“The masters in the art of living make little distinction between their work and their play, their labor and their leisure, their minds and their bodies, their information, their recreation, their love and their religion. They hardly know which is which, they simply pursue their vision of excellence at whatever they do, leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing.” ~ James Michener.
Summer is often associated with a time of play. This is when many of us take our holidays and the warmer weather invites us to partake in a variety of outdoor activities. Yet as the summer winds down, I often notice a reluctance to leave the fun and sun. I can hear the distant raindrops of September coming my way, pattering the dry pavement. I feel the temperature dropping steadily, and the hours of sunlight fading away. I can sense the need to refocus, reengage life’s responsibilities, while letting go of the unique dream qualities of my sedentary state.
It is easier to remember to play in the summer. What can be more challenging is to remember to play throughout the year, and throughout your life. Play is a way of living. It is a state of being, or what I call a play state. As children we did not rely on a season or circumstance to be playful. We just naturally were. We found play in splashing in puddles, exploring underneath rocks, watching a large truck drive by, eating yummy spaghetti, laughing for the sake of laughing, scribbling crayons mindlessly, jumping up and down, singing, running, chasing. The changing season and weather could never contain our playful spirit. We were just naturally spontaneous and intimate with life, joyful for the little things and gleefully expressive. Our spirit was unbounded and nothing seemed impossible.
What did change our play state was that we were raised to be little adults too soon. Social conditioning, expectations, and the increasing burden of responsibilities took their toll. And for those of us, like me, who felt connected to the innocence of the play state longer than others, we increasingly found it hard to find playmates (friends, family, community members) who embodied play and therefore encouraged and validated our authentic Self. We lost touch with our aliveness, our sense of wonder, and became strangers in a strange land, trying to fit in, getting on with the business (busy-ness) of life. Ugh!
By this time our play state was beginning to be compartmentalized into a tidy box built by walls of fear, guilt and shame, and expressed as the following beliefs:
- I won’t be taken seriously
- Play is irresponsible
- Idle hands are the work of the devil
- It is selfish to focus on myself
- I must always put others first
- It’s not safe to be free and expressive – to be myself
- I’ll be judged
- Work first, then play
- I’m not creative
- I have to work hard
- Play is childish
- I have to be strong
- I need to be responsible
- I’m not worthy / good enough
- I’m unlovable
- I’m not loving
- I don’t have time
And the imbalanced adult state was born.
The inner compartmentalization of our natural play state is manifested outwardly by the way adults design society. We have compartmentalized play into weekends and holidays. This is a time for work, being serious and attending responsibilities, and this is a time for play. Adults even say, “Work first, then play”. As a result, life becomes more predictable and less spontaneous. There is less room and safety to be your natural playful self wherever you are.
We have also compartmentalized ourselves into adult roles that are a crystallization of fear, guilt, shame and limiting beliefs unique to our path. There are many types of adult roles we take on including, Whistle Blower, Helper, Initiator, Avoider, and Protector.
The Helper, for instance, has a hard time saying no to responsibilities, and yes to spontaneous foolery. She believes she needs to put others first and that it is bad or selfish to put herself first. She is afraid of vacating this role due to guilt, and a fear that no one else will occupy it, let alone occupy it in the same way she does.
These roles serve an emotional function in the world. The problem is that we identify with them. We have taken them on, and find safety and comfort in them, afraid to release control and embrace the unpredictable and alive nature of the play state we once felt so comfortable in.
Children in their natural play state do not identify with these roles. They identify with their playful spirit. They may play with a role imbuing it with creativity and fun, or with the flexibility to release it and be open to other ways of being. So long as they are in their natural play state, they are still fluid, crying one moment, serious and focused in another and completely silly a moment later.
“The truly great advances of this generation will be made by those who can make outrageous connections, and only a mind which knows how to play can do that.” ~ Nagle Jackson
While it is true we need to be adults and have an adult mindset to be productive and healthy in our world, it is also important to always have one foot in our play state. We can raise our children, and ourselves, to be balanced in both worlds – our play state always reminding us of the simple joys of connecting, dreaming, laughing, enjoying the moment, and the adult state ensuring we are focused on the business of life. Grounded in both we can live a healthy, productive and wonder-full life.
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