Why Playfulness Matters and How Our Lives Depend on It
REFLECTIONS ON MY FIRST JOY OF MISSING OUt RETREAT
For those of you who have read The Joy of Missing Out, you know it's about much more than technology. It's about what people are for.
Technology was the starting point. It was, as my friend Vicki McLeod calls it, "a disruption." Something that got my attention.
When a group of us gathered for a retreat on the Sunshine Coast a few weeks ago, we created another disruption by stepping out of the regular rhythms and demands of life.
We made space to examine that question: what are people for? And, ultimately, why am here?
These are big questions.
It's becoming increasingly clear that the western focus on success, power, and Instagram fame is not working for us.
In The New York Times, María de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda writes about the disruptive season of Lent, a 40-day fast, saying:
“The question for me is not whether there’s a point to giving things up during Lent, but whether I should ever stop fasting from all that numbs, dulls and deadens me to life, all of life, as it is today — the good and the bad. Fasting makes me willing to try.”
Much of our daily grind can make us feel dull and dead. It's not that it has to, it's just that it does.
I think anytime we give ourselves space to sit with our thoughts, to dig into the deeper harder questions, there is always fruit. And how fruitful our time was in quiet Egmont, British Columbia.
“It is precisely these thankless, boring, repetitive tasks that are hardest for the workaholic or utilitarian mind to appreciate,” writes Kathleen Norries in The Quotidian Mysteries. Children, on the other hand, approach washing dishes “for the sheer joy of it — the tickle of the water on the skin."
"It is difficult for adults to be so at play with daily tasks in the world.”
As Norris paints so poetically, joy can be found in repetitive physical work because our minds are able to wander — and we are reminded of our smallness in the gravity of the mundane.
This isn't what I expected to discover at my first Joy of Missing Out retreat. I planned to participate as a sort of co-leader/special guest, exploring the format Vicki McLeod had created out of her coaching expertise, intuitiveness and love of nature, and considering how she and I might co-create similar retreats in the future.
This was a business trip. Or so I thought.
Instead, I found myself a participant thick in prayerful quiet and discovery.
The first day we were asked to choose a word to focus on for the weekend. At first I settled on lightness but as the weekend progressed, this shifted ever so slightly to playfulness.
At the campfire on Saturday night I read aloud my favourite section of my book, the bike ride:
“Quickly, I’m barreling down Thomas Haynes Drive, past the Ecological Reserve and an indifferent herd of 15 or so cattle. I continue. It’s 11 AM and the sun is nearly straight overhead, but a gentle breeze is carrying me — cool- ing my already-flushed cheeks, combing my loosely-tied hair and peeling the fatigue from my frame and my face, replacing it with calmness. Joy.
I press on, and pedal up the hills. Shoulder-high corn fields pass me on the right. I can see they’re nearly ready for picking. The Dover Creek Farm disappears behind me, on my left. Cracks, creases and patchwork cement flow beneath my sneakers as they pedal wildly.
And I am free.”
Which moments in your life have meant the most to you? What do these memories have in common?
The best moments in my life have been those marked by utter abandonment, expressing one or all of the following:
Learning to Be at Play in the World
I have been trying to get my husband and I to go swing dancing for the last six months. It would be good for our relationship. It’s active. It would be productive.
That’s how I’ve been thinking about it. Any wonder why we haven’t gone yet?
Here’s how playfulness is shifting my thinking: Michael and I should go swing dancing because I used to instruct and it is ridiculously fun and we should do it just for the sake of it. FOR THE SHEER FUN OF IT.
This is how I function in every area of my life. I am Captain Practical. In work. In relationships. In parenthood. In everything.
When did practicality win out? When did I get so serious?
There is something professionally that has weighed heavily on me this month. A mistake I made. Something I’ve had to rectify - both the work and the relationship. And I am in that no man’s land where I don’t know which way it will go. And that is scary.
Fear is clamouring all around me. As I wake in the morning. As I take a walk to shake it off. As I return to work at my computer.
It’s been three weeks since the Joy of Missing Out retreat and I haven’t told anyone about it. And a newsletter is overdue. And... fear, dread, expectations, crushing.
I could slog through, OR I could get out.
I descend to the basement and get the paints. Grab a newly bought canvas and take to the backyard picnic table in the glorious and bewildering November sun.
I begin screwing off the lids on paints that have caught my attention: magenta, royal blue, sunshine yellow. All the while thinking how impractical this is on a work day.
I silently tell that voice to BE QUIET.
I grab a brush, smear it with paint and begin.
As I add line after line my chest relaxes. I am giving myself over to the work of my hands. First lines and smudges, linear, somewhat predictable. Then, with a new slender brush, the paints begin to turn. Circles, arches, drawing the whole together. But something is still missing. I put the brush down and wait.
In they go and my senses are on overload. The slide of the paint on my skin, calming and exhilarating at once. It’s coming together. It’s looking like my messy insides sprawled out in technicolour. And it is BEAUTIFUL.
I think I’m finished. I carry the water cup and brushes inside, preparing to clean up. As I return outside my eyes notice a pinecone: the kind of thing my kids would pick up and paint with. And so I do. I muck that thing up in blue and roll its hard edges.
This is what I learned at the Joy of Missing Out retreat.
I hope you'll join us for the next one.