Spirituality is a powerful term encompassing a way of thinking about, feeling, and living in the world. Essential to spiritual life is mindful thinking and choosing to experience the many different aspects of human existence and conscious interaction with others and our environment.
With a spiritual view of life, we can see the divine in the mundane, the miraculous in each and every day, and the extraordinary in the ordinary. This monthly series will focus on the spiritual power of common words and the concepts they represent. This month’s word is Playfulness.
The Mundane Meaning of Playfulness
Playfulness is defined as “full of play: FROLICSOME, SPORTIVE”. We often need to be playful in order to keep in touch with positive and lighthearted energy that helps us stay “young at heart”. But what does it mean to understand the spiritual power of “playfulness”?
The Spiritual in Playfulness
Above is a representation of the concept expressed in the Osho Zen Tarot as Fire to the East, or traditionally, the Page of Wands. The energy of the dance and the activation of light from the ecstatic movement reveals the dynamic quality of playful energy. The clown mask is both representative of humor and the willingness we often embrace to be playful when our identity is “masked”.
From the Osho Zen book the commentary says, “Life is rarely as serious as we believe it to be, and when we recognize this fact, it responds by giving us more and more opportunities to play. The woman in this card is celebrating the joy of being alive, like a butterfly that has emerged from its chrysalis into the promise of the light. She reminds us of the time when we were children, discovering seashells on the beach or building castles in the sand without any concern that the waves might come and wash them away in the next moment. (54)
From the Zen perspective, “the moment you start seeing life as non-serious, a playfulness, all the burden on your heart disappears. All the fear of death, of life, of love – everything disappears. One starts living with a very lightweight or almost no weight. So weightless one becomes, one can fly in the open sky.” (55)
Living Playfully in Life
In times when fear becomes a common mantra among people, in communities, in nations, and as a global threat, playfulness can be a powerful balm when we need to release the fear and find hope. Young animals use play to learn their bodies and enjoy life; adult domestic cats and dogs are Zen masters of play, which is why we, too, should be entertained by a ball of string or act on the desire to roll in the grass from time-to-time
Living playfully certainly does not mean living recklessly, frivolously, or irresponsibly. In fact, spiritual playfulness is an essential energy for a healthy life. We need to laugh out loud, dance like no one is watching when someone is actually watching (so we can all laugh and play together). We really do need to find time to “not take ourselves so seriously”.
Playful energy is easier for some of us than it is for others. Speaking astrologically, some designs favor seriousness while others favor playfulness. I tend to fall on the rather far side of seriousness, which is why it is so important for me to have friendships with playful people. I do not easily come to playful energy, but I do have times when I really need to find and feel such energy.
It can be more and more difficult to access this energy as we get older, especially if we feel the burdens of responsibility through roles as a parent, caretaker, manager, or “upstanding” citizen. Having children in our lives can be one way to keep an open line of access to playful energy; but if not, we still need to find a way to be playful in some small way daily or maybe in more intentional ways on a weekly basis, especially if we live a serious life working certain hours during the week and get “free time” on the weekends.
Embracing or Creating Playful Moments
We can try to be more aware of playful moments so we can embrace them when they show up. Children and animals are two of the best sources of playfulness that can appear on our daily path through life. If you have one or both, you may already get a steady dose of playfulness. Let your children or pets bring you into a playful mood when they signal you (or tell you) that they want to play.
Find the toy that will get your cat going; the string is a pretty standard, all-purpose cat toy. For dogs, a ball of any size usually does the trick. When the animals play, watch them and let yourself absorb their joyfulness and excitement. That energy will do you a world of good no matter what the circumstances of the day. If you are happy, you will be able to be even happier. If you are sad, then there is a good chance their joy will move you out of sadness, to some degree, or entirely.
If your children are young and still playing through their imagination or interactive games, let them draw you into the fantasy or become a participant in the game. If they are older, find ways to do something playful together as a way to connect that is meant to be pure and easy.
If you do not have pets or children, then try to recall your childhood and the play that you enjoyed. Look for something fun that taps into that past energy. In my local mall, there is a place in the mall called Knockerball, where you “suit” up in a large air-filled plastic ball and run at other people full speed to see who can knock who off their feet. Really, it’s hilarious. Find a park, with a gently sloping hill, and roll yourself down it. One of my favorite pastimes is playing claw machines and trying to win prizes.
Be frivolous! Be fun! Be playful!