Today I took my dogs for a walk, traipsing our normal loop of squirrel hunting and owl spotting, ending in a bout of enthusiastic stick fetching in the nearby pond.
It is sunny and hot right now in Texas – over 100 degrees hot – and I took off my shoes and went into the water with them, clothes and all, feeling the deliciousness of cool water on my skin.
After walking home, the dogs cuddled up on the couch and spent the afternoon napping, happy and content.
My dogs remind me of my childhood summers in Ohio, where I spent many afternoons at the local pool with my brother and cousins, swimming for hours. Afterwards, we'd bike home for dinner, then lie on the couch in the cool air of the house, wrung out and spent.
I'll never forget that feeling: a bit sun burnt, happily tired, with a slight smell of chlorine lingering in my hair – filled with the sated contentment from hours playing in the sun.
When I remember that feeling, I think about home. Not a physical home, but home, home: that place of ease and belonging we all carry within.
Pema Chödrön once said, “You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”
When our weather is stormy and cloudy, or filled with violent winds, it's so easy to forget that these places of sunlight are also within us, and are us.
We forget who we are and how we belong, and feel so separate from lightness and ease.
This is one of the heartbreaks of trauma – the ways we feel severed from ourselves, from others, and from life. We forget our own innocence, and our own delight.
But like the sun, we, too, shine with radiant light. And we all have places where we can feel that utter contentment, where all feels right in the world.
I think those places can make us weep, the way their lay lines call us home.
In her poem, When I Am Among the Trees, Mary Oliver writes about her journeys in the forest, where she feels that blessing of belonging:
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It's simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
Surprisingly, when we're struggling with compulsions and addictions, one of the most helpful tools or allies we can employ is play: to play in the sun or in the woods or in the ocean waves, to laugh and romp like dogs, to trundle in a place of beauty that reminds us of who we are, how we belong, and how we shine.
We need places where wonder can crack in, where we can delight in ourselves again, in our own delicious aliveness.
It's so easy to dismiss play, and to think that something so simple can't make a difference. But oh, how it can.
I'll close with a final image. Today while walking the dogs, I stopped to visit an owl's nest that rests in a giant cottonwood.
I've visited this nest daily for the past several months as a local pair of owls have cared for their young. For many weeks, all you saw was the tops of momma's ears and her intent eyes as she sat on her eggs, so cleverly concealed in a hole in the tree.
And all you heard was the hooting of papa nearby, warning away any potential threats to his brood.
After a few weeks, you saw the tops of two brown furry heads. Now, in May, the owlets are nearly full size, and they can easily be mistaken for momma as they sit in the tree branches in the afternoons.
Soon they will have their feathers and will fly away.
Today I wondered if that was the case, for I didn't see the owls when I approached their home. And then I saw him: he was laying down on a nearby, sturdy branch, napping, his wings twitching in his dreams.
Who knew: owls, too, take naps in the heat of the afternoon!
Owls, too, know that delicious belonging to summer, to heat and to sun.
Owls, too, know how to come home.