How to be playful

I have this vague recollection that I used to laugh a lot more than I do now. I never used to take anything seriously, and now I worry about everything.

It’s difficult to tell whether taking life seriously led to my anxiety, or my anxiety led to me taking everything more seriously. I don’t know if this matters, what matters is breaking the cycle.

In his book Play It Away, Charlie Hoehn explains that the cure for his anxiety was starting to play again. He suggests that we make lists of things we enjoyed as children, and start to incorporate these activities back into our lives.

Undoubtedly this is very useful advice for some, but I still felt lost. I tried to remember what I enjoyed doing as a child.

I used to put together magazines and newsletters for my toys. The adult equivalent of this is basically my day job.

I used to read a lot of books. I still do.

My sister and I would spend days acting out scenarios in one of the various fantasy worlds we had created for ourselves. The closest equivalent to this is perhaps writing fantasy stories (which is, in fairness, something Harriet does) but I was never interested in writing these stories down, only making them up.

I think that the Play I Away method is something that works perfectly for somebody like Charlie Hoehn who used to enjoy throwing and catching a ball, and less so for somebody who spent their childhood pretending they were a pirate. I’m not convinced that running around town with a captain hat and plastic sword is going to cure my anxiety. In fact, it might lead to more problems than it solves.

I tried and tried to think my way out of this problem. I wrote lists. I googled play. I worried some more about the fact that I spend a lot of time worry. Basically, I was trying to use my brain to help me figure it out. But as it turns out, you can’t think how to be silly, you have to feel it.

A breakthrough moment for me came after I had it suggested to me that using my brain to problem solve wasn’t always the best thing to do, and that I had to learn to trust my intuition, or “body compass.”

There are a number of ways to use your body to work out what you should do.

Matha Beck uses the question “Does this feel ‘Shackles on’ or ‘Shackles off’?”

Henrika Tonder asks “Does this feel light or heavy?” 

A joyful life is one where you choose the option which makes you feel like the shackles are off, and that makes you feel light rather than heavy.

It sounds pretty simple. But sometimes we need someone to tell us that it’s okay to listen to this intuition and do what we want. Especially if we’ve been brought up to believe in duty and obligation, and that we should choose “should” over “want”. Let me tell you something. If you want to feel playful and joyous, never choose “should” over “want”.

First of all it’s good to set your intention. One of my intentions is currently: I am going to regain my sense of humour and my ability to play.

Once I had done that, I started to let go of the shoulds. I also started to give myself the time and space to daydream. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, I’ve been pausing to let myself work out how I want to spend the next little bit of my life. I’ve found that when I give myself this space, what I wanted to do came to me without me having to consciously think about it.

Here are some of the things that I’ve been inspired to do lately.

Get out of the house.

On an evening when I had no need too, I found myself just really wanting to get out of the house. While before I might have quashed this instinct, on this occasion I grabbed by bike and just started to cycle along the towpath towards Port Meadow. I stopped cycling when I saw cows paddling and got off my bike to paddle too.

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The water was bloody cold, so this didn’t last long. But I found the perfect deck to sit and reflect – which I never would have noticed if I was rushing to actually get somewhere.

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Turn chores into quests by traveling differently.

I needed to pick up some groceries, but driving to the Supermarket was definitely feeling “shackles on.” After examining this feeling a bit more, I discovered that it was only the driving that felt that way. So instead of driving 5 mins to Sainsburys, I donned some boots, a backpack and set out on a quest to find the answer to the question “I wonder how long it will take me to walk?”

It took me 45 minutes, and it felt quite indulgent to take the time for slow travel, and to be outside during one of the last few days of summer (rather than zooming by in a metal box).

Besides the fresh air and exercise, I love walking because it sets off my imagination. I had so many flashes of inspiration on the way. I kept stopping to type notes into my phone.

Random drawing.

Listening to a podcast (on something unrelated) I was inspired to get out the coloured pens, sit on the floor and create this:

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Sit on my husband.

It’s not a sex thing. Someone lying on the floor reading is basically inviting you to use them as a chair, right?

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