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Jordan Whitfield, Unsplash

“We live in a culture that celebrates ACTIVITY. We collapse our sense of who we “are” into what we “do” for a living. The performance of busyness is how we demonstrate to one another that we are important. The more people see us as tired, exhausted, over-stretched, the more they think we must be, somehow … indispensable, that we matter.”

~ Roshi Joan Halifax (b. 1942), American Zen Buddhist teacher

“As Shiller says, Man is completely human only when he is at play.” — Jung

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” — George Bernard Shaw

Sooner or later we grow old physically, whether we play or don’t play. But mentally, creatively and emotionally speaking we can remain young up to the end if we retain the natural playfulness we were born with. I lost a lot of my playfulness when I leapt blindfolded into catastrophe here in my troisieme age, but after adjusting certain basic details of living I’m rediscovering it. I’m persuaded that it’s an essential element of life for anyone, not just me.

I was brought up in a culture that tends to downgrade play, to relegate it to childhood and to wall it off from the adult world of work. I happen to disagree with that viewpoint, possibly because I’m an artist and you can’t create art without play.

Not that art isn’t work; it is work, and hard work at that. Yet the word art implies an intuitive, spontaneous, playful melding of impulses and technique. It took me decades to develop my own way of making art. The art education I received recognized liveliness, or at least certain teachers did, but they didn’t know what to do with it.

Play, after all, is just intense pleasure in combining unexpected creative elements. It’s fun, but it has to work for the mind of the onlooker too. Knowledge and training can help with that if they don’t squelch the joy of creation.

I believe everything alive is created out of joy. Remove joy and play and that souffle won’t rise.

I’m sure everyone who loves their work experiences that playful joy often. I don’t mean to imply that only artists are playful. But I’m pretty sure that I would have lost my mojo in a trice had I tried to become a doctor, lawyer or used car salesman.

Work as the be-all and end-all that our Puritan tainted culture vaunts is missing something, I think. I believe we have to play, find joy and enjoyment in the small things of life. It might be preferable to love the simple fact of being alive in an astounding, inexplicable creation.

What do you think?

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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