EDITOR’S NOTE: My wife, Mary, and I recently had a retreat on the Mendocino Coast at an eco-resort called the Stanford Inn. The inn is run by a remarkable couple, Jeff and Joan Stanford, and Jeff is not joking when he lists the priorities of the inn: animals first, staff second, and guests third. That means the resort grounds and gardens are certified organic, the dining is entirely vegan, the staff are passionate about what they do, and if you want milk for your coffee, bring it! A lifelong paddler, I spent hours in the boathouse on the river with the boatman learning the fine points of their redwood outrigger canoes—arguably the best couples canoeing experience one is going to find. I also asked Joan about the heart of the resort, and she took me to her play shop. She wrote this explanation, which really does get to the heart of the retreat.
Losing our beloved, old dog Murphy several months ago was hard. We all grieved daily including her pal, Ellie, our Welch Terrier. Our pets are such a part of our daily routines: every time I went to the fridge, refilled a water bowl, took a walk, memories of Murphy flooded in. I had made a memorial for her: a candle on a saucer by a photo with her collar with her name on it circling the saucer. This sat on a table in out hallway. Ellie hadn’t noticed it at first but one day she jumped on a chair she had never been on to be near the collar. She repeated this for days as if paying respects at a funeral viewing. Years ago one of our cats rolled on the mound in the garden beneath which we had buried her buddy and howled for hours. Our pets become attached to one another and grieve just as we do. Ellie has never been a single child. When she first came to us there were two older dogs to win over. Now it is her turn to be the welcomer: we just brought home a rescue puppy! She is not too sure; it will take time.
The reason I am writing about this is because I often suggest playing with young children as a way to reconnect to the power and fun of play since I believe play opens the door to our creativity. Well, now I want to add, ” find a puppy!” This one, as yet unnamed but I refer to her as Muppett, is always playing. She climbs into the toy basket and throws everything out. Our floor is littered with things tossed, tugged, chewed and abandoned. Of course she is teething and needs to chew but she makes a game of the task. She is pure energy not yet able to be contained in her small frame. And such joy!
She hops on the grass, is startled and fascinated by the sound of a Raven’s wings overhead. She finds a stick, too big to carry and drags it along. She licks the dew on grass blades. She tilts her head and cocks her ears to listen to new sounds or a singing voice. All her senses are acutely active. The world is seducing her.
I am exhausted. Aware my step has lost its bounce; aware I awake with less enthusiasm to greet a new day; aware I need to lighten up. So chores are not getting done. I am on the floor squeezing odd sounds out of stuffing-less, stuffed toys. I am singing songs as she drifts to sleep in my lap, her eyes resisting closing. Or I watch her in her crate for a time out, her eyelids coming down, her willing them up until at last, worn out, she allows the final shutting down.
And while I sit here playing I receive a phone call that a dear friend has died. His eyes now shut forever. The final shutting down. More and more these two edges meet in my consciousness: beginnings and endings, openings and closings, joy and sorrow.
Can you approach a daily chore more playfully? And music to tidying, dance with the vacuum?
Try to bring fresh eyes to a morning walk. See, hear, smell as much as possible. Notice textures. Allow the world to awaken you.
Muse on the cycles of life, the changing pace, the changing tasks, the deepening awareness.
Do some reflective creative process, writing or art making on these ideas.