After a very brief bit of soul-searching, I decided a few weeks ago to take a job leading backpacking trips for the YMCA in Seattle this summer. The training we’ve done for the program, along with a bit of traveling and an epic frisbee tournament, has got me thinking a lot about relationships, communication, openness, and play. Mostly about how wonderful all those things are, and how little emphasis we put on them in everyday life.
The backpacking training came first, and it was hands-down the best orientation I’ve ever had for a job. We basically went out into the woods and mirrored the experience we would be facilitating for our participants later in the summer. We spent five days building groups, playing games, talking about emotional intelligence and generally having an awesome time. There were about fifty to-be instructors, and every single one was down to create a fun environment and get real with some pretty deep and important conversations. By the end of the five days, the incredibly supportive environment had allowed us all to bond together as if we’d been friends for years. And I’m pretty sure I will be friends with some of those folks for years to come.
I went straight from the orientation to Boston and then Vermont to visit family, especially my three-month old niece. We had a really great time making eye contact and sticking our tongues out at each other and napping. A different kind of bonding, but maybe only in the sense that it’s broken down to its essentials and not yet cluttered by all sorts of baggage and language and anxieties. I also had some really good time to hang out with slightly older relatives and friends, which reminded me again of the difficulties of choosing a coast. For the moment I’m still sticking with the west, though.
Two weeks in New England and I flew back to Seattle in time to go rock climbing in Squamish, British Columbia for a couple days (Side note: holy crap. This place is amazing. A climbing dreamland.) before heading to the biggest and best and silliest frisbee tournament in the country, Potlatch. I’ve been to Potlatch about seven times, and it never ceases to amaze me. There is such an incredible wealth of goofing around and great costumes and old friends and new friends and dance parties and bagels with peanut butter. It is not unusual to call a time-out for the sole purpose of setting up a slip-and-slide or having a picnic on the field. Team bonding and community building happens quickly and effortlessly.
But now I am back in “Real Life”, where people do not spontaneously burst into song or dance or wear face and body paint or play games where you make animal noises because you need a let off some steam. The world here seems to run on different energy, or with different priorities. There is a little bit more sarcasm, and people have thick skin. I’m not necessarily pushing for costumed-silliness 24/7, but I think there are some important values that these experiences highlight, and which are often overlooked in our day-to-day routines. Play is big one. Being open, authentic, and real is another. Being supportive and silly in a group, being honest about fears and dreams. These activities may only appear to be passing moments pasted into a larger reality, just vacations we take to “get away”. But they are actually the things that allow us to create strong bonds of friendship and love, and those are the things that really matter. All the physical stuff we acquire along the way is not the point, and I think in a lot of instances it actually makes it more difficult to build relationships and community.
The frisbee community and the outdoor community are groups that are serious about having a good time, making cool things happen, and building strong relationships. It takes love and generosity and openness to create a space for all that to take place, but it is one-hundred percent worth it. These are the things that make life so precious, rewarding, and fun, and I think we could all use a little bit more of that in our day-to-day lives.