I find life when I go to the local park and I’m not the only one. All kinds of focal practices happen there.
Whenever I show up, I find a steady stream of people in this small and relatively unknown conservation area on the edge of our big city. Some faces grow familiar. There’s the middle aged man who vigorously jogs around the parking lot. And the elderly woman walking her poodle. A Vietnamese family likes to picnic and fish. Others show up to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes on a bench. Or to kick through the sand along the lake’s edge. Or to walk hand in hand with someone special. Parks are like that Field of Dreams refrain: “If you build it, they will come.” Various shapes, sizes, cultures, ages, classes, and agenda all drawn to a place of beauty and relative quiet in the city, a place of wildness or landscaped beauty – a haven, a respite, an oasis.
I am usually there to kayak. I lift the red plastic boat off my car’s roof rack, pleased that this middle aged guy still has enough muscle power to carry that large object. I set it down on the bank of the river that runs along the parking lot. I don life jacket and hat, grab the paddle, put the boat into the water, and then clamber in myself.
As I push off from the shore, I readjust my balance while the boat sways from side to side. Sometimes my launch feels precarious, but I’ve not tipped yet. I breathe deeply a few times and look around. The marshy area across the water teems with wildlife – great blue herons stalking the shallow water, green herons and egrets wading and fishing, beavers and muskrats paddling by, even deer occasionally peeking from the reeds.
Then I steer the boat into the gentle current and leisurely paddle my way toward the lake. I go under a tall bridge – that sometimes explodes with noise as a commuter train speeds across. Where the river empties out, I need an extra hard paddle push to mount the swell of water that waves in from the lake. Once I pass that, the boats bobs up and down. To the left I see an ominous, concrete nuclear power station. To the right, miles of beach and in the distance Toronto’s majestic skyline. But straight ahead is wavy water, with no end in sight. Sometimes clouds are on the horizon. Or flocks of gulls floating nearby.
As I glide over the water, gently guiding my boat with the paddle, tension drains from my shoulders, cares float away. My soul begins knitting itself back together. I am whole and alive once more.
What are the focal practices that are most life-giving to you? What do you notice about yourself when you are engaged in such practices? How can you make more room for those activities in your everyday life?