If you can imagine running around in the mountains during the summer with your best friends and trying to teach children and adolescents the goodness of roaming wild in nature, then you can start to understand how I spent my last three summers. At this summer camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina there are moments, traditions, and activities that bring me more joy and life than most things. On Sunday evenings we have ‘friendship council’, which is a time for all the guys (campers and staff) to go to a gnarly spot and hang out with each other and eat dinner. After all the shenanigans, wrestling matches, track races, and freestyle contests, we sometimes go up on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The beautiful highway that traverses across the tops of this mountain range, revealing some of the most rejuvenating sights of green seas around every bend. The explosive colors painting the skies after the sun sets, the sound of the birds and the bugs, and we are silent as our camp director looks at us from the edge of the cliff. A white haired man wearing a black vest and looking at us. He tries to convey the joy in his heart from the decades and decades he has spent exploring these mountains and stepping into the richness of life embedded in natural creation. After a few deep remarks encouraging all of us to make the most of our time in this place, he turns around. He turns his back to us as he stands on the edge that separates the highway from the vast rolling mountains. Everyone looks out to where he is looking. The trees grow smaller the closer our eyes get to the horizon. We all feel that urge to go. Not knowing where, but just to go. And see what happens. In that moment the man raises his arms and yells to us “This is your playground”. We are all convinced. This is for us. And we are meant to play in it.
I believe this desire to play and roam and explore is inherent to being human. Of course there are fears that come with it, but the desire exists. It is not something we can reduce to solely a quality of childhood and then we grow out of it. No. Children do it better, yes, but it is a human desire. There is so much freedom and joy in using our imaginations. In belief. In lightheartedness. In surprises. In colors. In laughter. Like children, we must let ourselves be awe-struck at the wonders of life. We must respond to our urge to explore. We must let life unfold itself before our eyes in all its aspects, let reality reveal itself to us in all its dimensions, let all the gifts of our humanity blossom into their potential.
This encounter depends upon our disposition to life. Our openness to reality. Children face the world wide open. Welcoming any experience in its newness and freshness. Their ignorance and lack of experience naturally allows for them to open up to all possibilities. No prejudices, no walls, no expectations. They don’t control or manipulate. They don’t try and force reality and situations into a box of what they want it to be. They simply let it be. And they receive it as it is. They allow reality to reveal itself to them, rather than dictating their own expectations to reality. Their lives are full of colors and meanings and dreams. They are constantly in a state of excitement because they do not know what lies ahead in the next moment. Unfortunately, most the time we lose this healthy disposition. We lose this open attitude to life and all its factors and all it desires to offer us. We close ourselves off from parts of reality, so we limit life by blocking the gifts and richness it wishes to throw at us. We decide to skip the parade of life.
The transformation to a childlike disposition towards reality is key. I think. Key to living a full life. A life of abundance. A scene from a film that illustrates this transformation comes from my childhood favorite movie, Hook. Peter Pan left Neverland and grew up. He sold out in a lot of ways and forgot who he was. He forgot the adventures and the people. He forgot the joy and the amazement. He sits at a dinner table with the ‘lost boys’ and is unable to see the food they are eating. He lost his ability imagine, to dream, and to be himself. Peter Pan.
“To live will be an awfully big adventure.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”
– Henry David Thoreau