When did “fun” become a four letter word? When did talk of fun become a taboo subject? Everywhere I hear the term “I’m crazy busy” like busyness is a badge of courage one wears for working so hard. Yes, I grew up in a household where fun was the reward for getting work done. If I finished my homework or if I cleaned my room, then I could go outside and play. Now it appears my fingers are stuck on the busy button and I cannot let go. Sound familiar? Yet I must answer this question for myself–Am I having any fun? I think not!
Now it is not unusual to find people even on vacation clinging to their electronic devices. They continue to “work,” keeping “connected” while ironically claiming to “relax” and escape from the world. National statistics indicate that greater numbers of people take less vacation time and many answer emails and send texts while on vacation. How did life become so lopsided?
I’ve participated in many discussions about fun lately and it appears not many people are having any. In June all six of us in my spiritual direction peer group meeting promised to incorporate more fun into our lives over the summer months, the summer months traditionally devoted to relaxation and rejuvenation. As we checked-in around the table in August, only Sheila could recount engaging in a couple fun activities. In my attempt to challenge the “demon of busyness” (a term coined by Janet Ruffing) by going off the grid for 5 consecutive days I reported one major fun event. I chose to swing while on a silent retreat.
As I walked along the path that led from a labyrinth cut out of the brush on this 100 acre farm, I remembered the swing that hangs from a very large old oak tree. I figured that tree which sits majestically on the grounds of the retreat center was at least 80 years old. I’m certain if that tree could talk she might share some fascinating tales about the people who farmed the land and those who now come to retreat, rest and take in some stillness and silence. There it hung, a swing with a long rope and a wooden seat just inviting me to take a whirl or two.
The previous day had been a scorcher, the South Georgia heat baking me, the grass, and dirt. On this morning day I felt compelled to arise early before the heat and humidity made my time outside uncomfortably hot. Fortunately the midnight rain created a cool mist that mixed with a slight breeze. Covered in rough green khaki pants, long sleeve shirt, socks covering the bottom of my pants, sneakers, and a scarf on my head I set out for a walk. Being a double organ transplant recipient, I needed to protect myself from mosquitoes and ticks, which sometimes carry West Nile virus and lyme disease respectively. So I sprayed myself generously with Lemon Eucalyptus oil, a scent that mosquitoes detest.
I didn’t worry about the semi-damp swing seat and any leaves or dirt that might have blown on it during the rain. I hopped right on after backing up as far as my petite frame could take me. Then the loveliness began–swinging in the cool morning breeze. Back and forth rhythmically and sometimes swinging from side-to-side, I found myself smiling, almost laughing with delight. In the midst of my unadulterated happiness I also noticed an accompanying deep peace. Suddenly I remembered how much I used to love the swings at the park as a little girl. The slide was okay, and the sand box satisfactory but for me nothing beat the swing. I felt like swinging forever.
Amazed that I took such pleasure in something so simple as swinging, I recollected how I enjoyed small gratifications like swaying in a hammock, watching the beautiful cloud formations above or observing butterflies and bees dance from one gorgeous flower to the next. Unfortunately, I, like so many adults hold onto the belief that playing is only for children. But that same child who experienced such a thrill from swinging still resides in me. Little Rita didn’t go away. I just stopped paying attention to that sweet girl who likes to play with no other goal in mind but to have fun. What happened to the lightheartedness in my life?
Earlier in the summer I lamented about my life. Clearly I was suffering from a moderate case of caretake burnout. After spending a week with Warren’s parents both with memory impairments and with only a day in between I repacked and hopped on a flight to the Bay area where my brother struggled with cardiac issues. Shortly after returning from that trip, I learned my younger brother lay in a hospital miles away in another state. As I surveyed my relationships, I realized I cared for a lot of people–not necessarily in a physical way but more frequently by carrying their burdens in my heart. People–friends, relatives, even “almost strangers”–people I’d met at recent events who emailed or called me filled my daily life. Overdue for a silent retreat I knew I needed some time to restore my reserves.
I also observed that in the two and half years since I stopped working, I wasn’t having much fun. I sensed “Little Rita” rebel using a soft but persistent voice nagging me about playtime. My pat response was “we” will have fun once I get through the “to do” list. Who ever gets through the “to do” list when new things are constantly being added to it? The fun, whether it be sewing, reading, or sitting in the backyard I pushed further down on the priority list.
A memory bubbled up in my cogitations about fun. Many years ago, my female colleagues and I in the psychology department intentionally set reservations for afternoon tea during the most chaotic times–the first week of the semester or during finals when people were so busy that they didn’t exchange pleasantries in the hall. We found taking some time away from the busyness for tea was akin to a heavenly pause, an act that equipped us with an inner calm and resolve to re-enter the fray once again. Stealing away from work for tea created a joie de vivre that lasted for weeks.
Perhaps you are caught on the treadmill of life and cannot seem to press the red STOP button or your caretaker burnout is turning you into a grouch that you don’t recognize. Maybe you are afraid that if you choose to have fun, you’ll lose your positioning on your career trajectory or the competition will surpass you. But how happy is your heart and when is the last time you took in some recreation? Do you yearn for more joy in your life, some semblance of peace? Then you might want to plan a playdate for yourself, buy some legos, stop by the bookstore just to browse or pick up a sketchbook or locate a public park with a slide or swing. Making FUN a priority can lighten a heart that is likely burdened with obligations, unrealistic work schedules or an ego-driven identity. I’d love to hear what you do for fun and how it makes you feel.
Here’s a link to Janet Ruffin’s article, ”Resisting the Demon of Busyness.”