“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realise they were the big things.” ~ Robert Brault
There is something to be said about doing what’s enjoyable simply for the sake of joy; about letting loose, being swept up in the moment, lost without a care, just as children are. I learned the unmistakable importance of this truth many years ago… the hard way.
For over four years I was dead broke. I had a lofty vision in mind—to lead workshops publically, as well as build a life coaching practice. There was initial success after completing my professional training, but what little there was begun to sour, and slowly I spiraled downwards along an onerous path I could never have imagined.
A low point was, while speaking to my one remaining client, she sensed angst in my voice and asked if there was something wrong. At that moment I burst into tears, saline rivulets dripping on my prim shirt leaving me soddenly embarrassed and utterly devastated. How could I look like such an unprofessional fool to this person who was paying me to gather support? But evidently, I needed an empathetic ear that day, perhaps more than her, for I had found a new low. The fall from grace didn’t stop there, however.
Not long after, I was convinced by concerned family members to apply for financial assistance from a local government office that handed out subsidies to fledgling entrepreneurs. After handing in my application to the official, and he got a sense of my situation, he asked for clarification on my designation.
“What exactly is a Life Coach?”
“I help people in various aspects of their lives by asking them lots of questions and supporting them to find their own answers and take empowered action.”
“And what areas do you help with?”
“Relationships, career, recreation, business…” He frowned me into silence. I knew exactly where this was going.
“Don’t you think it is somewhat ironic that you are struggling so much and coming here for financial aid and you are helping others with their business?” he asked with an air of poorly managed sardonicism.
Understandably, he had a point, despite the fact that I was an excellent coach. Nonetheless, my application was denied.
Again, utterly embarrassed and devastated.
Meanwhile, my mentor Lynda Austin, who was guiding me for free, kept urging me to do what brings me joy. “Anything!” she’d regularly tell me. “It does not matter what you do, just do something!” She also reminded me of my martyr/ things-need-to-be-hard-work complex with zingers such as: “Whenever you say the words, ‘I should’ substitute ‘I don’t want to.’” And, “If you look for work, sure enough you’ll find it.”
But I couldn’t see many joyful options. Everywhere I turned my life seemed to only become more desolate. I was isolated, increasingly depressed and could barely afford a cup of tea. There was no joy in sight, just anxiety, concern that the credit would not stop piling up and I was destined for a dreary job and life.
Getting a job was not an option. That would have been death. I had to keep going, somehow. I could not, in any way, take my eyes off the prize. That would be giving up, turning away from the dream, abandoning my soul to drudge every morning in a dark suit towards doleful skyscrapers or in a white stained apron to the back of some greasy kitchen stacking dirty dishes. I was stubbornly fierce and determined, irrationally optimistic, somehow walking step after weary step across a never-ending desert.
As you may imagine, those who cared most about me thought me to be quite insane.
One night in particular stands out to me. It was 9pm and I had just gotten off the phone with Lynda. Our conversation went something like this:
“Lynda, I just want to give up. I am so sick and tired of marketing, of trying to make this work!”
“Yes!” she replied, emphatically. “Giving up is the gate!”
Not the response one may expect, especially given our culture of “Never give up!” But those were the words spoken, and something deep inside me resonated with them.
There I sat after the call was over on my old tattered beige, black and white couch, my mind stewing, as usual, over what to do next, when suddenly I heard a man scream from the top of his lungs, “I give up!!!” I ran to my balcony and there, standing before me, directly on the street below, was a man I’d never seen before. He then yelled, “Let a new life begin!!!” And quietly this mysterious man sauntered away into the dark mist, his timely message delivered.
Surrendering into emptiness
“And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling
A year a later, while sitting on the toilet (TMI?), hunched over on the throne that men find great refuge in, I began to surrender this long battle, to let go so to speak (excuse the pun)! Maybe, I thought, just maybe I should do something that brings me joy and forget, for a while, about this dream of mine. Just give it a break, let it go, and have some fun.
This was incredibly scary for me. I had no money, and felt I could not afford to stop trying. This was the time I should be doubling my efforts, tripling them, worrying even more, praying, writing my goals down, putting up vision boards, stating affirmations, doing all the law of attraction activities that seemed completely useless. But something in me said: You cannot keep doing this. You know that. Just put your attention elsewhere for a while, and trust!
And so I did.
“Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of Joy and just be Joyful.” ~ Anonymous
And what was it that was joyfully alive in me? Improv! For months I had been daydreaming of my old days on stage creating stories, inhabiting variegated foolish characters, Yes Anding others in the dance of uncertain emergence, and having a good hardy laugh. Boy how I wished I could do that again! And so bravely I took a step towards this uncertain possibility.
Fending off all the crunchy bits of resistance, the persistent voices in my head screaming “Do not let go! Stay the course otherwise your dream is over and you’ll be hunting for work”, I mustered the will to phone an old friend who owned a yoga studio. I asked her if I could do some classes, but “pay” through an exchange—improv classes for asanas. To my delight, she said Yes!
The flyers were made, emailed out and hung on the studio’s bulletin board announcing TGIF: Thank God Improv Friday! And soon enough I was standing in front of a room of 12 people leading Bus Stop, Word at a Time, and Status Shift. Somehow, despite my agony, I was able to gather myself and lead a few very well received sessions.
And then destiny came calling.
A woman I had no prior contact with phoned me. She told me how she saw that I was leading improv and was herself a teacher of the art. She passionately spoke about play, and how she was writing a book about the subject.
Play! Hmmmm. A light bulb went off.
Improv was great, but not sustainable. People are afraid to act, let alone in front of others. And the class sizes were dwindling. I had to take on a new angle, to alter and expand my branding, my message, my purpose—for it to be about the joy of play. The wisdom of improvisation—embracing ambiguity, being present, open, flexible and imaginative—would be part of what I taught, but not the whole message. Play was a much grander umbrella to swing under, and I began to see many more possibilities beneath.
Not long after, I got the idea to create Remembering to Play—a fun and interactive playshop that was easier for people to participate in, more enjoyable, and that had greater relevance to their lives. For, we all love to play in some way, but not all of us want to act (although we are improvising the moment we wake up!).
I was excited! There was a ray of hope! A slim one, because time was running out. Now on my fifth credit card, the pressure was mounting and the cupboards were becoming progressively barren.
That was when a man named Ross Tayler contacted me. He had done the same coach training I had, found me online, and wanted to connect. I told him how I was thinking of creating Remembering to Play, and he ambitiously suggested helping me lead a few playshops in his community of Squamish. That we did, and it was a hoot and hit! About twenty people came each time at $20 a head. I had money! I was rich! Hurray! We celebrated at Starbucks. Cup of tea for me, please! My big splurge!
But now what? Where do I go from here? How do I get the word out? How do people find me? Time was ticking! And there were no takers. I was out of luck…
Night fell hard as the seeming stars of fortune faded on me. I thought I saw them for a while winking at me, but perhaps they were just teasing. And so I did what I thought I would and could never do. I picked up the North Shore News and started the painful search for the painful job. Tears literally dripped down from my cheeks onto the classifieds, the dishwasher, gardener, accountant openings. I was officially at rock bottom.
“When you embrace the emptiness of space you will then embrace the fullness of space.” ~ Lynda Austin
That night I lay in bed on my back like a lump, staring bleakly through the soft faded blue moonlight that poured through the window, saturating the air, coating the walls and ceiling. Entranced I was, lost, confused, utterly nonplussed.
It was over. I couldn’t believe it. But it was. I knew it.
It was then that I felt my fixated mind relent, tight grip loosen and tired jaw begin to drop. My heart warmed ever so slightly. And, for the first time, the fear of getting a job felt less than the pain of carrying on.
I let myself dream, and wonder, and imagine. I let myself venture beyond the vision I clung so desperately to. What if, I asked myself, I did get a job? And what if I found something that truly fed me, that I woke to each morning with a spring in my step? And who might I meet there, what friendly travelers might saddle up beside me, befriend me and swap a story or two with me?
The warmth in my chest expanded, so much so that it filled the room, and then went beyond the walls out in all directions into the dim starry night waiting for me. Joy was no longer out there; suddenly, it was right here, and everywhere. It was here all along. I no longer had to search for it.
A profound sigh of relief filled me from head to toe followed by a deep exhale, my breath being held for so long. I let go, my hands softening more, slipping open as I slipped into otherworlds.
“The bird of paradise alights only upon the hand that does not grasp.” ~ John Berry
That night I had a dream.
I was lying on a hospital bed when two beautiful angels came to visit me. There was an indescribable sense of kinship with them, stronger than with anyone I had ever known. One sat on my bed. She was warm, gentle and loving. I felt like I had known her and the other angel for as long as the stars shone. We spoke for a while. Little of what words passed are remembered, except for these two things she said:
“Offer Remembering to Play to doctors and nurses.”
“And, get paid for it?” I responded, hopefully.
“No, offer it for free.”
Next morning I awoke feeling deeply blessed, yet was deeply questioning as well, wondering if what I had experienced was for real. I had had guidance in dreams before, but this was so practical, so timely, so lucid that I just could not afford to not act on it. Literally!
And so I busied myself with creating a dreadful, rudimentary one-page Remembering to Play MS Word outline that was missing an m in Remembering in the large font title. (I would later notice when it was too late—Remebering.) I then proceeded to phone and email every health authority in the province, laboring to find the right contact in these large complex mazes. When I finally spoke to the HR Manger, Training Coordinator, or whomever was the in charge of professional development, despite my no-cost offer, they all turned me down. Perhaps it was because of the missing m.
Again, now what?
I thought you told me to offer Remembering to Play to doctors and nurses for free! I did that, didn’t I, despite having no money? But, still, I, my life, is a shambles!
Loosing patience, I wandered up to the local metaphysical store to see if I could speak to the intuitive working there. Laura, whom I had had readings with before, was not in at the moment, the manager Candace informed me. But just then, the phone rang. It was Laura. Candace told her that I wanted to speak to her and Laura, bless her heart, said she’d come straight down.
My waning heart jumped!
With eagerness pulsing through my veins, I leaped in front of Laura like a ravenous dog the moment I saw her and spilled the details of my circumstances and dream all over her. I could not wait. The conversation unfolded by the front entrance, not in the back room where she normally conducted readings. Customers came in and out and smoky cars barreled along; yet nothing else mattered at this point. My eyes were fixed on her, every word mattering to the utmost. Everything was hinging on this moment.
A thought came to her: “You know whom you should offer your playshop to? My friend Bev Smith, who works for the Ministry of Social Services.” And guess who walked in the door at that very moment. Yup, you guessed it—Bev.
I was dumbstruck. I knew, absolutely knew at that moment I was being summoned from secret worlds! There would be no doubt thereafter.
Summoned I was, because a week later a woman I was conversing with at a fair told me to offer my playshop to Rob Smith, team leader for the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Just then, literally when she mentioned his name, he walked right behind her. Later he hired me.
And it went from there, better and better, though not without an initial slog. I worked hard, phoned and emailed hard, and eventually got noticed and referred to with increasing frequency. My phone rang and inbox slowly filled, and soon, to the great joy of myself and concerned family and friends, I went into the black. The coffers began to smile again and I could buy that cup of tea stress free.
Joyfully making room for the mystery
“A wise man enjoys the detours along the way.” ~ Russell Austin
What an incredible feeling to walk through that long dark tunnel to the other side; to have my debt paid off and feel the guiding supportive wind at my back. Financial security doesn’t make people happy, but my goodness, it sure helps!
But, you see, money doesn’t fill my bank account and purpose isn’t felt without first choosing joy… for joy’s sake; without letting joy lead the way. At that seminal moment when calling the yoga studio it was not about making money, getting anywhere or having anything; it wasn’t about any tangible results. Money had to be forgotten, for a while; outcomes had to be forgotten, for a while; the future had to be forgotten, for a while; and, instead, it needed to be and was simply about the fun, the play, the joy. Now!
What an act of self-love!
How many times have you heard stories where people finally give up on something and that very thing soon miraculously arrives? Perhaps it is giving up on the struggle to conceive a child, to find a mate, or to find that lost thought you had a moment ago. Often it is the case that when the seeking mind surrenders, when the future gives way to the present, what you seek finds you.
A year later, when my business started gaining momentum, I remember impatiently waiting on two important calls from prospective clients. I had a lot riding on these potential contracts, for while my bank account was healthier than it had been for years, the financial buffer was not quite yet what I wanted. And so I paced, and fretted, and debated whether to contact them again, and still, they didn’t call. Finally, I said, screw it! I made the clear choice to forget about them and move on, starting with a long rollerblade around the seawall and followed by a nice long nap by the ocean. When I got home, I discovered both had reached out while I was out and about at play.
Think this is a coincidence? I assure you not. But we believe it to be because we have been trained from an early age to be little workers living separate from life, living for the future, instead of the moment.
“True joy results when we become aware of our connectedness to everything.” ~ Paul Pearsall
We take play away from children at alarming rates not realizing that play for the sake of play is far from frivolous. It is potently creative, as in creating your life; it teaches us to embrace uncertainty, and it opens us to possibilities, to the orchestrating intelligence of the Cosmos, and the power of now. Through the fluid nature of unstructured play children stay attuned to their intuition, their imagination and dreams, and to the steady stream of nudges sent from otherworlds… of course, that is, if we let them play.
That fluidity, that openness to possibilities, is what I surrendered to when I released my stubborn fixation, the rigid grip clinging to the harbor. I floated out across the empty sea without any clue where I was going, open and available to the winds. I set sail into the yoga studio, into conversations with new unexpected friends, into my idea for Remembering to Play, into exploring possibilities with Ross, into taking risks and guessing and testing, all of which a playful attitude moves us to do. And doors opened.
But again, I must make this very clear: this does not happen unless I embrace those same sinuous and malleable qualities that children embody so well through their playfulness; unless I give up being the hard working, gotta “make it”, do it all myself, obstinate, myopic adult. Ridding myself of my conditioning, the ossified dogma preached to and stuck in me, was clearly extremely difficult.
While I did end up working hard, most of it, especially as I gathered steam, did not feel like work, for I increasingly loved what I did. I wasn’t going to work every day, but rather to play, the winds behind my back each step of the way.
What if we allowed children to remain in this most natural, fluid, intrinsically motivated state from the start? What’s possible for them? What magnificent things could they create? How might they make a positive difference in the world?
I’m reminded of what Joseph Campbell once wrote: “When you follow your bliss… doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.” I’m also thinking of the words of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe: “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”
We are not alone living in an accidental universe where it is all up to us. Consider this for yourself. And consider this when raising and educating children. Perhaps you don’t have to control your life, and the lives of children, as much as you think. Hopefully my story provides inspiration.
“As more humans awaken, the word work is going to disappear from our vocabulary, and perhaps a new word will be created to replace it.” ~ Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
The Cosmos longs for us to give up our ideas that we must experience ourselves as separate, working at life. That is what work is—separation consciousness; hence, work at. This is far different than playing with life—playing along with the various synchronicities, the starlight winks that guided me along the way, the winds dancing on my back. In at, we live separate from Providence; but in with, we unite by taking its proffered hand and allowing it to guide us, moving with it, going with the flow. By playing and choosing joy we take the risk to give up control and follow a higher lead.
Janet Gonzalez-Mena beautifully wrote, “The moment I decided to follow instead of lead, I discovered the joys of becoming part of a small child’s world.” What if we applied this wisdom to our relationship with all of life? For, the moment I decided to follow instead of lead, I discovered the joys of living, of feeling connected to something bigger than me. The fact that we are following children more in and out of school is an indicator that we are opening to this kind of trusting relationship with the Cosmos.
This does not mean you don’t initiate with children; nor does it mean I don’t act of my own accord with my plans and agendas; rather, it simply means you dance in co-creation, balanced healthily between initiating and following, action and allowing, creating an improv class and responding to the synchronistic signs. It means having conviction of mind, but being malleable and adaptable when life throws an unexpected curve ball.
This is the quantum leap for humanity—to follow life’s whispers, trust joy and co-create; to give way to the present moment where joy lives such that we hold our future with a tenderer grip and live as children do. Only in the heart do we sense the joyous now, and vice versa, not in the anxious controlling mind that ceaselessly frets over past and future. On that fateful evening laying on my bed, by giving up the future and dropping into my heart I surrendered into uncertainty, the unknown of this moment, the sacred gateway Lynda spoke of where mystery found me and began to do its magic through me!
And so I ask, what is the risk you wish to take around joy, if it is a risk at all? Where do you desire to play for play’s sake, choose joy for joy’s sake? What is the empty sea you wish to embark across?
At minimum, by choosing joy you may find yourself remembering this one precious thing: That in all our efforts to get somewhere and make things happen with our endless agendas, life, ultimately, is about the joy resting in our hearts here and now.
One day I wish for you to have a gentle whisper find your inner ear and remind you of this even more deeply, that life has always been about joy, and we simply forgot. That is why I teach Remembering to Play, for joy and play are already there within us. They are not to be learned, for learning assumes something is separate from you, and that the answer lies in the future. In remembering, however, we re-member with the joyful body of life we, paradoxically, already are.
Children teach us this; such is their immanently bubbling, glowing, beautiful, bountiful joy. Yet time and again we have turned away the many small and brilliant young ones who, in infinitely imaginative ways, and so often at the cost of their frustration, have tried to remind us of this axiom. If only we’d take heed and see them for their love and wisdom, their gifts of remembrance.
We absolutely think we need to control every detail in our life, and thus we control children, their learning and development—their play. But I am here to tell you, from firsthand experience, that you are not in control as much as you think you are. There are other benevolent and intelligent forces at play that wish to take you under their arms. Your real job is to give yourself over, to say a resounding Yes! And, at long last, you will feel like you finally belong.
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults