“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw
I wonder if you have ever heard of the story about the monkey and the river? I had not, until reading it last week in a beautiful book called The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. The story goes like this:
It is said a great Zen teacher asked an initiate to sit by a stream until he heard all the water had to teach. After days of bending his mind around the scene, a small monkey happened by, and, in one seeming bound of joy, splashed about in the stream. The initiate wept and returned to his teacher, who scolded him lovingly, “The monkey heard. You just listened.”
The initiate was brought to tears because all of his reverence, devotion and meditation had not brought him to the joyous moments of play of the monkey. He never really felt the river and what it had to offer him. The monkey innately knew about being embodied with the river, instead of sitting to ponder its meaning. There was no holding back!
I had to ask myself the question, “How much time are you giving to play and uninhibited, sense filled enjoyment in any particular moment?” As the monks on the roller coaster (yes, this is one of my favorite pictures of all times) hold their hands up in the air in pure joy and play we feel their moments of exhilaration. With their mouths wide open I am certain that expressions of many different emotions are coming forth. It blows any preconceived notions we had about what a monk should be like now doesn’t it?!
Play encourages fearlessness – to explore one’s world; to test boundaries and step beyond resistance; to prepare one for the unpredictable; to reward flexibility, creativity, and a willingness to let go into the unknown. Our strong survival imperative has us most often hanging on and contracting in tight little balls of fear – but play can change that in one instant!
Yesterday, our yoga teacher decided that the entire class would be devoted to play. Now serious yoga students often get caught up in the asana (the yoga pose) and how well they can do it. Little do many of those people know that most asana was created out of a sense of curiosity around what the human body can do. Curiosity leads to play. Play leads to joy and coming up with something completely and absolutely new!
The last part of our class had us divided into two groups. Each group would take 3 minutes to move to a certain music chosen by our teacher and the other group would be the audience. As I watched the first group “performing” it was quite obvious that almost everyone was locked into some semblance of a traditional yoga pose, sometimes attempting to string them together in a flow of sorts. The difficulty letting go was apparent.
It made me reflect on how tight we hold ourselves in every day life for fear of either “doing it wrong” or “being judged” followed by the inevitable – “I am just not good enough”. We focus on doing something the way we think it SHOULD look or be done (color within the lines please) instead of doing something out of a sense of playful improvisation finding that completely new possibilities will arise from this place of creation.
The illusion of control is always ever present – do we really ever experience exactly what we thought it would be like?
When it came our groups turn to “perform” I made an instant decision. I closed my eyes and as the music started it’s funky beat I became the music. Becoming the music meant that my body senses were on high drive. Everything within me let go to create in the moment based on what I was feeling, and driven by my bodies natural rhythms. What could have been an anxious 3 minutes became outrageous play and a very strong experience of joy.
As I bowed with hands at my heart along with my group I realized that there was no “wrong way” and the only judgement that would have any negative impact would have been my own. After class one woman came up to me with a big smile on her face and said, “I enjoyed watching you so much. You were so free and looked like you were completely enjoying yourself in creating the movements. I want to be able to do that too.”
“If we follow all the rules, we miss all the fun.“ Katherine Hepburn
SO….we always have a choice! Next time you feel like you need to “get it right” please take a very big inhale and let go into that glorious sense filled body of yours. It will lead the way – PLAY!!
P.S. A little example of the animal kingdom in full out play….I know that you will smile!!
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