One of my intentions this year is Playful. I chose it because it emerged during a day-long workshop in which I reflected on what I want more of in my life – so maybe it chose me. I can be pretty intense, especially about my work, but I also love to laugh, be silly and have fun. I want more playfulness, even as I seek other qualities that might grow the intensity in my life. I have noticed that since I identified Playful as one of my intentions, I have become very aware of the shortage of play – I am working with a very high intensity of focus and effort these days. So there is some sadness for me as I noticed this, and it made me wonder about the nature of work and play. What I seek is play at work, not as a separate thing but as a quality that I bring to my work.
This reflection led me to pick up David Whyte’s recent book Consolations, in which he explores the meaning of the word “work.” It is a beautifully written piece, and the first sentence stayed with me: “Work among all its abstracts, is actually intimacy, the place where the self meets the world.” The concept of the workplace as intimate really resonates with me – I think because I seek to be whole-hearted in my work, and sometimes that is really difficult and feels really tender and vulnerable. Whyte does not include “play” in his book, but he does include “joy” which is closely related to what I am seeking in play, so I turned to that next. Here is the first sentence: “Joy is a meeting place, of deep intentionality and of self forgetting, the bodily alchemy of what lies inside us in communion with what formerly seemed outside, but is now neither, but become a living frontier, a voice speaking between us and the world: dance, laughter, affection …”
Both work and joy are framed by Whyte as places of connection between inside and outside, between us as individuals and the world around us. A key difference in his descriptions is how the self shows up – in work the self is present and in joy the self is forgotten. So maybe the way to have more joy at work is to forget self, even as you bring it into the work place. This seems deeply true to me, and play may be one of the best ways to lose yourself. This does not help me figure out how to integrate work and play more in my life, but I am hoping that just increasing my own awareness of play (or not play, as the case may be) will help me make choices that will increase playfulness.
All this reflection on the nature of work and play and how the self is connected to both led me to contemplate the nature of the self. I recently studied the Yoga Sutras as part of an eight week online class with Sarah Trelease, during which I was also reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart – so I was diving deep into Buddhist teachings, which can make you really question the nature of things and what you thought you knew! I experienced the difference between my ego-identity self, something we create to be able to move through the world, and my essence, the Self that watches. I had a deep recognition of how my attachment to an aspect of my ego identity was creating suffering for me – my craving to be seen, to exist, to have a past and a future. Just noticing this was following by a relaxing of that attachment, at least for a while (no doubt it will return, that’s how it works!).
For me, the workplace is where my ego self tends to show up the most, wanting recognition or to be seen. So it is also the place for me to practice letting go of ego. Mindful awareness is one way to practice; I think another way is through play, leading to joyful self-forgetting. Maybe play is a way to bring forth your Self, your essence. The antidote to the craving, according to Buddhism, is to contemplate the impermanent nature of all things. Easier said than done! For some light playfulness on this rather philosophical topic, I leave you with this video of Bill Hicks, a comedian, talking about the nature of reality, and our ability to change it with a simple choice between love and fear (thanks, Vince O’Neill).