“The more an animal needs to learn in order to survive, the more it needs to play…. Play is widespread among animals because it invites problem-solving, allowing a creature to test its limits and develop strategies. In a dangerous world, where dramas change daily, survival belongs to the agile not the idle. We may think of play as optional, a casual activity. But play is fundamental to evolution. Without play, humans and many other animals would perish.”
Diane Ackerman, Deep Play
I have stopped reading and studying about how to be more industrious, how to get more done, and how to be more efficient in my work. I am studying play. The gift in playing is allowing yourself to be a novice, learn something new, to be bad at something and learn how to get better. Women are typically less likely to engage in risky behavior. It may have to do more with our increased perception of the possible negative outcomes (Harris, et als, Gender Differences in Risk Assessment: 2006. ) I know it is true for myself. Last year I traveled to Wyoming for a Rock Climbing Instructor immersion course with Colorado Outward Bound. On one hand I felt like I was in summer camp: tying knots, climbing granite faces, sleeping outdoors; on the other hand, I was challenged to perform, cooperate and continue to play nicely with others. Without a requisite amount of alone time, the last trait becomes difficult for me. That is why Chloe Klingler stood out to me. Only twelve years my junior, she kept a delightful attitude, performed well and excelled in our situation, when on the last day, I was ready for a reprieve.
What made her so resilient and agile in our circumstances? The answer is complex. Chloe is currently an Outdoor Adventure Guide at Miraval Resort in Tucson, Arizona (http://www.miravalresorts.com/). She guides people in outdoor experiences including mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, and a challenge course that includes nine elements; basically an adult playground that allows guests to immerse themselves in not only the spa offerings of the resort, but to also exercise their ability to “let go,” “move on,” or to relinquish leadership roles during different facets of their outdoor experience at Miraval. The Adventure Guides facilitate these experiences and give a briefing and debriefing so that guests can more fully appreciate what they experienced and have a greater take away from their experience on the course. Chloe is taking a break from an Eco-Therapy Masters Degree program at Prescott College (http://www.prescott.edu/academics/concentrations/therapeutic-applications-adventure-education). However, this position is enabling her to both use the skills she learned in her program and is giving her real life experience in the field that she wishes to pursue.
These outdoor “playgrounds” in Ackerman’s words, give people the opportunity to enter “the realm of deep play, the sacred playground where only the present moment matters, one’s history and future vanish. One doesn’t remember one’s past, needs, expectations, worries, real or imaginary sins. The deep-play world is fresh, wholly absorbing, and full of its own unique wisdom and demands. Being able to temporarily step outside of normal life—while keeping one’s senses alert — is indeed like being reborn. To erase all memories and yearnings — to be vigorously alive without self-awareness — can provide a brief return to innocence. ‘No human being in innocent,’ poet W.H. Auden observes, ‘but there is a class of innocent actions called games.’”
Chloe also practices what she teaches. She and her dad have now completed 3 legs of the Pacific Crest Trail over 3 consecutive summers. Last summer they completed Snoqualmie Pass to Steven’s Pass in Washington State. This summer they took on the Seiad Valley in Northern California to Ashland, Oregon. Whether they are enduring the ten days of unrelenting downpour they experienced last year or the 80 degree sun they were promised this year, Chloe and her dad “focus on the beauty of it and try not to be too bummed out that they cannot feel their hands.” As section hikers, they can take the time to move a little slower carving out 60-120 miles of the trail that they want to complete at a time. From the time she was a kid, her dad taught her about the great playgrounds of the mountains. He grew up on the Sierra Nevadas near Bishop, California. This year they chose a portion of the trail that would allow her dad to carry less. Recovering from shoulder surgery, their first day was to bea climb in elevation, followed by 50 miles of leveled out ridgeline, and the last day was a big decline. “Above all, play requires freedom. One chooses to play. Play’s rules may be enforced, but play is not like life’s other dramas. It happens outside ordinary life, and it requires freedom.” The Gap Fire kicked them off the section they anticipated this year. They opted to hike the next section up: “Fish Lake south to Callahan's Lodge. The terrain on this section was smooth sailing, being mostly flat and forested with great views of Shasta, even with the fire right near it (a lesson in learning to be okay with changing plans 5 days prior)!” They attempt to travel light with a 60L Osprey backpack, lightweight gear, a whisper light stove, and for water she recommends the Platypus GravityWorks System (sold on Amazon.com and REI.com). For food they stick with granola for breakfast, pro-bars for lunch and Mountain House meals for dinner.
As the Arizona summers limit the activities that people can do, special arrangements need to be made for all activities. For sport, Chole will use an indoor climbing gym and the rock wall at the resort during the summer. For sport and for work, they can utilize Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains of Southeast Arizona ( www.mtlemmon.com) to cool down from the hot summer temps. The mountain biking and the challenge course are available year round for guests at the spa,however they are offered at dawn in order to beat the heat. Chloe had to complete a Wilderness First Responder course which she highly recommends to people who want to spend a good deal of time in the outdoors. She not only practiced skills repetitively that she can use and have helped her responds to injuries from guests, but she also created a lot of personal connections with the people she met there who are outdoor enthusiasts as well.
So as if her studies in EcoTherapy, her ability to endure weeks of outdoor survival, and her current position were not enough to shape Chloe; she has also overcome personal obstacles that shaped her ability to engage in deep play. When taking the position at Miraval, she was new to mountain biking. And no matter what training she received in her first responder course, falling off the bike into a cactus in the desert was a real risk as well as the pressure that biking puts on her breathing. Chloe was diagnosed with asthma when she was three year old. When she took her first ride at Miraval she was reminded that “not feeling like I’m falling behind is something that I’ve been working on a long time.” As a kid with asthma, carrying around a fanny pack with her inhaler, having to be cautious about her physical output and being the the brunt of bullying as a result of it, made Chloe rely on a sense of play about the situation early on.
Ackerman describes, “Most forms of play involve competition, against oneself or others, and test one’s skills, cunning, or courage. One might even argue that all play is a contest of one sort or another. To play is to risk: to risk is to play. The word fight derives from the word play. In Indo-European, plegan meant to risk, chance, expose oneself to hazard. A pledge was integral to the act of play, as was danger (cognate words are peril and plight). Play’s original purpose was to make a pledge to someone or something by risking one’s life. “
That is what Chloe realised when she asked herself “ Who’s winning in this situation if I’m limiting myself because of something someone else did?” And when I asked her what helps her handle herself in times of adversity she said “the only way to get better at it is not to stop.” And so it was, when Chloe finally purchased her own mountain bike, she said it was like a switch flipped. It was that one thing she really did not think that she could be good at. But that day she took out her own bike, she finally was able to play. “Stretching from the bedrock of the ordinary to the pinnacle of perfection fills risk-takers with rare confidence, strength, and omnicompetence....It only happens if it’s voluntary, and it can take practice to locate the best field of play and master the necessary focus.” Mountain biking with female guests she gets to share this gift with other women. She enjoys seeing them as they realize they too are free to use their bodies the way it was meant to be used.
There are many impressions I gained from my time with Chloe. No matter what I experience, I want to approach it all as a game. There is no benefit from getting hot and bothered by the actions of others, no matter how unseemly. I need to remember that. At the same time, if I can remember to approach the obstacles I face with a sense of play, enjoy the risk, and then know the result is more fully enjoying my life; playing would not feel so hard. I am grateful to her for her example and I am inspired to put the play back into my Pilates, my running, my climbing and my teaching.
Click here to see more photos from Chloe's hiking and her adventures at Miraval.