It’s summertime, kids, and that means it’s time to roll up your jeans and start playing in the rivers. Time to start peeling open the reflection of the blue sky in your eyes and head back into nature.
Time for a back-to-the-future-kind-of summer where you age by becoming like a kid again. So get thee to the woods!
Now, I’ve spent years in education and, as many teachers know, by the time June rolls around, we are ready for a big long summer nap. And while I haven’t been working in schools for the last few years, I have recently found myself on a similar rhythm of creative sleepiness. “It’s summer!” my watch reads, but I look around my life and see a vast gap of creative juices.
Which is the exact opposite of what kids do in summer. Kids do not ask to nap. They beg to play. They experiment. They dig in the dirt. They cartwheel through the meadow. They run barefoot through the grass. They finger paint. They doodle. But they do it with all their heart.
David Whyte, one of my favorite poets, writes, “The antidote to exhaustion is not necessary rest. The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness… You must do something heartfelt and you must do it soon. Let go of all this effort, and let yourself down, however awkwardly, into the waters of the work you want for yourself. It’s all right… You have ripened already and you are waiting to be brought in. Your exhaustion is a form of inner fermentation and you are beginning, ever so slowly, to rot on the vine. ”
Sadly, we’ve all accidentally eaten rotten fruit. Not so yummy. And when we fail to create, this is what happens to our souls. They shrivel up. They lose their juice. And rather than producing a great harvest, they linger on the vine one season too long, thinking they are too tired.
When really, it’s that they — meaning we — have lost sight of our passions. We have lost touch with the very things that make us wholehearted beings. And as we forget our creativity, we disconnect with the core of our very nature as children of God. Most times, we don’t know we are creatively naked, artistically vacant, or just plain bored. Until we surround ourselves with children. Nature. Or God. Then we see rather quickly, how we’ve lost touch with the depths of our hearts.
So then, we must get ourselves to the woods!
This week, I had the honor of spending a few days unplugged in the middle of mountain nowhereville. High sierra mountains, running rivers, cedar outhouses, semi-wild mules, bacon breakfasts with cowboy coffee and no other human beings (save our camp) for dozens of miles. It was heaven. It was home.
For me, I grew up in the forest. Pine cones feel like my permanent address. Campfires smell like mama’s home cooking to me. A-framed cedar cabins (hovered next to streams, of course) remind of the home I’ve always been looking for, the place I long to build one day.
Why is this important? David Whyte (can you tell who I read in the woods?) writes again on this, saying that to re-find our wholeheartedness, we must reach back into our memories, the bodies of our childhoods, and our childhood homes. “Try to imagine what that dreaming young self would think of the strange adult we have become,” he writes. And then have a conversation with that young part.
In these woods, I took out some watercolors and started painting in my journal. I’m no Van Gogh, but the paints were there and the woods called forth. Sitting next to a 12 year friend, I dotted out the mountains and trees with my brush. Together we scrawled and when I finished, my painting looked like… well, let’s just say “less-than-Bob-Ross-would-hope for.” But my 12 year old friend looked at it and, with the most sincere gaze, said, “Wow, that’s beautiful.”
The kicker was he meant it. There I was, paintbrush still damp, already critiquing my paint-blotting skills, and he sat there simply appreciating the beauty. I looked at his, which he was already negating. “I liked it better as a pencil sketch,” he said, but to me, the colors screamed “Glory.” So I told him so.
And together, we had an artistic exchange that kept us flipping our journals open to paint more painting.
If we have been frozen artistically, it takes time to believe again. To trust the words of others. To trust ourselves. As adults, we get so consumed with product that we forget the glorious process of creating. We are so worried our end results won’t be fantabulous that we forget how gorgeous we are just getting out the paintbrush. We get so consumed with pleasing our audience that we skip the mess of the creative process and lose a core part of our nourishment. We forget we can make a drippy painting and have someone call it sincerely wonderful.
But when we remember, we begin to believe in the magic again.
I spent the next few days re-learning from these kids. Helping them make play dough wilderness animals.
Delightfully cringing at the snake skin hanging molting art.
Grabbing out my own knife to make carved horse sculptures. Splashing in the cold river. Appreciating the mountain dust under my fingernails. Laughing until my belly hurt and eating dessert first.
Summer is a fabulous time to reconnect with our childlike sides and to do with abandon and without judgment. The long days give us the space to unabashedly return to the homes inside ourselves, places that are safe enough to explore the world without fear. There really are open fields spacious enough to hold all of us. There truly are people in our lives just waiting to scream how beautiful we are. (And we need them to keep us opening.) There actually are readers waiting on our future books and laughers waiting on our next semi-funny joke and foodies waiting on our next maybe-burnt meal and children waiting for us to roll down the hills like outlaws. Simply, there are friends in our world longing to cheer us on into our fullest and wildest selves, however messy and silly that is.
Now go get dirty, dear ones, because I’m sure what is inside your hands is nothing short of spectacular. Let’s be in this together.
And remember to just keep dreaming.