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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.

Doing the Shuffle

shuffleboard distant

I walked past the shuffleboard courts this morning. Empty, as they have been since I arrived and as I trust they will be when I leave. It’s an old person’s game, I guess. No cue’s or disks around or I might have taken a turn, just to see if I could still gauge the distance and the speed to stop the disc right where I wanted. Whether I still had the touch, the finesse and the feel of the game.

shuffleboard court

Are we even teaching that these days?  The touch and the finesse? The give with the take? The push and the pull?  Where do we develop the moderate hand that senses just how much is needed to nudge the other aside but leave my disk centered in the scoring triangle?

“Stay off the courts” it says. Oh, okay.

I suppose it’s a game for old men, a pastime whose time has passed. Maybe it’s moved indoors where folks don’t have to deal with the sand and the sun and the gawkers passing by.

I’ll come by later and see if I can find a game.

Rest Easy…Really???

Rest Easy. Sounds inviting doesn’t it?

But wait. Let me secure your arms at your sides on this rolling stretcher and slide you into a cold metal tube that is inches from your face. Oh, and then let me turn on the intermittent jack-hammers. “See you in about two hours,” they tell me. Glad I am not claustrophobic. But still.

And still, am I. The one thing they do give you for distraction is head phones into which they pipe “your choice” of music. They used to give you three radio stations from which to choose. Now, they have Sirius radio. So I have chosen The Message. A Christian station. This is what plays in my car most of the time. That ‘most’ defined by whomever is in my passenger seat. When I am alone, that’s what’s playing.

I must say here that I really don’t listen to what’s on the radio. I hear it and I feel it. Sometimes I bee bop a bit to it (don’t mention this to my children) but I don’t really listen. Listening, to me, would mean I am paying attention to the words. In this case the lyrics. Music does not often grab my attention this way. Auditory attention is on down the list of my strong suits.

But, as I am strapped into this contraption, I am considering the concerns about my heart function. Concerns, heck, I am terrified about what diagnosis might come and what it might mean to my lifestyle and life-direction from here. And all of a sudden, they place the headphones over my ears and I am listening, not just hearing, but listening to the song on The Message. Like I’ve never heard it before. It’s Andrew Peterson’s, Rest Easy, from his new Album: Light for the Lost Boy

Here it is for your reading (and listening) pleasure.

Andrew Peterson – Rest Easy Lyrics

Listen while you read!

You are not alone
I will always be with you
Even to the end

You don’t have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don’t have to prove yourself
You’re already mine
You don’t have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
So you can rest easy

Do not be afraid
Nothing, nothing in the world
Can come between us now

You don’t have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don’t have to prove yourself
You’re already mine
You don’t have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
So you can rest easy

You work so hard to wear yourself down
And you’re running like a rodeo clown
You’re smiling like you’re scared to death
You’re out of faith and all out of breath
You’re so afraid you’ve got nowhere left to go

Well, you are not alone
I will always be with you

You don’t have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don’t have to prove yourself
You’re already mine
You don’t have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
You can rest easy

I wish I could say I heard this and all was peaceful and quiet and calm. No. But rest did come easy then. I guess it was “my kind of rest.” The kind where the mind starts to wander, roving through memory and imagination. Thoughts of life moments and specific prayers gave way to physical sensation lending itself to the battle at hand. Inspirations held became chest shields. The MRI coil itself a chest plate that warms the heart. Finally, the “hold your breath” then “and breathe” became a training event. A series of 25 meter sprints.

I knew this from so many swim practices. Closing in on the far wall you are stroking hard, your chest about to burst, but you must make it. Whoosh. Your hand touches the stucco of the wall and you rake your head out of the water to gasp for air. Chest heaving. Inspiring. Gratifying air. You climb out, take your mark and do it again.

I could see my little 8 year old self, competing to see how many of these I could do without taking a breath. This was an event for which I had prepared. In this, for me, came ‘rest easy.’ “We’ve got this.”

I didn’t realize until later that the endurance event at the end was intended by the technician. She, on the other side of the microphone and outside the thickened walls of the MRI room, had gotten word that my scans were clear and I could tolerate the “breathing challenges.” This would speed my heart rate and thus the speed at which the images could be collected. I was actually sprinting to the finish and did not know it. I was, in fact, fit to finish fast. Go figure. The work of my heart and my life would resume just as it was with my business, Fit2Finish. (www.Fit2Finish.com)

Whether my heart was fit for the event before I went in the evil cylinder or it became so by prayer and pleading while I was inside, I don’t know. Won’t ever know. But I’m grateful. I’m wondering what endurance event God has planned for me next. But, for now, I am resting easy.

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