Category Archives: Play

The grass grows all by itself

While sitting here with nothing to do— Yet spring comes, and grass grows all by itself. -Zen Master So Sahn Feel like you’re spinning your wheels, like your stuck or trapped? The modern world’s solution is usually to try harder, to move faster. Of course, pushing ahead when you’re stuck usually means you’re getting yourself even more stuck. Think of Pooh with his head in the honey jar. It’s helpful to remember that spring always comes whether you’ve worked for it to happen or not. And the grass grows all by itself. If you’re stuck, do less.  Then keep doing less until, like So Sahn, you’re doing the most difficult work of all – sitting here with nothing to do.

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Bernard Malamud on what first drafts are for

“First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about. Revision is working with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it. D.H. Lawrence, for instance, did seven or eight drafts ofThe Rainbow. The first draft of a book is the most uncertain—where you need guts, the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. Revision is one of the true pleasures of writing. ‘The men and things of today are wont to lie fairer and truer in tomorrow’s memory,’ Thoreau said.” – Bernard Malamud After the first step of a project or fulfilling a passion, there’s a pause. And you either go on or you don’t. You either persist or you don’t. You need two things to begin: gutsand the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. The imperfect is where play lives. Failure is the only option here. After you’ve begun, you either keep going…or you don’t. Continuing after the first initial burst of inspiration can be a slog – joyless persistence.  Or not.  Malamud obviously loved the rewriting process. He called revision “one of the true pleasures of writing”.I believe him. He only published eight novels. He wrotenine novels – he burned the manuscript of his first book in 1948. His first published novel came out four years later – it’s called The Natural. You may have seen the Robert Redford movie adaptation. Passion sparks. Play welcomes the imperfect. And the joy that can be found in persistencelets us “enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it.” That certainly sounds like true pleasure.

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Awkward in a hundred ways, clumsy in a thousand, still I go on

“Awkward in a hundred ways, clumsy in a thousand, still I go on.” -Chinese Zen master Yueh-shan  ? The word humility comes from the root of humus or earth. When we play close to the ground, when we screw up, when we fail we’re ‘brought down back to earth’.  The Zen teachers were good friends with failure. Failure was welcome in their homes. Imagine the puffed up presences dominating the news cycle admitting to being awkward or clumsy! This kind of lack of acceptance of being fundamentally human, and thus fundamentally imperfect shows the presence of a delicate ego that needs the constant bicycle pump of adulation to keep from landing. Much better to play our way through life, experimenting, failing, and learning. Like the baby animal taking its first steps or first flight, the awkardness and clumsiness is essential for success. It’s welcomed. It’s the necessary ingredient.  And when it’s welcomed, nothing can stop us. And still we can go on.

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Hermann Hesse on what he needs to be happy (Hint: twenty books may be needed)

“I would give my left hand if I could again be a poor, happy bachelor and own nothing but twenty books, a second pair of boots, and a box full of secretly composed poems.” – Hermann Hesse In 1919 at age 42 Hesse made that move. He went to Montagnola, a small village in the foothills of the southern Swiss Alps. He stayed there the rest of his life. It was here that he wrote all of his major works (in order of publication): Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldmund, Journey to the Eastand The Glass Bead Game. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for these works. When we are young, simplicity can happen without us even choosing it. When we are adults, it has to be chosen. It isn’t just given. The complexifier part of the brain (not yet scientifically proven, but I’d bet money we have one) keeps adding layers of interest and desires for accumulation and gathering. When were you happiest in your life? I’ll make another bet – it was when you were following a passion and had relatively little – little money, little possessions, little number of entanglements. It might have been when you were a kid, it might have been when you were a young adult. It might be right now.  For example, I was happiest as a kid out in nature, with a few books. Or listening to music on the radio. I was happiest as a young adult living out of a backpack, and then again studying music in college, so poor that I remember my friend Emily giving me a chocolate bar one afternoon. It was the first food I had eaten that day because I didn’t have money for food. Poor, but happy. I’m happiest as an adult once again out in nature, or with music in me. I don’t need much. The spirit of play needs the immediacy and focus of simplicity to thrive. And purpose needs the space that simplicity provides to slowly grow. And the internal force that quietly, relentlessly drives you to being at your best doesn’t love money, or stuff. It wants more from you – it wants you too to be happy.

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One man, one hundred years of joy

“If I live to be 103, then I will have skied 100 years.” – Klaus Obermeyer “My sentence was a thousand years of joy.” – Robert Bly How do we persist? What helps what we care about stick? It’s a question that I’ve lived with for it years now. Some observations: We persist at what we love.We find something special in the act of persisting, something that feeds us like no other.We don’t let the rest of life fill in and obscure a passion. Life is not often what you would call “easy”. We find our inspiration where we can. Klaus Obermeyer is a font of inspiration for us. For example, he’s turning 100 years old at the end of 2019 and is still skiing. And he’s smiling while he’s doing it.  Don’t ski? No problem, me neither after tearing ligaments in my leg (while skiing). Let these quotes wash over you and provide a foundation for you to play your particular passion. And to lay the groundwork of delight that will enable you to persist at what uniquely feeds you. (all italics mine)  “You apply the extension of energy in skiing… You love the mountain. You’re the center of your own universe. You’re given all these choices and opportunities—where to turn, how fast to go, how to enjoy it. You have a positive energy; you cannot fear or have negative energy.”  “It doesn’t matter which mountain it is or which run or what conditions there are. I do not discriminate between them. Some are longer; some are shorter… but they’re all fun! I just love skiing.” “I ski whenever it’s nice and you can see where you’re going,”  “The days you don’t ski, they don’t come back.” “I used to ski my age — 82 mph when I was 82 years old. Now I still enjoy skiing but don’t try to go that fast.” “At this point of my age, it’s easier to ski than it is to walk.”  “The beauty of nature in winter, it’s like a fairy tale. The other part is that you are connecting back with speed and zero-G and weightlessness. It gives you a natural high somehow. And to be able to enjoy that speed coming down after climbing the mountain is absolutely marvelous.” “Skiing has been my life. Everything that happened was because of skiing somehow.” I stumbled across 99-year-old Klaus Obermeyer during my 40 Days to Change for Good‘first 50 years alive transitioning into last 50 years alive’ retreat. Born in 1919 in Germany, he moved to Aspen, Colorado in 1947. He formed the company that he still oversees today(!), Sport Obermeyer, in 1950.  Over the last seventy years, he has changed how we humans play outside in the winter. Here’s a partial list of his innovations: the first down parka from a goose down comforter his mother gave him before he moved to America, the first waterproof-breathable fabrics, high alpine sunscreen, nylon wind shirts, mirrored sunglasses, double-lensed goggles, two pronged ski brakes, lined ski boots, turtlenecks with elasticized collars.  He’s also an inspiring guy – enthusiastic, energetic, cheerful, healthy, strong, fully alive. I began collecting what he had to say about how he has managed to enjoy ninety-nine years alive. Let Klaus inspire and guide you to be ‘happy from here to a hundred’. Note: Most of Klaus’s quotes are from his 99th birthday interview. (He was born Dec 2, 1919.) A few quotes are from his 98thand 96thbirthday interviews, among other sources.

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“Life is a dance, and we’re dancing on a moving floor.” – Klaus Obermeyer

“To be creative means to be in love with life,” Osho said, “You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.”

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The 250 hours you steal from your self every year

One hour a day, Monday to Friday, is five hours. Fifty weeks a year times five hours is two hundred fifty hours. What work-hour am I referring to? Lunch hour. Most workers I talk to say that they skip it. They grab some food and eat it at their desk in five minutes, never stopping from the fire hose of work aimed at them. Even if there’s no fire to put out that day, habit has formed and ‘that’s what you do’…that’s ‘what we alldo’. If you’re a salaried employee (hourly employees of course live by different rules) and this is your habit, I’m going to nudge you on this. Take your lunch hour. Use it to go for a walk, go for a run, ride your bicycle, use the company’s gym. Lay in the grass staring at the clouds rolling by. Return refreshed, re-energized and healthier. We need a minimum of one hour of physical activity to live longer, healthier lives. This hour is sitting there, ripe for the taking. How would you feel if you had exercised 250 more hours last year?  And what would the difference in your body and mind be if you did that your entire working life? Imagine you start work at twenty and work until you’re seventy – a likely scenario for many people. 250 hours x 50 years = 12,500 hours! You’d certainly be a master at exercising – that’s well over the 10,000-hour principle. And there’s tons of research on how much smarter we are at something when we’ve paused, taken a break and returned to it. It’s in your company’s best interest for you to take that time to replenish. Exercise is also the magic pill – making us happier, more energized, better looking and of course stronger and healthier. Many people today are living like they won’t live past retirement, reflected both in their diet and exercise habits. But you’re smarter than that, aren’t you?

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How It Happened One Night took four weeks to win five Oscars

The 1934 movie It Happened One Night didn’t have the smoothest of starts. Director Frank Capra got rejected by seven leading actresses of the day before Claudette Colbert agreed – on the condition that she get paid double her normal salary and it wrap in four weeks in time for her ski vacation at Sun Valley, Idaho. Her co-star Clark Gable showed up drunk and surly to the first preproduction meeting, calling the second-rate Columbia studio (he had been loaned from MGM as punishment), “Siberia” and yelling at studio workers, “Why ain’t you wearing parkas?” Four weeks to film! The average time for preproduction for a movie is 146 days. Then the actual shoot takes 106 days. This was a very tight boundary the director had to play in. Capra had a ball. They started filming the day after Claudette Colbert agreed to do it. Most shots were done on location outside because there wasn’t enough time to build many sets. Watching the movie now we see the outside shots are a big part of the charm. There is an authenticity to those scenes that is missing on set pieces. Everything was kept simple. Colbert had two dresses she wore the whole movie. Motel scenes in different states used the same set. Capra was flying fast and free. And eventually Gable came round to it and thoroughly enjoyed playing against type, reveling in being a carefree, prickly drunk of a newspaperman. The romantic comedy wrapped in time. It was released in the big theaters…and promptly sank out of sight a week later. But the movie hung around in smaller theaters. It generated word of mouth, and people returned again and again to re-watch it. The groundswell became a flood and carried it right into Oscar nomination-land, something unheard of for bargain basement Columbia pictures. The movie was nominated in all the major categories – best actor, best actress, best picture, best director, best screenplay. That year they won…with a clean sweep of all the five big categories. “The people discovered that movie,” Capra later said. If there’s no time for perfection, the spirit of play has room. The tighter the boundary (as I’ve learned from playing team building games with kids) the greater the chance for fun. This is the wisdom found in recognizing and smiling at limits.  And we intuitively recognize when we’re interacting with something and someone that’s alive. Meticulous perfection squashes that quixotic playfulness so essential to real vitality.  If you do what you do perfectly, people will admire you. If you do it imperfectly, people just might adore you instead.

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Fight present-bias

The Internet is present-biased. Search engines prioritize the most recent, not the most valuable.  What if you headed left when everyone else lemmings it (yes I just made up that verb) right?  What if you do any of the following (and make up your own): read old books, do old things, use hand tools, listen to records, make your own music, tend a plant, grow your food, hang out with an elder, play with a child, heat your house with wood, walk or bike somewhere instead of in your car…who knows what change you might catalyze?

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Nuke your notifications

Finding it hard to focus? Nuke your notifications. All of them. Get in there in settings on your computer and turn them all off. Then pick your phone and turn them all off too. For fun, each time you turn one off, you can say out loud, “nuke it!” It’s pretty satisfying. Too drastic? Nuke one a day and see if your life falls apart or not. Also notice if you get more of the work done that matters instead.

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