(This article appeared first in Positive Health magazine in June 2002.)
An Exhilarating Personal Experienced
It had always been my dream to fly through the air with as little technology around me as possible. Now I was standing at the bottom of a South Downs hillside, looking up. The hill looked very step, seriously steep. I was wearing my crash helmet and had my paraglider folded into a neat rucksack on my back. Behind me lay two days of intensive training: getting the canopy up in the air while standing on the ground, handling the toggles, hours of therory about flying a paraglider, how to take off, how to land, and then a few short flights just feet above the ground down a baby slope. Now the time had come to go for the real thing. My instructor declared me fit and ready to do a proper flight from the top of the hillside in front of me, and we both started climbing up, with my instructor leading the way. The hill was so steep that we had to walk in serpentines, gaining height very slowly. I was huffing and puffing, and the five kilograms of canopy on my back started to feel heavier and heavier with every step.
After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the top. We stopped to catch our breath and to look at the view. The climb had really been worth it! In front of us, the South Downs were stretching out as far as the eye could see. The sun was shining, the sky was a clear blue, a gentle breeze was going – it was a joy to just stand there and look. The only thing that slightly marred my pleasure was the awareness that, in a moment, I would be required to get the canopy up in the air and start running down part of that steep hill to take off. Could I do it? Did I have the courage to take a ‘dedicated run’, as my instructor called it? I must admit, I was quite scared,but after a moment’s hesitation, I went for it. My canopy was up in the air above my head and I started running. And suddenly, I was up in the air, sitting comfortably in my harness underneath the canopy, and I WAS FLYING! It was absolutely amazing. I circled around for a little while and looked at the landscape from a bird’s eye view, drifting gently along on the breeze, sunshine on my face and a great sense of inner tranquility. It was total and utter bliss. Slowly, I prepared myself for landing and began my descent. As my feet touched the ground, I brought the canopy down behind me and stood still for a moment. My feelings were so overwhelming I nearly cried. It had been an exhilarating experience to fly through the air, free as a bird, drifting along. It had felt like I had been very far away from the everyday world. This flight was certainly one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Seeking Out New Experiences
The reason I’m telling you about my paragliding adventure is not to get you to do the same, but rather to consider for a moment the importance of seeking out new experiences. While we are growing up, we are in a constant process of acquiring new knowledge, honing our social skills, undergoing voluntary and involuntary changes that are imposed on us by our environment or by our own ambitions. We want better qualifications for ourselves and our kids, a good job, financial security, a nice home and good holidays.
Much of our time in life is spent working on achieving these aims, and once we are on track to achieving them, we tend to settle into a routine. Work and family take up a lot of our day, and there is often not much time or energy left for anything else except going to the gym or to the cinema.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with routine, on the contrary. It is important to have a certain amount of ‘sameness’ in your life in order to leave some energy reserves for when life becomes stressful and your body and mind have to cope with extra demands. But what happens to any activities outside the family and job arena? What happens to play? When was the last time you did something which was NOT connected to your computer that was utterly useless but fun? Something that was not aimed at making you healthier or fitter or more educated?
The Importance of Play
Going to the gym is fine, but it is not play. Playing is anything that is either exciting or fun and, ideally, serves no particular purpose except to make you happy and to entertain you. We are often so focused on what we have to do that we forget to pay attention to the more creative side within ourselves. Or we are simply too afraid to try out something that is different.
Playing is important, even when you are an adult. Not only does it help keep our creativity alive, it also ensures that we stay flexible. A routine helps you get things done efficiently, but it also makes you a little rigid. You start to become mentally fixated on the boundaries that your routine imposes on you, doing the same thing night after night when you getback from work, seeing the same things and thinking the same thoughts day after day. Break the routine by doing something different every once in a while, even though it may makeyou a little afraid to start off with. Take a different way home after work tonight. Go to a clothes shop and try on an outfit that is totally different from your usual style. Go down a slide in a kid’s playground after the kids have left. You’ll be surprised what you discover about yourself and your environment.
Playing keeps your mind from sinking into a one-track routine. Playing is an excellent stress-buster, it keeps you young and it adds zest to your life. Dare to be different and, if you are really courageous, dare to be silly. Bring some magic back into your life. You’ll be happier and stronger for it!
Vera Peiffer BA (Psych) FAPHP MNRPC