As children, we live closer to our instincts. Yes, there’s the humorous and rather unfortunate side to this – like the time you ate an entire bag of Twizzlers and threw up all over your great-aunt’s carpet. In addition to the plethora of bad decisions (as if adults don’t make those too), however, there’s the extravagant daring and that amazing, irrepressible exuberance.
As adults, we might know better than to gorge on dye #40, but we’re tripped up by other things. We become distanced, detached from our instincts. The responsibilities, the schedule, the expectations surrounding our culture’s take on maturity can cast us out of the land of exuberance. It’s like we get gradually diverted to a boring Interstate stretch after traveling the scenic route. The road is efficient, utilitarian and might have nicer rest stops, but it often feels like a major letdown. What does it take to find our way back to the panoramas? What are the things we never should’ve stopped doing in the first place? I hope you add your own to the list. Let me throw out a few I’ve been thinking of today.
Climb – anything.
In addition to the workout, there’s something about the vantage point of height. Sitting in a tree, for example, you see the world and your problems differently for a short time. Once you’re on solid ground again, reality settles back in, but you’re different for having lived that time in a novel perspective. Find a favorite tree, a place you can sit on your roof, or build yourself a treehouse. Yes, it’s for you. Why not?
Jump in puddles (or snow mounds).
We adults get too fussy about weather. Our idea of inclement weather increasingly expands until we talk ourselves out of enjoying the vast majority of days. Invest in some real rain gear like you had when you were young (or just write off the need to stay dry altogether). Get out there and relish the bad weather like the amusement park it used to seem like. The novelty only wore off when we lost our imagination to make it so.
Play in the sand, dirt, mud, creek, lake, etc.
In other words, make a disgusting mess of yourself. Indulge/immerse for the all-important microbes, the sensory feast, and the subversive act of it. (It’s the ultimate snub to society’s confines.) Why do we take such pride, for example, in driving around a mud encrusted SUV? The real adventure is getting yourself caked in muck.
Eat food right off the plant/out of the dirt.
Speaking of soil… If children today even demonstrate so much as a musing to pick an apple off a tree, five parents rush over panicked yelling “Let me wash that for you!” Those of you who grew up in the 70s or earlier were probably running the neighborhood and your parents had no idea what you were up to. Left to their own devices, you probably ate any number of produce items pulled directly from the bushes, trees, and dirt (as well as worms, bugs, and other dare worthy items). You were meant to eat your fair share of dirt then. Take the chance to enjoy the same Primal goodies now.
Tell the truth.
Yeah, kids will give away the farm in any conversation while the parents bury their heads in mortification. It’s in kids’ natures to put it all out there, of course. They don’t mean any harm. As we get older, we become more tactful, we tell ourselves, more discreet and sensible, but I think there’s something we tend to give up in the process. Maybe we bury our own feelings too much. Maybe we don’t speak out against what our conscience tells us because we’re afraid of offending others, not fitting in, rocking the boat. While I don’t think anyone should give up on basic respect and reasonable limits, there’s a certain freedom in letting our emotions and true selves rise closer to the surface as they did when we were kids.
Let go of grudges.
As Crista noted in the comment section of last week’s 10 Habits of Highly Successful Hunter-Gatherers, kids are the perfect example when it comes to fix it and forget it. Forgive and move on. There’s just not enough time for bitterness when you know Mom is going to call you for dinner in two more hours. Why give up the chance for fun and risk missing out on anything good?
Remember pedaling as furiously as you could just to see how fast your inner superhero could go? How about jumping again and again to get higher and higher, to reach this branch and then that one. Childhood was like a never ending quest to see how brave we were. Why did we ever let go of that instinct or at least confine it into the tiny space of a career function or other “acceptable” trial? We’re clearly missing out. So go ahead. Throw a tennis ball at the wall of your house and see how many hundred times you can catch it. Run as fast as you can just for the sheer amusement of it. See how many Big Wheels you can jump over. Trust me, it’s just as important as what you had planned for the day.
Remember staring at the trees or just out the window for long stretches as a kid? We thought big thoughts or maybe just examined the pattern of scratches on the sill. We’d do well to give ourselves the same mental leisure once in a while. Not only is it relaxing, it can morph into its own flow state when we can be at our most creative.
The daughter of a friend of ours is the perfect example. At six years old, she’s still in that “living fabulous” phase (which every parent hopes will never end). She sings at frequent and random parts of the day. She runs and leaps and dances at whim whether she’s in a grocery store, on the beach, at school, or at home. How do we lose that? Remember the days before self-consciousness set in? When did we stop doing what feels good in the moment? Even if you can’t bring yourself to dance at your work station (although I’ve known plenty of fun people who do), let loose at home and consider trying some Parkour, Zumba, or other way to get you moving differently for your workouts. It’s a start.
Go to bed early.
Sure, we all whined and belly ached about it, but in ten minutes we were out like lights. Play hard, sleep hard. The early turn-in did more than give our parents some peace and quiet. There’s truth to the adage, an hour before midnight is worth two after. It has to do with our circadian rhythms and the pattern of deeper sleep. We stay up late to carve out more personal time or to get more done, but we’d be better off hitting the sack early and dialing back the alarm clock by an hour or two. No one loves getting up early, but we’d be better rested throughout the day as a result. We’d also enjoy a lot less stressful and more productive beginning to the day.
Laugh early and often throughout the day.
Spend a day around young kids, and you’ll lose count of how many times they yuck it up in a day. They’ll laugh for minutes on end at the simplest, even most inane things. And I’m not talking one of the polite chuckles we adults often grant each other in conversation. The old “Chicken butt” joke alone elicits round upon round of riotous belly laughs. Sure, we might need more incentive than the average four-year-old, but why don’t we prioritize laughter more? There are the laughter yoga groups, yes, but how many hilarious books, stand-up, and movies are out there? Who are the friends and acquaintances with the personalities and stories to keep you laughing for hours? Your cardiovascular system needs these folks. It flourishes with the entertainment.
How many of us stayed up late with flash lights under the covers to read our favorite books? (Okay, so we didn’t always get to sleep right away.) It was easy to get swept up then in imagining other worlds. Maybe it was because we’d likely seen so little of the world at that point. Picking up a good book today can be a therapeutic escape from the day or a reminder to get out and make more of life.
Somehow kickball never got old as a kid. Neither did Frisbee or ping pong or just about any other game. The movement, the challenge, the competition, the humor, the adrenaline of it all kept our enthusiasm running at full speed for hours. As an adult these days, a whole game can seem like such a commitment. We guard our time “responsibly” but too often go and blow it on the Internet (present blog excluded) or other media. Sometimes we even seem to sit uncomfortably with it, unwilling to commit to a real activity because we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop and another chore to appear. Free time should be quality time. Take a leap of faith and commit to a board game. Even better, find out how much more fun tug-of-war is in the snow. Play some hockey on the ice at the corner park, or do relays in the backyard with the kids.
We were at a cabin a few months ago with a larger group. One friend is an art teacher and kept the kids absolutely enthralled by building small houses with all the wood, rocks, flowers, and leaves they could find. The result – and his enthusiastic example – were impressive. Unless we’re in a creative profession, we tend to give that side of ourselves short shrift as adults. Exercising our creativity can help us hone our identities as we get older and celebrate new stages of our lives. Other times it just feels good.
Skip meals (when there’s something more exciting to be enjoyed).
Remember how crushed you were when it was time to come in for lunch/dinner/errands/school/etc. when you and your friends were just getting to the best part of your play? You were on the very edge of a full-blown revelation, the cusp of some great and grandiose scheme that was sure to propel you all toward some amazing success. You know the benefits of intermittent fasting, but it doesn’t have to be the formal, preplanned routine we often make it. If you keep life busy and spontaneous enough, you just might find plenty of opportunity to fit in fasting without ever thinking about it.
Stay outside until the last possible minute.
Why do we impose such early curfews on ourselves? Didn’t we all swear up and down that when we grew up we’d stay out as long as wanted (foot stomp added for emotional emphasis)? Imagine what would be possible if we opened up several more hours to relish the outdoors? Sure, we might miss the benefits of the sun, but the evening and night offers their own rhythms we can enjoy. They inspire different moods, different activities, different adventures. Why limit our outdoor lives?
Next one – your turn. What are the things you think we should’ve never stopped doing? Thanks for reading today, everybody. Share the stuff you refuse to outgrow, and have a great weekend.