The older I get, the more I find myself in the role of encouraging friends and co-workers to lighten up and play. Play is the exuberant expression of our being. It is at the heart of our creativity, our sexuality, and our most carefree moments of devotion. It helps us live with absurdity, paradox, and mystery. It feeds our joy. It keeps our search for meaning down to earth.
Practice play by doing things on the spur of the moment. Take time to experiment, to try on different parts, to relax. Laugh heartily at situations and yourself. Remember that laughter heals body, mind and spirit, and, by extension, communities.
Most of us don’t play enough. We’re either too “busy,” a code word for workaholism, or we’re too serious. We’re predictable, too, equating free-spiritedness with irresponsibility. The best treatment for these conditions is play. We need to lighten up.
But there is also a shadow side of play. Sometimes we get so involved playing and just having a good time that we never reveal our true selves. Then we need the company of other fools to point out the folly of our foolishness.
"Forrest Gump" is an enchanting and creative parable about a contemporary holy fool. He is part of a long line of such characters in spiritual stories. These individuals follow the dictates of their hearts and pay little heed to the pursuit of worldly power, status or financial gains. Their brand of selflessness is free of reason’s madness and the grandeur. That is why they are so often deemed crazy.
Forrest, who has an IQ just below normal, is raised by a single mother who lavishes love on him. Because he is able to focus on the present and not worry about results, he becomes an incredibly fast runner and champion ping-pong player. He manages to maintain his optimism all through the political, social and cultural turmoil of the 1960s. But what is really surprising about him is his loyalty to his purpose and his unswerving love for one woman. “I’m not a smart man,” he says at one point, “but I know what love is.” Like many a holy fool, Forrest knows what is worth knowing.
When was the last time you truly let yourself go and played? What did it feel like?
Hearing someone laugh is my cue to practice play. Tell jokes and share funny stories with others. Watch a comedy. Pass out cartoons. Play group games you remember from your childhood. Puzzle over riddles. Act out charades. Stop anyone from being serious, even for a moment.
Clowns, performance artists and storytellers have been prophets to encourage us not to take ourselves too seriously. They say that what we know is not worth knowing, and what’s worth knowing cannot be known through our ways. To our sensible selves, their actions seem silly, shameless, even shocking. But they have an important role in the spiritual life. They carry the banner for the spiritual practice of playing and lightening up.