I made a conscious choice to read something inspiring this morning; something that would leave a positive residue on my mind, heart and soul, rather than some of the fiction I’ve been reading lately which leaves me feeling either angry or anxious or, sometimes if I’m really lucky, both at the same time!
I chose to continue reading “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Brene Brown. Before I continue, if you haven’t read anything by Brene Brown, run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore and buy whatever they have of hers on their shelves. She also has a website and a Facebook page that I highly encourage you to visit.
Today’s inspiration came from the chapter titled “Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-worth”.
In 2005 I accepted a severance package from my 20-year stint in the financial industry (the last 10 years of which involved project and risk management) and switched gears to teach yoga and experience joy in my life. Prior to that, joy was NOT a daily experience for me. In fact, when I was in my early 30’s and was in the early states of discovering how I could move from daily depression to daily fulfillment, someone asked me what I was passionate about. My mind drew a blank…I could not come up with a single thing…and that scared the hell out of me.
Although I spent some time feeling even more depressed about not having an answer, a seed had been planted…the seed of desire to ‘know what I was passionate about’. And I spent the next 15 years courageously exploring options. It started by simply putting myself out there and literally asking “Can I play with you?” I had been observing some of the women in my work group who appeared to be enjoying life. They did not seem as anxious or defensive as me and were surrounded by friends who they spent time having fun with. It took a lot of courage for me to step forward and ask if I could be a part of that because my harsh inner critic kept telling me that no one wanted to ‘play with me’ because I wasn’t any fun, I was too serious, too intense, too angry…etc. The miracle of taking that first step was being accepted.
I joined a co-ed baseball team which helped me to meet more people who were also committed to adding fun to their daily working lives. This led to playing volleyball with some of those folks and then becoming closer friends with a smaller group of women. Over the years we created and explored ‘fun-time’ activities together, like camping, hiking, potluck dinners, candle parties (many of these), to name a few. We made getting together just for the sheer enjoyment of doing so a priority in our lives.
During this time I was also actively exploring my ‘spiritual’ side and deeply committed to increasing my ‘self-awareness’ so that I could ‘own my stuff’. Although these sound like clichés, they are critically necessary aspects of my life today and I continue my commitment to them. This led me to practicing and then teaching yoga for a living…which then led to experiencing Yoga Dance.
It was during my first foray into this modality that I had what I can only describe as a spiritual awakening regarding the importance of play for humans (as demonstrated to us EVERY DAY by children) and most especially for ‘adult’ humans who demonstrate how much we’ve forgotten about this very necessary aspect of living. During my Yoga Dance training, I was given the opportunity to play every day for many hours over a 2-week period. I was then instructed to take this out to the world in whatever way I could and encourage others to play. Another week of training/playing and then I was certified to guide humans to express themselves authentically through what psychiatrist and researcher, Dr. Stuart Brown describes as ‘purposeless play’.
Drawing on his research as the founder of the National Institute for Play, Dr. Brown has discovered that “play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation.” (The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 100) Dr. Brown continues to describe play as ‘purposeless’ and Brene Brown expands on this by explaining that “we play for the sake of play…we do it because it’s fun and we want to.” (The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 100)
This caught my attention and reminded me that over the past couple of years, I’ve lost my sense of play. I’ve become so immersed in ‘adult’ responsibilities (that are very real and can be all-consuming), I’ve convinced myself that they are more important than engaging in play just because I want to; that playing is indulgent when there are so many other serious things that need to be done. Brene’s next statement really hit home: “In today’s culture – where our self worth is tied to our net worth, and we base our worthiness on our level of productivity – spending time doing purposeless activities is rare. The idea of spending time doing anything unrelated to the to-do-list actually creates stress. We convince ourselves that playing is a waste of precious time.” (Ibid, p. 100)
The final quote I’d like to share with you about play is once again from Dr. Stuart Brown: “The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression. True play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.” (Ibid, p. 101)
Thankfully, as a consequence of my desire to deepen self-awareness, I realized over the past year how little play I was engaging in and how re-committing to play was critical to my physical, emotional and mental well-being. In spite of my inner critics’ warning that spending time on play would be self-indulgent and would take me away from the parenting duties I share with my husband in raising his kids and managing our shared household, I courageously stated to my husband that I needed to join a concert band again (something I had been involved with and loved doing for 10 years prior to our getting married). Rehearsals are on a night that we have the kids with us (shared custody) and so there are inevitably kids activities and requests for taxiing around the city that he is now 100% responsible for on that night. It has been challenging for him and he has commented that Tuesday nights are the most exhausting ones for him each week. Although my heart reaches out to him and I feel some guilt about not being at home to help out, I remain committed to my personal well-being because I know that this commitment helps me to make more positive impacts on the family (rather than leaving that residue of anger and anxiety I spoke about earlier).
In witnessing my husband’s frustration and exhaustion and purposefully not trying to fix that for him, I have given him the space to realize he, too, is worthy of experiencing play-time. He recently stated that he deserved time to simply play, just like the rest of the family. There was a moment when I felt anxious about defending my choices but then I put that aside and agreed with him, that yes, he does deserve that and what does he want to do about it? He is now considering activity options that he can engage in on a weeknight when we don’t have the kids and his time is more his own to manage.
I know there is more that I can explore regarding play. In fact, a few weeks ago, the very group of women I used to play baseball and volleyball with, to camp and hike with, to dine and laugh with participated in an outdoor ‘Treetop Adventure’ just because we wanted to. It was a Sunday afternoon of laughing, physical challenges and some fear of falling thrown in for good measure. Not only was this another great ‘playtime’ experience for me but it also helped me to quiet my inner critics’ constant blabbing about how I was too old for physically challenging activities. In one afternoon, I have been reminded that I have both inner and outer strength and that I am so very worthy of spending time at ‘purposeless play’.
In health, wellness and play,