For Greater Serenity, Practice Playfully

I’m trying to see life more playfully, from a child’s point of view. For the reward of necessary joy, I’m ready to turn my adult-y, logical way of knowing how upside down.

Sometimes adult life feels inelegant, unmanageable and hard. There is sickness, suffering and death. There are fractured relationships we can’t repair. The international, national and local news can be heartbreaking—divisive, ugly, violent. To counter your feelings of helplessness and sorrow, watch a child at play.

I love to watch my six-year-old granddaughter cartwheeling. Her joy is so effervescent, it’s contagious.

She sprints across the newly greened spring lawn then leaps into a lunge. Her palms press the earth, legs extending to the sky. She rotates and lands confidently upright, making this amazing feat appear effortless. But her first cartwheels were disasters. She performed dozens, possibly hundreds, of clumsy ones. In time, her relentless practice strengthened her upper body. Her balance, flexibility and technique improved.

We could turn this into a lesson about how practice leads to perfection. But when steeped in the reality that we are powerless to change so much of what is painful in life, we don’t need another pep talk to motivate self-improvement, or a manual outlining the steps to a successful life. What we need is our inner child’s pure, authentic joy, found in the delight of play–running, tumbling, rolling down the hill, and turning cartwheels.

When my granddaughter was learning cartwheels, she was awkward, stumbling, falling on her backside. Yet even in her “failures,” her delight was infectious. She was not judging herself. She was simply, playfully practicing turning cartwheels.

If you love cartwheels, that’s what you do, over and over, not because you have to, not because you’re trying to win an Olympic medal, but because living in your wonderful body, moving and discovering its strength, is delightful. Your body is your life, your breath, your blood, your vitality. Yay! And so you cartwheel.

In the poetry of transformation, we aim our whole lives toward hope and love. We know that mindful practices and whole-life healthy habits will grow us. We can approach our growth dutifully, treating our practice as a project in self-improvement. Or we can throw ourselves into our journey the way a child learns to walk, run, or cartwheel–playfully and without self-judgement.

Joy is necessary. How wonderful, that all it takes to imbue our daily lives with delight, is to allow the child within us to play.