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Trees and tea houses

Despite the mess that my life represents, I’m bound fairly consistently to a series of daily and weekly rituals. Sundays specifically for me are set aside to pursue some form or another of self-knowledge. Generally I read a self-help book, watch any number of spiritual guru videos on YouTube, or torment my family by reading something arcane and possibly Roman to my daughters and asking their thoughts. Simple, predictable Sunday morning exercises.

I intended today to be such a Sunday, but not all days are as cooperative as they are desired to be. My youngest daughter requested a change of pace to take a drive, and when toddlers make requests they do so tenaciously. There was some parental push-back at first to stay in, but she had all but buckled her car-seat belt by the time my wife and I were convinced to start the engine. What the heck, there was no good reason to deny enjoying some time on the road.

Before leaving the driveway my wife set the local arboretum as a destination and drove us straight there. Once we arrived, it struck me how excellent a decision that turned out to be. First of all, our daughter was tickled. She really enjoys walking through the curated flowers, vegetation, and structures. Secondly was the value of spending a morning focused on self knowledge in a quiet garden. Rather than reading or listening to someone else’s internal journey, this semi-natural and fully beautiful environment offered time to practice 2 valuable things.

1. Appreciation

I’m not an expert on aesthetics, but one thing I love about beauty is that you don’t really need to process it. Yes, it can be considered or questioned, but it is certainly no requirement. This is especially true where one learns to appreciate something for it’s sake alone without comparison. I might not necessarily be able to do this, but I can certainly allow beauty to soak it in. Today at the arboretum I took the time to absorb my surroundings. Now somewhat ironically, I did this by and large through a phone camera lens, but it’s 2019.

Another thing I have learned about appreciation is that, at least for me, noting what I show appreciation for provides an indicator of my values and my state-of-mind. What I notice is what I care about. How I regard it is how I think. When for just a moment I reflect on my appreciation, it allows me to remember what qualities I hold dear. For instance, I became particularly fond of little paths that simply ended nowhere. They didn’t lead back to the main path or stop in a remarkable area. They simply led to where they led, a generally quiet nowhere with a stone bench. This gave me the quality chance to think about how I, in contrast, force my life paths to go somewhere “relevant” or “important”. I rarely give myself the chance to simply take a direction that goes nowhere and, yes, just appreciate it.

2. Play

Work has quotas, games have rules, but play has no limitations. Taking time to be playful allows you to express yourself without the external guidelines we often become so accustomed to we cease to notice them. However, when you take the time to dance like no one is watching you are expressing yourself in a much more raw form. What good is self-knowledge if we never allow ourselves to be ourselves. What’s interesting about play is that there’s a form of play that reveals massive authenticity even though it is inherently dishonest. My daughter partook in this particular type of play this morning while I walked the garden walkways.

She played make-believe. She invited me into her magical country manor. She camped in her private woodland cabin. She “fished” at the edge of a koi pond with a magnificent sea serpent living in it. She mixed water and leaves in a stone cauldron and made, I’m not sure what, but she looked like she was doing actual magic. If you ever find yourself forgetting how to play, then you’ve found your problem. There is no “how” to play, you simply act freely and according to your self satisfying whimsy. There’s no “where” to go and no “thing” to do. If you ever need to be reminded of what play looks like, though, find a toddler.

Lessons Learned

I’ve been neglecting the power of appreciation and play on my journey for self-knowledge, mastery, and understanding. Appreciation offers the chance to observe the subconscious values that command the most respect and attention from me for the easy-to-pay price of being around beauty. Further, the rule, rote, and rigor of ritual are valuable but only inasmuch as they do the spring cleaning necessary for us to just let go and play when we are allowed. You could easily argue that being appreciative and playful is the epitome of self-knowledge. Confident, free, natural, and unabashedly honest. For myself, I feel these adjectives accurately describe how I want to exist as often as possible.