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Guidepost #7 Cultivating Play and Rest

The sky, dark blue fading to purple, then  pink and orange---in this instant --- it is hard to tell if it is the morning or night.  Perhaps in contradiction to the title, I am up early to write.  This is my playtime.  Writing is something that brings me both joy and a sense of accomplishment. 

The Adult Day Treatment Program was my what kept me anchored to reality during the early months of my collapse.  Learning about anxiety, medications, depression, relaxation all made sense tome--had value--and could be immediately applied to my situation.  I took copious notes, I participated in class, I reflected, I did what I know best---see problem---tackle problem.

What was difficult for me, was understanding the value of our "recreation" hour
(a.k.a. crafts or games). I remember feeling a bit like I was in a movie or on some gag reel and I was the only one not in on the joke as people moved to pick up half painted wooden boxes, or were already dealing cards out to other patients. 

"Whaaaaaaat am I doooing here???  Are you kidding me?? Me need to get on with it! I don't have time for this! I need to learn how to fix myself and get back to my life!  This is a waste of time!"

The session was run by a therapist whose intention was to remind patients of the value of play--whether through puzzles, card games, painting, drawing, or whatever you wanted to do that was something fun that you enjoyed.  Possibly, something you hadn't done in a while.  One of the key indicators of depression is when someone stops doing things they enjoy (which I NOW know).

"You are never too old to have a good childhood," was her mantra and  still echoes in my head.  Frankly, I thought she was a bit crazy. What was the purpose of this? What was the expected outcome? What was I expected to learn?

This aspect of play having value was a challenge for Brene Brown as she attempted to better understand the Wholehearted.   She had to turn to the research to see if there was anything out there to validate this "play" phenomenon she was observing.   Dr. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute of Play who has identified seven aspects of play. (who knew there was an institute?  How cool would it be to work there?)

Dr. Stewart Brown's identified that play "shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation. " (see Guidepost 6 on Creativity). 

Play, Dr. S Brown says, has no purpose and therefore in our many purpose filled lives, is hard to assign  as value to.   In a world where we identify ourselves by how much we make, how much we have our drive to complete and achieve doesn't leave a lot of room for "purposeless" activities.  In my mind it was a "waste of precious time" and I often found myself trying to rush board games or card game and absolutely refusing to play Monopoly as it just went on forever.  My brain was spinning on all the things that need to be done, my muscles flooding with adrenalin, fighting the urge to move--to do something other than just sit.  When I think about it now, I can only shake my head at how many hours of play with my kids I was never present for (I do not lament the refusals to play video games--these are not my things---I am horrible at them and it is not really play as much as an exercise in frustration for me as my kids yell at me instructions while I run in a circle on the screen.)
It is hard to paraphrase the Dr. Stuart Brown as he explains so well:

The opposite of play is not work---the opposite of play is depression.  Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work.  It can bring back excitement and newness to our job.  Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process.  Most important, 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.

As I looked for a picture of him to include in my post, I found there is a TED Talk YouTube video where he discusses the value of play.  I listened to this one while in the shower: 

So most people having very busy lives.  I am amazed how I can have an equally busy day just getting things done around the house, taking the kids places, taking care of the dogs, and making appointments at doctors, dentists etc.  There are many many days I wonder how I worked AND accomplished all these other things.  I think the key thing here is I didn't do it all. 

Things like play and rest, meditation and exercise; eating (not eating right, just eating at all) and tending to your physical needs took a back seat. When I met with a friend yesterday I told him I had just come from the dentist where I finally faced the fact that I need two root canals and may actually end up losing one front, bottom tooth---either now or a few years down the road.  I actually knew I needed this work done seven years ago----but I just didn't feel I could take the time.  So I put it off.  Just last week I got a crown put on, I have just started massage therapy and (thank you for amazing insurance work!) and will soon add acupuncture to the list.  My nine year old is in school all day---I am lucky.  I now have time and resources and can finally give myself the attention I so desperately need. 

These days, Brene Brown says, "somehow many of us still believe that exhaustion is a status symbol of hard work and that sleep is a luxury".  The media is screaming about overscheduled kids and overstressed adults.  Napping is seen as a weakness--you can't make it through the day---you are lazy--and don't have what it takes.  REAL people muscle through---and if one day you do actually find yourself asleep on the couch, you feel ashamed and the internal dialog starts about all the things you "should" have been doing. (or maybe, confession here, you wake up and someone else points out that you are lazy and you should have been doing something productive.  Yes, that is me to the Spouse.  Note to self: curb that one.  He works hard.  Rest is important.) 

The choice to make rest and play a priority is a tough one in this society where play is "silly" and exhaustion is a badge of honor.  My youngest plays in an afterschool program each day that goes until six.  I feel guilty leaving him there, paying the cost when our budget is tight, when I could pick him up right after school.  This is the first time he is also not in a sport.  So I am choosing to look at it this way.   He gets tons of exercise.  He never wants me to pick him up early. Him being there, allows me to attend MAG and to bring back play and rest to my own life.

It will not be the choice for everyone.  But for me, this time has allowed me to try to redefine what success looks like.  A year ago, success was a title change, a raise, recognition from senior people--all external things--- all elusive, because once you reach each milestone, the milestone moves.  You want another raise, a better job...maybe you change jobs--or houses, or cars.  Only about 10% of our happiness comes from external influences. The rest comes from how we feel about ourselves, others and the world.  So how would the world look if I redefine my goal to have more play, rest and ultimately, more happiness in my life?

The trick here is that like the milestones for financial and professional success, you can't have your objective to be happy 100% of the time.  What is most helpful is to strive for a balanced approach to your life where you understand work can't come at the expense of play and rest and vice versa.  Each fuels the other to allow you to successfully manage the ups and downs that come with life.  Just like time off work often includes work (like mowing the lawn, painting, shoveling the driveway, etc.), so too work should incorporate some aspects of play (taking a walk on your break, reading or crafting or exercising at lunch,  meditating, EATING lunch!)

It is not all or nothing.  It is all about balance.  It is a bit like a recipe---a bit of this and a bit of that -- mixed together will produce a palatable result.  If you are too heavy handed on any one ingredient --you get something awful. 


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