Inspired by a Holly Tree

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There is a park I stop at every time I go to Cape May, New Jersey. This park is very close to my destination and is my last opportunity to let my dog have a walk before our arrival. It is the only park that is not connected to a food and gas rest stop. I have walked around this picnic area park every month for the past few years and, only recently, did I notice a holly tree surrounded with a small fence and a sign telling the story of the tree.

On reading the sign, I learned that the Holly Tree is over three hundred years old and is now surrounded by a grove of many younger holly trees. This particular holly tree was on the original landowners property before the Garden State Parkway was constructed. What I find most interesting is that, rather than cut down the tree which is too often the way, the people who bought the property for the Garden State Parkway decided to honor this tree that has grown there for so many years and reroute construction around the tree and create a picnic area for travelers to enjoy!

Each time I stop at that picnic area, I stop to see and honor that tree. I am in awe that one tree was the reason the Parkway was constructed with a picnic area in the middle of almost nowhere and without a food court or gas station! That holly tree and all it’s surrounding offspring continue to grow, are cared for by someone, and provide an area to enjoy nature as the traffic continues on. I wonder how many people who travel the parkway are aware that this park exists because of a tree that has survived over three hundred years? I wonder what history has surrounded this tree in those many years — who were the people who originally enjoyed the shade of that tree?

Of course, this has raised another, more current question for me. If one tree has been preserved and a major highway rerouted around it can happen, why can’t the pipeline contractors at Standing Rock find another route for their pipeline in order to honor and preserve the history of our country and it’s indigenous people and their sacred lands? Those lands have been sacred land for far longer than three hundred years. Have we not taken enough from our indigenous people?

It saddens me to realize that this holly tree preservation is such a rare happening. What would it take to reroute other plans in order to preserve our history, our environment, and honor the people who live on that land?

I am inspired by the ancient holly tree that continues to stand because someone decided to honor its existence and find a way to keep it standing. I want to be inspired by the goodness in people everywhere to find ways to respect one another, be kind to one another, and care for our history — its people and the land.

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Working With Worry

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I am a worrier. Yes, I can be a serious hand-wringer when something happens and uncertainty ensues or unexpected change is in the works. I consider myself an expert at worrying. I have often thought if there were a way to advertise, “Let me worry for you”, I would be a millionaire twice over! I am good at imagining the worst-case scenarios just to be sure my worry is worthwhile. I used to think that considering the worst that could happen was somehow preparing me for what was coming and if I could live with the worst, then all would be okay.

I was also taught that “God never gives us more than we can handle.” On some deep level, I think I still believe that along with flushing out worst-case scenarios even though both leave too much room for worry…

I am in a worry session now which has had me struggling about how to write a positive blog post (honestly, my blog is called ‘Happy, Healthy, and The Prepared Mind,’ implying positivity). My truth right now is worry over happy… I have numerous tools to use that could ease my angst and I find my mind a blank slate for even one practice that could pull me in an upward trajectory. Meditation, positivity practices like gratitude or kindness, even permission to be human (all my go to practices) aren’t helping. My other practices that usually work — yoga and nature walks — seem only to open space for more worry.

Ever have one of those days? or a string of those days? I hear myself asking, “What can I do?” or “What’s a solution?” And then I continue worrying because I have no immediate or helpful answer, no immediate (or positive) solutions.

Even in this current state I continue my routine practices and hope that my mind will move to calmness when ready. During my meditations my mind often finds calm from worry and clarity arrives if only in a momentary glimpse. I continue to hope.

Then, I arise from meditation with the question, “What can I do?” Answer: What I always do. Take action. Immediate action.

For today, I picked up my knitting as my action to keep my hands and mind busy. Do I need another scarf, pillow, or blanket? It doesn’t really matter — just knit. I knit or, more accurately, I create. Keeping my hands, mind, and body busy with creative action always helps me focus. I need action that is engaging to my senses — creating something does just that, engages more of my senses, provides a sense of purpose (even if for a brief while), and I appreciate the respite from my worry.

As I settle into knitting my shoulders relax as my hands are busy with the process of knit/purl, my mind is engaged with counting stitches to track my design, my senses are further engaged with the steady sound of the knitting needles, and I am taking action, moving forward.

Is this action toward a solution to my worry? Yes and no. There is not a direct solution to the topic of my worry, however, there is forward motion engaging in something I love to do. I hear my mind repeating my personal mantra adapted from Dory in “Finding Nemo”, ‘just keep knitting, just keep knitting.’ I continue to be absorbed in the task of knit and purl and, as I do, I notice a gradual redirect from my angst and fresh ideas begin to pop into my thoughts between stitches.

Staying with it, my mind and body move into a flow state where there is only the action at hand while all else fades into the background. Much research on flow has been done by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi where he presents the importance of flow states for wellbeing and a sense of purpose. Once I emerge from my flow states, I feel calmer, full of ideas, and I am aware of more space in and around me. This open space allows more positivity, relief, and room to explore solutions to the topic of my worry. I feel a glimmer of upward motion and a deep breath into the space that is so much more than my angst.

Action that leads me into a flow state is my recipe for changing my trajectory to a more positive and meaningful direction. Some people clean, organize, and throw things away as their focus action. I know many who create something, anything. Through action, any focused creation, appropriate action and solutions can present themselves. I trust that.

Being human means navigating change, unexpected as well as planned change. For me, worry has been and continues to be my default setting. What’s yours? Worry, though oh so familiar, always circles the drain downward. Taking action helps me spiral upward into a more resourceful state where solutions reside.

I do give space to my worry, angst, fear, and anger. I try to embrace the feelings that are painfully present. In other words, I give myself space to allow the feelings to be as they are without trying to make them go away. I also set a time limit on my wallowing or ruminating time so I don’t get sucked into too much darkness and despair.

Mindfulness is another practice in positive psychology as well as in many spiritual practices. Ellen Langer, a leading positive psychologist, refers to mindfulness as being actively aware. Through mindfulness I learn about myself so that I can change if and when necessary. Being mindful of my worry, listening to my minds story about a situation, and drawing on past practices of what I know works to change direction or course, I can begin to return to my upward spiral.

After my allotted two days of commendable worrying (I do give 110% to that time) and action through knitting (and some cleaning), I woke this morning with renewed energy. The world is more colorful again and a song is in my heart and mind. I am grateful for my worry, for my action, flow states, mindfulness, and trust in my process.

On a final note, taking action doesn’t necessarily mean action related to the topic of concern. My actions were focused in three tracks: 1. knitting to enter my flow state; 2. cleaning and accomplishing three things at home to clear space; and 3. wrote in my journal by telling the story that held me in angst in as much detail as possible. After several writing sessions listening to the running inner dialogue, I began a more meaningful conversation with myself, began a more positive story, and discovered solutions in a hopeful direction. All these actions quelled my concerns and helped me refocus on what is positive.

I am, once again, grateful to be on an upward spiral of goodness, positivity, and meaning.img_1437

Positive Action in Challenging Times

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“You go on by doing the best you can. You go on by being generous. You go on by being true. You go on by offering comfort to others who can’t go on. You go on by allowing the unbearable days to pass and by allowing the pleasure other days. You go on by finding a channel for your love and another for your rage.”                   ~ Cheryl Strayed

Presidential election weeks tend to be challenging — on one side are the ‘winners’ while on another side are the ‘losers’. In this election, there is a wider divide than in any previous elections I’ve lived through. By now, in most elections, the dust settles and we get on with our daily lives. This time, however, the campaigning was filled with too many words of hatred, racism, and disrespect of women — words that cannot be unsaid. This time, the dust is not settling and there is much fear and separation and determination.

I have had to turn away from the news and social media in order to find my way back to my personal calm center. Writing and processing in my journal and being outdoors in nature are the two ways I find the most solace and can relax. This time, I feel the need for more time to heal and to consider what will be next. This time I am ready to roll up my sleeves and stand up for what I believe in.

It has helped for me to gain clarity around what I believe so that I might take positive action in each moment.

Here is what I believe:

  1. I believe we all, essentially, want the same things for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our nation. I am discouraged that because of words spoken (even shouted), it seems the hatred, racism, and disrespect has won.
  2. I believe that our system of the electoral college and voting needs to change. The results of the electoral college and the popular votes do not agree. I wish the system would change and be updated. The electoral college is an outdated system that was designed at a time when slavery and women were unable to vote and information travelled slowly. The idea, for the time, was good as it created a balance of voting in areas where the majority of people were not allowed to vote. I do believe it is time to change the system to be one vote for everyone — which counts. In that way, there is no guessing. The popular vote wins and everyone who votes matters.
  3. I believe we all want a government that works for the people, all the people. We are a nation built on diversity. Not too long ago, we all came from immigrant roots. Our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In other words, everyone is created equal and has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It also means that the government is designed to be by the people and for the people.
  4. I believe it is time to deeply listen to one another in order to get to the deeper story of what we all want for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our country. Through listening — lovingly and empathically — we can find our common ground and discover our way forward.
  5. I believe we must begin to ask different questions, ones that focus on moving forward. More useful questions would be, Who am I now, even in this? What positive actions can I take to be sure that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are available for everyone?
  6. I also believe that we all have a choice in every moment. Positive Psychology encourages us to make choices from strength and in alignment with our values.
  7. I choose to stand up and focus on positive action. I will wear my safety pin in solidarity and encourage others to do the same.
  8. I choose to listen to those with different viewpoints.
  9. I choose to focus on what I am grateful for in my daily life.
  10. I choose to stand strong for what I believe in and roll up my sleeves for positive action.
  11. I choose to let go of negativity and live in my values of love and peace.
  12. I choose to stand strong with all women who deserve respect, who have a voice, and should not suffer from abuse, harassment, or assault.
  13. I choose to use my voice and my actions for the good I believe in.
  14. I choose to trust that what is right and good will prevail.
  15.  I choose to take positive action and to do the work that needs to be done to keep my family, my friends, and my community safe — all those who are of a different color, nationality, gays, and everyone who deserves a chance.
  16. I also choose to take time away from the news and social media so that I can continue to find my calm center.

I will continue to work for the good in everyone unless they prove otherwise, then I will take positive action. My hope is that you will do the same.

What’s Wrong With Me? What’s Right With Me?

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Many of us go through life (I know I do), too often, wondering what’s wrong — with me? with my life? with my work? I listen to this question almost daily in my work. Once that question is asked, we go about trying to fix an illusive problem — unhappiness, anger, lack of motivation, failure, shortcomings, and on. I’ve heard myself asking this question and then feel even more dissatisfied. I’ve heard parents say it to their children and then watch as the child withdraws a bit into the question or fights back.

Our parents want(ed) what’s best for us and think that by pointing out our shortcomings we’ll become better people. I remember when my Dad once said that he raised all his children without any common sense. I spent months trying to assess and prove him wrong by exercising common sense as often as possible only to realize I, indeed, had common sense most of the time.

What if there is nothing wrong? What if we could spend equal time acknowledging and noticing what is right? There will always be things that we are not good at no matter how hard we try. There are more things we are good at. Science is now showing that we become better people when we know what we are good at AND know where we can improve. What are you good at? Choose one thing. How can you become even better at it?

What if, instead of asking “what was wrong with my day”, we began to ask what went well today and where can I improve? A practice I used when I worked in preschool, when I worked with children at Kripalu Center, and, again, with my own daughter when she was young was ‘the three plusses and a wish.’ This is a practice to learn to notice the good and then frame what could be improved as a wish. I can only express the wish after I’ve identified the three plusses or positive attributes about myself or someone else.

Have you found yourself asking “what’s wrong with me?” Perhaps you made a mistake at work, heard someone criticize you, wonder where you went wrong — with raising your children, being in a job that is unfulfilling, or being alone when your friends are all in relationships? Many of us seem wired to point out the negative shortcomings in ourselves, our situations, and our world. Yes, when we lived hundreds of years ago in the wilderness of nature, it benefitted us to be vigilant for warning signs of lurking danger. Yes, we are, even today, focused on what’s wrong. We go to the doctor and are asked, what’s wrong that needs fixing. We go to a therapist to get help fixing a shortcoming. We even call our mechanic to fix what’s wrong with our car. Rarely do we schedule many appointments just because we feel good and want to feel better.

When was the last time you noticed what’s right and what’s good? When did you last celebrate, really celebrate, a success? When we change our focus and notice the good, the good appreciates. When we notice our moments of kindness, gratitude, or a job well done, we prepare for more good. In short, we become happier and healthier.

With our children or grandchildren, teach them to notice what went well. How easy it is to point out their shortcomings — their outbursts, their sibling disagreements, or their whining. Remember, we all want what’s best for our children just as our parents wanted the best for us (in most cases). When we focus on the negative, we fuel the negative. When we focus on the positive, the positivity grows.

My first career was teaching preschool. I remember deciding to focus on trusting the children to do good and spent time each day teaching positive ways to communicate, both talking and listening. When two children had a disagreement, which often included violence, I’d have them sit in chairs facing one another with the simple instruction to sit with one another without touching until they could resolve their disagreement. They could get up on their own once they felt resolved and could drop their negativity. Around five minutes was a magic time and they would get up and go off to play and laugh together as BFF’s. Then, I didn’t really understand what happened. All I knew is that I trusted them to figure out how to resolve their disagreement without violence. That time sitting together provided the space and time to refocus their attention on the good — they were very creative in their conversations that lead to resolution. They also made eye contact which leads to a calm and connect response.

Another practice I used was the ‘three plusses and a wish’ in order for them to learn to focus on the good and frame their negativity as a wish. Over time, that room full of preschoolers from challenging homes began to be happier and kinder to one another.

For today, I challenge you to ask what is going well and ask “what is right with me?”. And, if you must, frame the negative as a wish, only after you can identify and state three positive things about yourself and your day. Try extending my one day challenge into a 30 day challenge. For the next 30 days – write down at the end of each day what went well and what is right with me. I am certain you will be pleased with the outcome.

A Memorable Two Weeks

I just spent two weeks on a remarkable journey filled with so many heart opening, mind altering experiences it will take weeks to fully integrate — it will, perhaps, be my winter project.

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The first week of my journey was with my two sisters. We flew into Jackson Hole, Wyoming to be together, explore Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Once together with luggage stowed in the rental car, we drove to Yellowstone, the first part of our time together. I had been to Yellowstone many years ago for a day. Then, I thought Yellowstone was beautiful with endless pools of colorful boiling mud or sulphur laden pools and geysers – of course, Old Faithful. This time I learned that Yellowstone is so much more. The mountains, lakes, valleys, and wildlife were truly awe-inspiring. And to share it with my sisters, a blessing. We made endless stops to soak in the views, photograph wildlife, and, one morning, to make way for a herd of bison using the road before us. When an entire herd of large animals is filling your path, headed in your direction, there is little choice but to stop in awe and allow them to pass. They passed silently with a destination in mind which included the road as easy access.

My sisters and I? We laughed, we talked, we shared our meals together and found a familiar rhythm which made for easy travel companions – I so very much loved being with both of them. We are not often all together as we live different lives in different parts of the country. We’ve lived apart many more years than our brief childhood together yet the familiarity is still a soothing groove re-awakened within minutes at the airport.

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I love seeing neuro-plasticity in action. Our familial grooves run deep and even though we are very different from one another, there is a common thread of those years shared in our youth. Decision making was easy — not like in our childhoods where we may have argued or forced our hand due to age. Aging has a way of smoothing and reprioritizing. On this trip we easily deferred each decision to whoever expressed the strongest desire. We had fun photographing sunrises, sunsets, wildlife, and each other. We enjoyed our meals in restaurants, our cabins, on the tailgate, or by the river. At Grand Teton we got to stretch our legs on some hiking trails since we all love to be outdoors in nature.

From there, I spent a quick day with my daughter and grandchildren before returning home to begin the second week of my adventure — an immersion week at Kripalu to complete a year long Positive Psychology course I’d been a Teaching Assistant for (to learn more about the certificate program, go to WBI.org). This journey was totally opposite to my previous week where nature and grand views prevailed. The connections and expansion took place, primarily, in one large room. The group of over 150 students, faculty, and our group of teaching assistants gathered together after months of virtual connection through video lectures, postings onto the course website, and many regular conference calls. Here we gathered from around the world to complete a year long journey by making connections, forming networks, sharing projects, and daily lectures — all in an environment of celebration for the learning, the growth, and the graduation before returning home to discover what’s next.

For myself, I forged new friendships, was in awe over projects, bonded with my fellow teaching assistants, and planned next steps to continue living and sharing Positive Psychology. I came away full with an open heart of gratitude for my own embodiment of meaningful and positive living as well as encouraged in the knowing that Positive Psychology is truly spreading — a happiness revolution, as Tal Ben Shahar calls it, is underway!

Preserving Food, Attention to Detail, and Meditation: A Winning Combination

img_1099Yesterday I harvested tomatoes — a lot of tomatoes — and too many for me to eat before they spoil. So, I made tomato soup thinking I would freeze it for later. Once the soup was made and ladled into containers, I realized there wasn’t enough room left in my freezer from the fruit I’ve been picking and freezing all summer.

I decided that I would pull out my canning pot and preserve the soup in jars. Back at home after work, I prepared my kitchen for the canning process – cleaning the counters, washing jars, setting out my ladle, measuring cup, tongs, funnel, and water to boil in both the canning pot and a pot to sterilize the lids.

I don’t often think of myself as someone who pays a lot of attention to detail except when it comes to preparing food for canning. I am grateful to my mother for teaching me how to preserve food and, since she was exceptional at detail, I learned that each step of the way is important and makes the process easier.

Each summer into the fall, my favorite activity is to preserve whatever I harvest. The attention to detail makes me happy and becomes a meditation in motion for me. As I write this blog post while waiting for the full jars to process, I am aware of feeling very centered and calm like I do when I sit to meditate each evening. The detail of the canning process is so carved into my memory that each time I set about to put food by I move into a meditative state which can last for hours depending on how many jars are full and need to be processed.

I thought that this year there wouldn’t be time to do much canning. Now, I am excited to do more. I know that apples will be ripening soon which means I can prepare apple sauce and apple butter for those long winter nights when something that reminds me of summer helps to lighten the darkness. And, of course, my grandchildren love my applesauce.

I love knowing that I always have healthy food from the summer to open all year, especially when local vine or tree ripened fruits and vegetables are not available. I also love knowing that the food I’ve preserved has made me happy in the process and I do believe that happiness is in each jar when I open one months from now.

Late Summer Musings on Change

“Every year we have been witness to it: how the world descends

into a rich mash, in order that it may resume

…how the vivacity of what was is married
to the vitality of what will be?”

~ Mary Oliver

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In Oriental Medicine, late August into September is considered a fifth
season — Late Summer. It is the beginning of my most productive time of year.

Summer is ending,
leaves are beginning to release from their branches with the gentlest of breezes, here and there some trees are changing from their summer green to colors of fall, and the fields full of growth begin to shrink (only two weeks ago, I could only see the ears of deer standing in the field and now I can see their heads as they wander and graze). Crickets fill the air with their sounds and geese overhead are beginning group flight practice for their winter migration south. This is a time of change into the darker days of fall and winter — and here, in New England, this season change tends to be more dramatic in color and temperature.

In years past, long before the convenience of grocery stores, this was a time of preserving the harvest and hoping there is enough to feed a family through the long winter months. As my canning pot boils I can already imagine my joy at opening a jar of applesauce in January or spreading blueberry jam on a piece of toast in February!

I find myself excited and tingly as I, too, consider my personal inner harvest and prepare myself for winter. I very much feel the sense of closure and new beginnings. I am about to finish a year of assisting in the Certificate in Positive Psychology course that I, myself, took only several years ago. As the course nears graduation, I find myself wondering how I will fill my time? And how I will say good-bye.

How appropriate that the course ends now, in late summer. This is the time of year when I am personally assessing, evaluating, and considering how I wish to move forward. I find myself asking, “Who am I?” and “Who am I becoming?” In my journals, I explore my answers and consider the choices stretched out ahead as new beginnings are close at hand. I am making my lists of projects, dreams, and plans with joyful anticipation.

For now, I am aware of being steeped in my strength of ‘Appreciation of Excellence and Beauty’ or awe. My morning meditations are outside, on my deck, so that I can be surrounded by the beauty of dragonflies, morning glories, sunflowers, wildlife, and the sunrise. Each meditation begins my day with a sense of awe and gratitude for the natural world I am a part of.
What strength do you bring to this time of year? How do you prepare for the next season? What are you harvesting?

 

Permission to be Human and Self-Compassion

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Even bad days have moments of brightness.

There are those days when I seem to wake up on the ‘wrong side of the bed.’ (My mother seemed to love that phrase, did your mother?) On these days, I find myself feeling uninspired, worried, not my most positive self, and simply down in the dumps. On these days, a concept that helps me through and back on track to my optimistic and positive nature, is giving myself permission to be human.

Permission to Be Human is a concept that I learned from Tal Ben Shahar in the Certificate in Positive Psychology training I took several years ago. It has been a guiding concept when I am not at my best for whatever reason. Yes, I am as human as everyone and remembering that with a Permission slip is something I use often (and also teach in all of my workshops).

This is one of the most useful ways I know to find my way to accepting being down or off my center. Without my permission slip, I can easily spiral downward visiting judgement, negativity, lack of inspiration, and, most importantly, self-judgement for wanting life to be different. Let’s face it life happens, events present themselves, and conversations unfold that can be challenging to rise above.

These last two weeks for me have been filled with frustration over a gnawing pain that has taken much effort to heal. Because the pain has been quite consuming, I have been off of my center. I find that I am more easily pulled into weariness, concerns over world current events (the negative kind), and return home from work ready to call it a day when there is still much to do.

Once I have taken the time to give myself Permission to be Human and begin to embrace whatever is pulling me into grumpiness, I can then begin the journey back to an upward spiral of healing and positivity. My personal journey has been focusing on self-care to relieve this nagging pain (oh, how I love massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic). As I continue feeling frustrated that it is taking longer than usual and rest seems to be most needed, I move onto letting go of my resistance to my feelings around my pain. Resistance is indeed futile!

Once I’ve given myself permission to be with what has my attention and letting go of my resistance, I can then move on to learning, being mindful, and listening to my body, my emotions, or my mental state. One of the ways I approach my frustrations is to consider asking different questions — questions that I would ask any of my coaching clients, acupuncture clients, or students — positive questions that lead me forward and upward.

Here are some of the questions I’ve asked: I pause and ask myself what do I need right now? How can I find a way to enjoy this time of pain? Is there anything I can I learn from this? What benefits can I notice right now?

The answers are readily there — I need my Permission to Be Human with my pain, frustration, lack of creative inspiration, and taking a ride on the downward spiral. This pain has forced me to take a rest from my beloved long hikes in the woods and trading them for shorter walks from home and gentle stretching on my mat. By taking the time to rest, I have the time to happily indulge myself in watching the Olympics (I can even imagine my own body moving with the athletes so I, too, benefit from their goals of personal best. I am certain that I benefit from the visualization and watching!).

I can also use this time to practice self-compassion — extending kindness toward myself. What a freeing and wonderful concept — extending compassion toward myself through kindness! I get to practice on myself what I do every day in my work with others. An added benefit is that I can then extend even more compassion toward those who come to me for their own healing from pain, imbalance, or disharmony with a greater understanding of their frustration, fears, and anxieties.

For now, I feel more in balance by taking the time to write out my process. I hope you will find this helpful the next time you are off your center or have gotten up ‘on the wrong side of the bed!’

Let’s Play A Game

“Games are not just a source of entertainment. They are a model for how to become the best version of ourselves.”
~ Super Better by Jane McGonigal

Our seaside cache!
Our seaside cache!

My fondest memories of summer as a child were the games we played. Nearly every evening our neighborhood — children and adults — played Hide And Seek or Kick The Can. We would begin after dinner as the evening light began to wane and continue until it was too dark to see our own feet on the ground. I remember the fun, the laughter, and the sense of community. Games were an integral part of every day.

On our short street in rural Pennsylvania, everyone knew everyone else — we were a micro community. Because of the games we played, summertime became a long “endless summer.” During the daytime hours, all of us children would meet in one or another’s yard and make up games. When the weather was nice (which seemed to be most days) we all were outdoors from morning until bedtime with breaks only for meals or when our mothers called us in for help indoors. Back then, playing outdoors was simply what every child did and we wandered from yard to yard or into the cornfields beyond our yard. (We didn’t experience the fear that so many parents and children feel today.) The summertime was one long game from morning until night.

On rainy days, we had board games — Monopoly, Checkers, Candy Land, Scrabble — or card games, like Go Fish, and, of course, the family jigsaw puzzle always in progress. We didn’t have video games, iPads, computers, or apps for games. We also didn’t watch TV except briefly in the evenings. Games for us were physical and mental as well as opportunities for everyone to join in. We were close as siblings, as family, and as neighbors. The games we played were about connection, fun, and laughter.

As I reflect back on those games, I realize that they also taught us valuable skills for everyday life such as cooperation, concentration, perseverance, self-efficacy, setting goals, and resilience as in games there is, often, more failure than winning. We grew up using our natural strengths for happiness, health, and success because we practiced and used those strengths in the games we played.

Today, life is quite different. Few children (especially in urban areas) play outdoors unless supervised. Life is scheduled with structured activities and when not scheduled, too many children spend hours in front of the TV, their iPhones, iPads, or computers using Social Media and playing online games. Much of the disappearance of outdoor play is due to fear from the climate many children live in, I know. Yet, social media, TV, and online games aren’t necessarily learning and using valuable lifelong skills.

The good news (and there is always good news, if we look for it) is that games are making a comeback because who doesn’t like a good game whether old-fashioned fun or healthy competition between teams? How is this, you might ask? Children and adults can, indeed, be challenged with a good game that uses physical activity combined with technology for fun, cooperation, and connection. There is also growing scientific evidence backing the benefits of playing games — such as challenging us and improving our abilities both in and out of the game; increasing self-efficacy (the belief that you, yourself, can effect positive change in your own life); learning & nurturing greater resilience; increasing brain neuroplasticity; and increasing dopamine in the brain which is associated with faster learning and better performance. The science of games is quite interesting and, certainly, has encouraged me to play more games.

In just two weeks, I witnessed and participated in two games that combine technology and activity into the fun of game playing…

The first game I heard about and began seeing Tweets about is the new Pokemon GO. More on that in a moment…

The second game I learned about while out hiking, from a Dad with his two young children. The game they were playing is known as ‘Geocaching’ or a modern day, cooperative treasure hunt that uses a GPS to track a hidden cache. Totally intrigued, I asked them about geocaching since they were clearly excited and on a mission! Dad told me they were spending the day geocaching and there were four geocaches in the vicinity — the children excitedly showed me their small toys they’d retrieved from a previous cache.

On my return home, I googled ‘Geocache’ and was surprised at the number of results from a main Geocache website explaining all the rules and good practice guidelines as well as a number of YouTube videos on how to play and of adventures others had been on around the world. I Iearned that Geocaching began in 2000 to test GPS technology and quickly became a game played worldwide. Coincidentally, my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren were just introduced to a geocache near their home that was discovered by a neighbor and his children who are geocacher’s.

We registered with the Geocache website and planned our own adventure to find several in their area. We all went together (Mom, Dad, Gramma, and grandchildren) and had tremendous fun finding two out of three caches within miles of their home. We spent the day focused on a challenge, cooperating, being with and connecting with one another, and having fun with the added benefit of being outdoors in nature. My granddaughter who turned six that day, was ecstatic and has already been out to find more!

The second game, Pokemon GO, (I am sure you have already heard it mentioned somewhere) is a game that, within several weeks since being launched, is already popular in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK (with more countries soon to follow). Pokemon GO is an easily downloadable app onto your Smartphone. And, yes, I have heard many negative judgements about the game and even more positives. My curiosity was intrigued because of the premise of the game — you must be outdoors and/or moving to play. There are also opportunities to play the game with others. Everywhere I go, I see people playing the game and having fun. I’ve talked to teenagers who are already experts. I’ve talked to a father and daughter who play together. I’ve also noticed an increasing amount of mentions on social media — it is certainly the new trend in games that goes above and beyond the sedentary nature of many video games, watching TV, or the focused attention online in front of a computer.

In my recent travels while standing in a line, I asked a woman in front of me (who was playing) if she would answer a few of my questions about the game. She was most interesting as she was also a grandmother, her excitement was contagious, she admitted to the addictive quality of playing, she plays along with her grandchildren, and she gave me a mini-tutorial on how to play. Her one comment was most intriguing, she said “For an introvert, I’ve met more people in two short weeks because of the game!” She told me that everywhere she goes she meets people — young and old — interacting and having fun! (I want to be like her — a cool grandmother!)

As I looked around the busy roadside rest area off the highway, I saw people connecting, having fun while being challenged and moving about — you simply cannot play Pokemon GO while sitting still! (Of course, I’ve been playing!)

Whether your interest is in a traditional game of Monopoly or Hide-and-Seek or you want to try something new and trendy with technology (I like both) — it’s good for our physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being. So let’s play more games!