools for life are instilled. As a I grow older, I am learning that play is important not only for my children, but also for myself. I like to doodle, and especially like creative lettering, in fact, all kinds of crafting and making is enjoyable to me – I don’t make because I am particularly talented at any of these things, I do it for the enjoyment and headspace it creates. It’s the same when I am ‘playing’ outdoors, either going on an adventure with my husband and children or taking some time out for a solo wander in the hills. While I enjoy the movement that comes with walking, relish the conversations that I enjoy with my family and stop often to marvel at the scenery, I know also, that beneath the surface lots is going on. There’s something about being outdoors, especially for me in the mountains, that causes my thoughts to untangle, for clarity to unfold, for anxious feelings to drip away – by creating time in my week to ‘go play’ I care not only for my body but also my mental and emotional wellbeing. As I walk alongside a sssssshhing stream I often find that I stumble upon solutions to dilemmas in my life or work, or I have a sudden brainwave for a creative project. Mountains are also a great place for gaining perspective on a situation; their vastness somehow always manages to help with prioritising what truly matters to me, and they also bring a calmness and serenity when I am feeling stretched or out of my comfort zone in life.

You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestation of your own blessings.

-Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

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My Wild Wednesday in the snow was a choice I made in the middle of a week when the usual busyness of family life could easily have consumed my time. There are always chores to be done, that’s the reality of life. There will always be tasks waiting on us, to-do lists to put ticks on, homes to look after, meals to prepare, the amount of stuff to do stretching on and on into oblivion, but it is totally possible to create room for playtime even in the most jam-packed calendars. In fact, there are more than likely many things we can cross off our agendas that don’t need our time and attention in order to make space for some frivolity – it’s life-giving, inspiring and motivating and there’s every possibility you will return to your work and daily routine with fresh energy and ideas if you take some time-out to go for a wander and explore awhile.

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