Category Archives: culture

In Our Element: when work is play

As I plunged into the cool blue water for the first swim of this pool season, I caught myself smiling through sealed lips and thinking… Ha, if this doesn’t prove we humans emerged from a primordial soup, I don’t know what does. I was in my element. Gliding along effortlessly, or so it felt, churning the water and propelling myself along stroke by stroke.

These strokes, long-practiced in childhood, are something I will never forget. Because I don’t think about them; I just know them, as if handed down from generations past. They come naturally in the wonderfully watery environment which always makes me feel at home, as if its been waiting its whole life for me to come. It welcomes me as one of its own. My friend. My comfort zone. My Zen. My element.

{This, of course, is not so of folks who did not get an early introduction to the water. They are likely less than enthusiastic about jumping in. Primordial soup, I guarantee you, never crosses their minds. Their element is elsewhere.}

But very soon, okay on my second lap, when my arms grow heavy, my breathing becomes labored and my feet start to cramp up from kicking, I begin to wonder about this element. This venue I used to own. What used to be second nature to me is now an effort to sustain. How out of shape I am. How long it has been. How I have let myself go.

And this gives me pause. Mind you, I’m not beating myself up about this, but it does get the attention of my responsible self which realizes that those in-your-element moments don’t happen by themselves. One prepares for them. While there is perhaps a hint of DNA-delivered know-how, for the most part they are a product of a lot of practice. After all…

  • The chef learns the chemistry of cooking, the blending of tastes and flavors, and the enhancements of spices, before his creation of a culinary masterpiece puts him in his element.
  • The lawyer studies the law in careful detail, does her research, prepares her briefs, and tries many cases before she is in her element standing before the jury for closing argument.
  • The golfer only hits it straight and true after many hours of doing otherwise. On rare days when she is in her element, she hardly feels the club strike the ball when she launches it on target.
  • The teacher must master his field and the management of his classroom before he can supply description and explanation which has his students nodding in understanding when he is in his element.

We learn, we practice and we sharpen the tools of our trade for that elemental moment when it feels like no effort at all. Yet it is full: full of preparation, trial-and-error, draft and re-draft, all hidden yet on display.

Could it be that this is what our earthly lifetime is for? to seek and to experience precious in-our-element moments. That through our work, we achieve play.

Children are so good at this because they don’t yet bear the burdens of age: expectation, peer pressure, performance-anxiety, patterned behaviors and responses, worn-out joints and inflexibilities. They bring childhood exuberance and endless energy, rubbery joints and not far to fall. Lacking the experience of “that won’t work,” they give everything a try. They are as delighted with knocking things down as building things up. They do for the sake of doing. It’s not about product, it’s about process.

What a gift it is that as adults we can re-discover this in our elemental times. When our prepped minds and bodies allow our spirits to take over and we can release ourselves into the work prepared for us to do; work that feels nothing at all like work. And very much like play.

It is not effortless but rather on purpose. We initiate it and then let it loose. We don’t push it. Don’t try to better it. Don’t compete it. Don’t compare it. It’s not a sprint to the finish, rather, more like the flip turn our body somehow knows how to do. We … duck/twist/tumble/slap/push/glide/stroke/stroke/breathe….

And time falls away. This is me, surely, but also something else entirely. A glimpse. Of thee, in me, and me in thee.

How delightful life would be if every day we gifted ourselves just a moment of this.

Back from the brink

If this past year — and if I’m being honest this past several years — have taught me anything it’s this:

There is always something new to be afraid of

And afraid takes you down the drain. Yep, spins you with the sludge until the current pulls you under. And, if you manage to hold on with your fingernails and hoist yourself out of that drain, tomorrow’s news will do the same all over again. If you let it.

Confession: I have done too much letting it.

In trying to find a way to matter in the world, indeed to love those who matter (all of us) in the world, I have let myself be pulled in, pulled under and nearly drowned.

Now, before those of you who know me personally start to worry, no cause for that. I’m good. In fact today I am better than good. I’m ready. Ready to get back to business. Back to the bread and butter of Kinesthetic Christian-ing. Which isn’t commenting on the days’ events and offering my take, but rather, taking what God gives me in each day and bringing it to life. Because in that, perhaps I can do my part to bring God to life in my midst and perchance in yours.

To do this I need to re-fix my gaze and adjust my footing. But not in a try-harder kind of way. In more of a go-about-your-business-and-I’ll-be-there kind of way. The way some of you out there have done so well. The some of you who have continued creating, teaching, inventing, investing and dedicating yourself to your work in the world. The work you do so well.

You know who you are. I am smiling at you RIGHT NOW.

Our world in our day seems regularly to take us to the brink. To dangle us over the edge and say, “See what you deserve? Look at that and be afraid.” And we are. Because it’s frightening.

But what if, right about then, when all is lost and we start to flail and panic and teeter into the abyss, we feel a gentle tug on the back of our t-shirt? Then, we inhale deeply and realize it’s the hand of our pickleball partner preventing us from stepping into “the kitchen” and losing the point. That hand pulls us back from the brink and back into the game. More ready than ever for whatever shot comes our way. After all, that guy just saved me.

As it is written, “in God we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28), but speaking Kinesthetically, we might say, In God, we move and live and have our being.

Because God has my back, I play better than ever. Better than I ever thought I could.

***

If you like what you read here at the Kinesthetic Christian, you may enjoy taking a look at my book, Made to Move: Knowing and Loving God Through Our Bodies. Contact Wendy here for more information.

What is it about poetry?

What is it about poetry that “gets us right there?” It’s National Poetry Month, so I am asking.

Dr. Raphael Campo, a poet and physician at Harvard Medical school, puts it this way: “When we hear rhythmic language and recite poetry, our bodies translate crude sensory data into nuanced knowing — feeling becomes meaning.”

Imagine, a poet-physician arriving at nuanced knowing, the very place where feeling becomes meaning. It seems almost impossible doesn’t it? That our bodies are the translators. But who better than the ones who study the body to heal the body, to interpret the language it begets?

Not just the lub-dub, lub-dub in the rhythm of a heart beating. Surely, its beats per minute indicating healthy or not. Its volume signaling functional or not.

Not just the whoosh in, whoosh out of the respiring lungs. Their filling and emptying is surely essential to the operation of the organism.

Not just the electronic whir of signal transmission of the brain. And not just the regular pulse of blood through the arteries.

Not just and yet I can’t help but think that rhythm recognizes itself. Knows its kin. Tunes in and pays special attention to its own. That the body responds to poetry because the body is poetic. Lyrical. Creation set in motion. Without prompting or instruction, the toddler sways, the child twirls, the partners step toe to toe.

Just so, my soul recognizes and delights in rhythm. But there’s more to the poetic than rhythm. And that’s why it begs us to read it aloud, recite it, hear it spoken or performed. Verbalized, the poetic allows us to both gather the outline and sketch in the details. To give shape to the form and pour in the color. To chew and swallow, taste and smell. To bring it to life.

Just as the mind does for a well-told story. We know it. We feel it. It has meaning for us and uniquely to us. It draws out what is true from within us, and speaks urgently to our “right now.” Because that’s what we bring to it. And blessedly, so blessedly, we can all gather around poetry because there is not just one right answer.

Mind you, not just willy-nilly words will do this. It’s the culled, cultivated, carefully chosen words that settle deep. The true poet uses words and phrases expertly arranged with an ear for rhythm, a sense of style, how one word will relate to the next, and a feeling for how they will settle on their hearers. Though we each receive them in a slightly different way, if we dare to attend without withholding, poetry has the potential to wake up the poetic in us. To shed light in our darkness, to lift burden from our bearing, and to clarify our way into each new day.

We are all poets. Words animated. Sculpted from the raw materials gifted at first light. Honest words if we are brave enough. And so helpful in their moment to get us through our moment.

How does poetry work on us?
as art... it feels

I feel everything.
I feel the loud.
I feel the crush of bodies.
I feel the eyes on me.
I feel the distance between us.
I feel the, no one is talking to me.
I feel the, everyone has a friend but me.
I feel the invisible.
I am invisible.

Let me go.
I'll be going.
I'll show myself out.

Hey, what's your name? 
she called, as I turned to leave.
I'm Deborah.
I want to meet you.

Wendy, I tell her.
I was almost Wendy, she says, 
Until my mother's
mother in law said I couldn't be.

I love the name, Wendy.
I've always wanted to be Wendy.
Wendy suits you.
So glad to meet you.

I feel the quiet.
I feel the smile.
I feel the distance close.
I feel the visible.
I am visible.

Oh, Dear Poetry, you reach in and touch the deepest parts of us. May we be brave enough to endure it and bold enough to believe it so we can proudly proclaim it.

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