We are born innocent, smiling at whatever delights us until we learn to smile on cue. As toddlers , we color outside the lines until rules are implemented and borders are drawn. Stay inside the lines. Conform. Be safe. I believe a midlife crisis is nothing more than unlived dreams leaking out of our subconscious minds and into our lives.
What if we don’t have to wait? What if we listen to the voice inside encouraging us to play, to defy the rules once in awhile? What if we cook without a recipe, paint without a set picture in mind, write without needing to arrive at a particular destination, meditate without a clue as to what will unfold in a particular sit? Will the world as we know it fall apart?
One day my nine year old daughter asked me to paint with her. She printed a vibrant photo of a stargazer from the computer, and informed me that we were both going to paint this photo. I noticed how I was trying to capture the photo precisely, choosing the same shades of colors, painting the same number of petals and leaves. In contrast, my daughter was blending colors, adding petals and leaves where none existed , even adding other floral elements. I found myself adding more color to my own painting, feeling more joy with each brushstroke.
When we were finished, I noticed that my painting looked more like the original picture, while my daughter’s painting felt like a sequel, continuing the story with her own artistic narration. It reminded me of a favorite poem by Hafiz:
We have not come here to take prisoners
But to surrender ever more deeply
To freedom and joy.
We have not come into this exquisite world
to hold ourselves hostage from love.
Run my dear, From anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings,
Run like hell, my dear,
From anyone likely to put a sharp knife
Into the sacred, tender vision
Of your beautiful heart.
We have a duty to befriend
Those aspects of obedience of our house
And shout to our reason
"Oh please, oh please
come out and play."
For we have not come here to take prisoners,
Or to confine our wondrous spirits
But to experience ever and ever more deeply
our divine courage, freedom, and Light!
We can also apply this concept of play to parenting. Yoga and mindfulness meditation teacher Jackie Long often teaches mothers the concept of WWW, wild, wacky and wrong. When our children are first learning a new skill, like riding a bike or multiplication, it can help to imitate an error the child is making and exaggerate it playfully. For example, we can pretend to fall off our bike or give wrong answers to multiplication problems just to show our children it’s OK to make mistakes. Sometimes savory dishes, unique works of art, and childhood prodigies are born from playful detours veering off of the expected path.
If coloring outside the lines, experimenting creatively, or devoting more time to play helps us to ‘experience ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom, and Light’, why is it so hard? What gets in the way? Many of us feel that we can’t enjoy a good thing because we don’t deserve it or might lose it. We might also have difficulty opening to joy because it’s wasteful. Why aren’t we busier or more productive?
Around the New Year, many folks create New Year’s resolutions. While this is a genuine step towards improving your life in some way, it is often burdened with a should. I should quit smoking. I should get more organized. I should lose ten pounds, etc. I invite you to create a resolution that carries some aspect (it doesn’t matter how large or small) of your childhood dreams. Do you want to pursue an artistic endeavor, spend more time in nature, laugh like you used to before you were introduced to societal conventions?
Try the following meditation.