“There’s no one with intelligence in this town except that man over there playing with the children, the one riding the stick horse. He has keen, fiery insight and vast dignity like the night sky, but he conceals it in the madness of child’s play.” ~ Rumi
Remember when we looked forward to each summer with a full-body ache that made the last days of school drag on and on?
My childhood summers were made up of endless days of sun, swimming, bicycles, and friends.
I spent afternoons sitting beside small streams, or even ditches, watching the minnows dart. Or watching the baby ducks follow single-file behind their mothers while I quietly longed to keep one as a pet.
I had a secret hiding place in a nearby wood. I used to scramble down a steep bluff to a tree growing straight out of the side of the rocks, curving straight again toward the sky like the letter J. I would lay here, as if I were in a recliner, and read book after book over the noisy stream below.
This place was my Terabithia; no one could find me.
Yet as we get older, more responsible, more goal oriented, our summers start to fly by. Maybe we do get out for some sun once or twice, or a weekend a month. This is adulting, right?
These days, I find myself constantly on a timer, like the mom in the playground tapping her foot. “Okay, I know you’re having a good time, but we should go in 15 minutes,” she says.
Long gone is the freedom to wander, count clouds, make forts, climb trees, or pick up a game of football.
Somewhere between the days of my youth and now, I have forgotten to play.
My world is now filled with deadlines and constantly growing stacks of half-finished projects. Evenings and weekends are opportunities to finally catch up on emails, or at best, a leisure activity with emails looming in the background of my thoughts.
We are taught to keep our heads down and work hard; this is the only way to get ahead. Society rewards us for going the extra mile, staying an hour later at the office, working those weekends. In the best cases, we are given performance awards or an atta-boy for our self-sacrifice and hard work. But more often, this is simply the expectation, and anything less means we aren’t trying hard enough.
I’m certainly not saying that hard, honest work is bad (I feel great after a job well done), but I believe that living to make a living undermines our potential. As a result, the months, years, and even decades fly by.
By constantly achieving no matter the cost, emotions such as worry, anxiety, and fear overwhelmed the carefree, fun, and adventurous parts of myself. Success and failure were defined by other people’s expectations of me.
Each milestone reached was immediately followed by striving for the next, and yet I could never be quite good enough.
This realization lead to recognition, introspection, and then to personal growth. I began to ask, how can I break this cycle?
One way to break the old patterns is play. It’s not the miracle fix to everything, but what a fun place to start!
This summer, I made a bold move: I quit my job as a federal scientist to drive across western North America in a tiny teardrop trailer. My quest is to leave behind the busy, embrace the present, and play.
But such drastic measures are not a necessity! We can start by simply remembering how we feel when we let ourselves off the hook. To allow ourselves to just be, without doing or accomplishing anything.
Here are some practical tips for all of us:
>> Create a play corner: A friend created a play corner in her apartment. She has board games and puzzles and Legos and coloring books. Just a glance at the play corner can be a reminder to smile more and relax.
>> (Re-)discover music: Pick up that musical instrument you played when you were a kid. You may find that as an adult, taking lessons and practicing every day is done with joy and missing the resentment you may have felt as a child. Picking up my guitar again stirred up something deep in my lower stomach, and I realized how important music is to my life.
>> Dance: One of the fastest ways to remember play is to dance like no one is watching. You may start alone in your living room, or go out for a night on the town with friends. Partner dancing is another good option; lessons can give you the basic steps needed to start social dancing. Even if you go with a spouse or a partner, dancing with everyone in the room is lighthearted play.
>> Go camping: Being outdoors for an extended amount of time is a fast way to get out of busy mode. There are essential chores, but after cooking and cleaning, the other 22 hours of the day can be spent in any way you like. This can help you remember how you like to play.
>> Free paint: Paint with your fingers, a brush, a spray can, or whatever suits your fancy. You can even find a local studio with an evening class paired with wine or cocktails. Just let go of the outcome and see what takes shape.
>> Go down a water slide: And then do it again. Bring your goggles and diving sticks or try and stand up on a raft and laugh as you clumsily do a belly smacker back into the water. Swim for fun and not just for fitness.
>> Join a sports team/club: Even if you’ve never played a sport before, most clubs are welcoming to beginners. Rugby? Why not? Ultimate Frisbee? Many towns have clubs or online meet-ups with organized hikes, bikes, climbs, and paddles for beginners and experts alike.
>> Get on the floor with your kids: Those with children are constantly surrounded by small sources of play. Our busy lives can keep us from wholly engaging, however. Letting go of calendars and to-do lists by getting on our hands and knees with the little ones can be the entry way into a fantastic and creative world. Don’t have kids? Treat your friends to a night out and borrow their children for an evening.
>> Seek out fun friends: Sometimes we all need a little motivation and few things are better than a friend who brings out the play in us. These people are keepers.
Summer is a great time to remember how to play. Waylon Lewis, the Editor-in-Chief of elephant journal, has some great tips for busy people to reconnect with summer. Let’s all join a challenge to play more!
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
Author: Amanda Sesser
Image: Ali Kanibelli/Unsplash
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Leah Sugerman
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman