When was the last time you played?
The last time I played was this Monday, when I babysat my two-year-old nephew. He literally demanded, “Play with me!” when I arrived at my sister’s house. I love that little kids demand this of those around them, whether they be young or old, to get down on the floor and start a game of make-believe. It is interesting to “play” as an adult, to get a view of the world we long ago put away. The child is fervent with imagination, with creativity, devoid of self-consciousness. Every day is something new, something born of the mind.
For the next few hours, my nephew and I played with cars, we played with figurines, we built houses with legos and zoos for plastic animals. We just played. There were no rules except that I participate, that I go along for the ride.
At first I didn’t really know what to do, how to play. I had forgotten how to get down on the floor and become absorbed in a world of my own making. I couldn’t help wondering, Am I doing this ‘right’? As if there is a right or wrong way to get creative. As adults, we often forget how to be creative because playing is seen as a childish thing to do. It’s a waste of time. We should be checking emails, starting businesses, taking meetings. Which can all be seen as play if we choose to look at them this way.
To craft an email is to play with words, to distill and define what we want to say. To start a business is to get creative, to find out what works and what doesn’t. To take a meeting is to try to ascertain what the other person wants, to play well with others. We can and should take a page from kids. There is a playing field where the possibilities are endless. If we open ourselves up to it.
After playing with my nephew, I realized that I, too, ‘play.’ I don’t build houses out of legos, I don’t smash cars into each other while saying, “Vroom, vroom,” but I play. I don’t play nearly as much as I should, or as freely as a child would, but I engage with my imagination when I sit down at my computer to write. I play when I step onto my yoga mat, experimenting with what feels good or pushing myself to try a new pose. I play when I (rarely) attempt to cook something edible.
After playing with my nephew, I realized that though I sometimes play in my own way, I don’t play with the wild and free abandon of a child. I subject myself to self-criticism, I doubt what I am doing. I over-analyze rather than effortlessly sliding into the ease and grace that arises when you are doing something that should be seen as fun, enjoyable.
Though yoga is something I do for myself, for my mind more than my body, I often find the voice in my head comparing myself to those around me when I take a class. Though my writing is something I do for the sheer pleasure of it, for the joy I feel when I am pursuing my passion, I often find myself comparing what I’ve written to the words of those who have blazed the trail before me. I wonder if I will ever be able to do a headstand or write a “perfect” sentence. I see the woman beside me on her mat in a bind and scold myself for not being able to do that yet. I read a book and chide myself for not having written something so substantial, so awe-inspiring.
But when I sat down on the floor with my wild, free nephew, I saw that of course he does not do this. He does not have a critical mind; he has an elastic, absorbent brain that flutters with possibility. I saw that he explores and creates without second thoughts. If what he creates is destroyed, whether it be accidentally or on purpose, he simply starts over. Or transforms what he has made by adding something that I would never have thought to add, like a flower or a bright blue feather to the top of a lego turret.
My nephew taught me that play should be unencumbered, that it can and should be experimental, fluid, easy, curious. His curiosity struck me as much as he creativity did. I can be curious about how the woman on the yoga mat beside me has accomplished a difficult bind, but not envious. I can be curious about how an admired writer has created a work of beauty, but not compare it to what I write. I can play with the possibility that I may be able to “take a bind” if I simply try. If I fail, I can try it again, when I am stronger from more practicing, which can be seen as a form of play. I can play with the possibility that I will write something of beauty, but only if I relinquish the self-imposed pressure.
Pressure is something adults are very capable of feeling and creating, but perhaps we should be feeling and creating in the realm of play, where there are no rules, where pressure does not exist. If we give ourselves permission to play, pressure dissipates. If we approach our endeavors playfully, with curiosity and creativity, the inner critic is no longer offered the opportunity to judge. Play cannot be judged, because it is experimental, frivolous, necessary, imaginative. The imagination is not a realm of rules, of should-dos and should-haves. The imagination is a realm where anything is possible.
If I am to play without judgement, then I need to give myself permission to follow my dreams with abandon, with intention, with fullness. I need to give myself permission to not be afraid of what may or may not happen, to surrender to whatever outcome, to believe in myself. I need to give myself permission to believe that I have what it takes, that I am on the right path, that I know what is right, wrong, okay, doable, believable, within my reach.
I need to give myself permission to play because to play is to dream big. To play is to pursue as many avenues as I wish, to not limit myself because I don’t believe I have the knowledge to advance. I need to give myself permission to help people by playing with my passion, to write freely, to live the life I wish to live.
If I approach the world playfully, then I give myself permission to trust myself and my intuition, to know that what I want in this life is possible, to give myself over to the divine voice that dwells within, who knows even when I don’t know myself what I am doing, who knows what the outcome of my perseverance will be.
When my two-year-old nephew demanded that I play with him, he invited me into his world of possibility. When he did this, my nephew unknowingly reminded me that I need to give myself permission to not be afraid of the unknown, of failure. When we play, we are unafraid of the unknown, because the unknown is simply an exciting new terrain to explore. When we play, failure does not exist. To play is to trust the opportunities that come our way, to follow them with a clear, curious, and open heart. I can take the chances that are put before me with the trust that everything will turn out as it should. And if things come crashing down like a lego tower, I can rebuild or reimagine what I hoped I would see. Like my nephew does when he plays.
I wish you a wild, free life.