The past few days I’ve been struggling with myself about my creative work. I’ve been working on some writing for a while now, and I’ve reached an impasse—I can’t see how to make it right, make it whole, make it complete. And so I started thinking about and longing to do “good” work, work that is a real contribution, work that (dare I say it) makes me feel “successful” (whatever that elusive term means). And so today, with all of this jumble in my mind, this craving to be more, to do something “worthwhile,” I sat down at the computer to write. I typed aimlessly, I stared at the wall, I moved to my art desk and picked up a pencil, I prayed. But nothing much came of it. I felt frustrated and annoyed. And every time I thought I had a beginning, the mean bullies inside my head came up and shouted profanities at me.
Then I remembered an idea that had sprung up in my mind a couple of days ago, while standing at the library, and had made me smile—an idea that involved drawing words (like I have been known to do) about a theme I have been thinking about a lot lately: the messiness of life. As soon as I put my pencil to the paper, everything lightened up. I felt the glee of it: doing something that feels like play to me. Ideas just came rolling out, and I quickly filled a page. No hesitation—just pure, simple, honest; exactly what I had been trying to do all morning with few results.
It’s funny how often I forget this: the magic of play. “Play” is that feeling that comes when you’re doing what you love to do and you laugh the whole time because it’s so simply, effortlessly you. It’s natural. You can spend hours trudging up hills trying to be the person you want to be, do the work you think is valuable, and get nowhere. Then other times you feel light and things just flow and happen in a matter of minutes. In the first situation, you’re trying to be somebody, you’re taking things too seriously and trying to do serious work. In the second situation, you’re just playing around and so ideas, sensing there’s an opening, come to play too.
For all the efforts to do “good” work, the truth is: the most genuine expression of what you can give/create/share/do in your life happens when you’re playing. Forget hard work. Forget putting your nose to the grindstone. We all do plenty of that, and I suppose there is a time and a place for it. Play is where the real light is. When you play, you become light. Instead of thinking of it as a frivolous waste of time (as society might have you believe), what if play is how you most deeply connect with life and give what’s most honest and true? Spend even just a few minutes every day doing that, and you can’t go wrong. You’re expanding yourself and the world.