Today I want to talk about a mindfulness practice that is so simple, it almost seems silly to write about—playing. Although this seems silly, and unrelated to mindfulness, I believe there’s a case to be made for more playtime for us adults.
As we grow up, we are told to devote more and more time to goal attainment and progress:
Make more money!
Buy fancier ( )!
Improve your ( )!
Stop wasting time!
Playing is something toddlers do; playing” is something leisurely; play is taboo.
Indulgence. Pleasure. Leisure—these are all words we are taught to associate with activities that are extraneous and unnecessary, if not downright “lazy. While the culture surrounding me praises the value in taking care of myself and relaxing, I am equally bombarded with messages that there is always more I could be doing.
Society likes to tell us that stress is the best indicator of a strong work ethic, and that leisure time is wasted time…which is why I am writing this as a reminder that goals aren’t always visible, or measurable, to remind myself that achievement comes in so many different forms, and that the concept of “achievement” itself can be seriously detrimental to our well-beings
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how detrimental that mind-set is to my own life, noticing that even when I am in one of my most playful settings—the ocean—I’m often not playing anymore. When even my most favorite place to play becomes an effort, rather than an enjoyment, I know there’s a problem.
The ocean has always been a special space for me. From the time I was little, I was a water baby. I loved playing in the waves, rolling in the sand, and doing underwater handstands. Yet, as time went on, and as I started to become more serious about surfing, I started to see this time as a waste, as unproductive. My mind-set had gone from, “connect with the ocean”, to “if there are no waves, then there’s something else I
could should do instead.” Several months ago, I fought my urge to “perform,” and decided to do something different.
On that day, the waves were blown out almost everywhere. I didn’t want to drive somewhere far, and I was sore from my session the day before. I didn’t want to surf. I wanted to get in the ocean, but not to surf. Which, as ridiculous as it might sound, was difficult for me to reconcile with.
But that day, instead of paddling, I did those underwater handstands. Instead of vying for waves in the line-up, I dog-paddled in circles. Instead of scratching for late take-offs, I rolled around in 6-inch shore-break, dug my toes in the sand and did somersaults in the sand. That day, for just an hour, I let go of my expectations and efforts, and re-connected with the ocean, with the present moment.
I want you to do a quick exercise.
Think back to a memory you have of playing, as a child. No thoughts of errands, chores, work, requirements, or obligations, just the singular moment of pleasure taken from doing something you love, purely for the sake of it.
Now, I want you to think about that feeling, and then I want you to try and remember a time when your adult self felt that same way—can you think of one? In the last day, month, year?
If you can’t, then it’s time to declare time for yourself to play again. Whether it’s five minutes of phone-free time to read a book, or play in a sprinkler, or ride a bike down the street, my
goal wish for you today is simple: play!
When we are mindful, playing isn’t wasted time at all. In fact, taking joy in the beauty of the moment is crucial to every other aspect of our lives, it even makes us more productive in the long-term. One of the easiest ways to be mindful is to let go of all the chatter in your mind about what do or where to be next. So, every once in a while, remember to leave your to-do list at home. Once in a while, let yourself dance around the house, or walk aimlessly in your neighborhood. Jump in the ocean just to feel the saltwater between your fingers, or the sun warming your face. Once in a while, (or even today!) do something joyfully, with the only intention of being in that moment. Because, in a world full of tasks, distractions, and pressures, sometimes the absolute best choice is to stop what you’re doing and just let yourself play.