This week has felt more like a stereotypically Pacific Northwest sort of week. We’ve had many overcast skies and several days filled with drizzly rain. When I go out to the beach, I see a big fog somewhere in my line of vision–sometimes over Neahkahnie Mountain to the north, sometimes over the Tillamook Bay to the south, sometimes floating in from the ocean right over my head. In this part of the world you are constantly reminded of how things are in a constant state of flux. All you have to do is look out the window, and you’ll see the world is always morphing to something slightly different, growing, falling down, growing again.
I’ve been in this weary sort of cycle lately. My work in the Spring has primarily been one of planning and communicating. It’s certainly important and, if done well, will have great pay-offs. I’m preparing schedules, recruiting counselors, meeting people, discussing what has happened in summers past and how we can grow into something new. This work is crucial. But, it also means that much of it is spent in a small office, staring at a computer screen. And, though I’m very comfortable with this, I’ve known for quite a while that my body is not designed to spend the majority of its time sitting still looking at a tiny square of light.
When I was a teenager there was this watershed moment when I started the ninth grade. I went from being an average student to being an honor student. I had never made straight A’s before my ninth grade year. My first 6 weeks of straight A’s came my very first 6 weeks of ninth grade. For the rest of high school, I would never have anything below an A for a semester average. I don’t know what happened, but my brain seemed to work better in this atmosphere. There was more space for abstract thinking and my brain liked that for some reason. I had no idea it would be this way–I had rarely considered myself this way before. But, I made this my identity for high school.
In weeks like this, where I’m spending so much time in my own brain, putting together reports, emails, documents, schedules, I turn other parts of me off. I guess it’s a way of putting all your energy into the task at hand. I’m pretty introverted by nature, so I have to put a lot of energy into being social. If I’m in front of a screen for very long, that energy has to be put on powersave so I can focus. This, of course, isn’t uncommon. If you are around people at all right now, look around. How many are actually engaged with people? How many are looking at a phone, tablet, laptop, or television? How many people have someone’s undivided attention? Undivided attention is like an endangered species in our world.
I was operating in an analog version of this when I was in high school. I was so driven to hold on to this new-found success, that I threw most of my focus into studying. It was way easier to do that thing that seemed to be coming natural than to cultivate deeper friendships with my classmates. I was achieving, I was bettering myself academically. But, I wasn’t out there living with my peers. I only occasionally went out, occasionally worked on a social life, and I could see it reflected in my general happiness. Even though I was learning all this stuff, wracking up all these accolades, satisfying my drive for success, I didn’t feel very happy except for the fleeting moments when those good grades came in. And, I had no idea why.
This week, I’ve pushed myself back into running. I realize when I get home at 5:30pm and I feel like going to bed, I have just worn my mind out, not my body. My mind tells my body it’s tired, and my body tries to be a good sport about it. I realized this week that my body needed some attention, and my brain needed some time off. So, I tossed off my shoes and ran to Twin Rocks and back a few times this week. I did push-ups, crunches, worked my punching bag over, and capped it off with some amateur yoga. Even 45 minutes of activity worked wonders for the way I felt.
Camp helped me realize how much my whole self needs engagement, even if it’s not always the most comfortable thing for me. I need to move. I need to talk to people. My five senses need to experience the outdoors. There are all these parts of me that feed into this one life. They all need to have a story to tell each week. If they don’t, that story becomes pretty boring. I realized there are parts of me for everything, and they can all work together, and teaching in the outdoors is a perfect environment for my self to do that.
Last night I walked around camp in the dark, checking in on the groups who were staying with us. As I approached out wetlands, I could hear a chorus of frogs. They were not as loud as the overpowering soundtrack I remember next to the Tennessee River, but these were still the major background noise for the night. I thought of all those nights at Lakeshore where I walked the camp in the dark, without a flashlight because I knew the camp so well. How the sounds were this comforting, familiar thing. How I knew the shadows from individual trees in the dark, how the ground should sound under my feet wherever I was. How each I knew each person I encountered, or I would know them soon enough. All parts of me were working, taking the world in. I felt so alive.
I know there will be nights in the future when I’ll hear these sounds, feel this air, tread this ground. I’ll watch a group of kids run around in the field, watch counselors figure out the little mysteries of making connections with campers, and I’ll know the frogs, the trees, the ocean waves like some kind of great great grandparent who knows me inside and out. Who is me.
During these moments here at my new camp on the Oregon Coast, I am readying myself to take those things in. I’m growing impatient with the readying, looking forward to the action. Looking forward to Allyson joining me. She will be here to visit next week, then one more month of separation before she makes the move. I am looking forward to putting these programs into place, helping people reconnect with the outdoors, to teach each other these lessons of undivided attention. There are so many different clouds we live our life by these days. I must constantly remind myself to stand under all of them now and then. To be sure mind, body, and spirit are traveling through these evolving weather systems. To walk out there and let every kind rain on me.