The first step towards playing is feeling personal freedom. Before we can play (experience), we must be free to do so.
Viola Spolin

Tool:   Play Elevator
from pregnancy journal
2/4/10I’m one deep breath away from a hail-storming, late-pregnancy breakdown.   I decide to take Frankie to the park because this option is maybe barely better than any other.  I’m too far into exhaustion and discontent to feel real hope that anything’ll make me feel better, but I am officially, and mind-bleachingly, bored with my own whine.  I feel like Bill Murray in “What About Bob?” when he finally gets himself onto the bus and asks the person next to him, “Hi, can you knock me out?  Just punch me in the face…”

No chance, so I waddled onto the bleachers, trying to find a way to sit that didn’t hurt.  In front of me on the basketball court Hispanic guys and girls were playing a hot, sweating, game of flirt & shoot.  They are trim, mobile and happy, everything I wasn’t.  I was too fussy to even muster the energy to loathe their lithe sexiness.

A sudden pang of longing to let a game carry me away took over my thinking.  The sweetness of the longing felt fresh.  Letting myself acknowledge the longing beneath the long-train running frustration felt like opening a window.  Focusing on the longing was life giving, whereas focusing on how frustrated I was was debilitating.

I came back to my now, my so so so pregnant-now and knew that while I couldn’t physically move all that much, maybe I could move my thoughts a little: I took out my pen and paper…

A focus wheel is a tool I learned from Abraham-Hicks, used to shift your thoughts to a better feeling place.   I made a list on the side of the page of the yucky thoughts that were gunking up my engine, and the corresponding emotions.  I could see that I’d been focusing, exclusively, on everything I didn’t want, and so of course I felt like total butt-munching ass.I began the clearing work of finding better feeling thoughts on some of the issues I was getting repetitively snagged on.  In my fussy state, it was slow going at first, to find better feeling thoughts (I was so MIRED in my fuss!) but with each, even moderately better-feeling thought, my sense of relief and lightness grew.  And a whole new world of better feeling thoughts opened up.After the the third or fourth issue to clear, I began to feel a tad triumphant..  It felt like I was sprouting wings off the tips of my fingers and those brand new wings were holding me in that tenuous, delicate life-giving new land of slightly better-feeling thoughts.

But a quick glance down at my uber-pregnant belly brought back my chronic impatience, and once again, I felt shakable and close to fuss, even though I’d done such a good job of getting clear in those focus wheels, the reality was that I’d been thinking those fussy thoughts for so long, that they were so familiar and easy to get to and these new, lighter ones were unfamiliar and easy to forget.  I knew I needed to get deeper into my happiness, to become so much more familiar with it.

But how?  I longed to shoot hoops, but was physically stuck, so I leaned into a game of deep appreciation.  I started listing things that I felt good about:  I loved on the sky, and on the cool crisp air, I loved on how I will always have a setting sun to marvel at like a portable art museum, and how the sun renders everything a work of art, then I wrote something that surprised me because I didn’t know who I was writing to, but just went with it because the urge was so strong and good-feeling:  “I want you to find me here, I want you come play with me here because I can’t get to you right now.”

I didn’t know who I was talking to. But it felt good.  It was really what I wanted to say with my whole heart.  I wanted someone to play with.

I continued on, alternating between focus wheels, and rampages of appreciation, picking up real speed.  Each release of negative thoughts, left me feeling more relieved, and I felt myself going up.  I realized something true about me, that as long as I’m happy, I’ll always have a home in that happiness, and that’s what I was doing here, on these bleachers, making my way home.

I was savoring the new feeling of power I had, to change my life experience so radically, in a few short minutes, when a little gorgeous brown boy runs past me, then backs up with a wicked light in his eye, “you, a…”  He struggles for a moment, then finds it, “you a creator?”  I nod, after the shocked pause.  He laughs as if this is the best thing he’s ever heard, then dashes off.  I’m so stunned I drop my pen.

Then a small darker brown child suddenly appears in my armpit, clutching the pen I’d just dropped.  The first boy reappears and points at the smaller one then yells at me “make him!”   I think he wants me to draw a picture of the other boy, but I feel inept, a bad drawer.  He thinks I’m a creator.  I’m not. I’m just…

He reaches over and retrieves another pen from my hair and the two start a scribbling frenzy all over my writing.  The first boy, Nana, is so intent, that as the rest of the children from the family come over (scaling fences, racing through leaves) he seems to withdraw inward into the drawing.  He finishes it and shows us the drawing of the smaller boy, Devon, a squealing sunshine of a human, and writes his name.  Then Nana begins drawing the girl, 10 or 11, named Tikea, who sailed over the fence like a superhero.  She seems uncomfortable with me and keeps punching the boys who have betrayed her by cozying up to me and no longer want to play with her.

A baby appears, from under the bleachers and seems to just wants to hurt me, and then laugh evilly about it afterwards.  There’s lots to enjoy about this tiny thing in camo overalls and sandals furiously hurling handfuls of sticks and leaves at my head.  I decide to downplay the bit where he seems to want to hurt me and scoop a pile of leaves and throw them high into the air.  They sail slowly down around us like a veil.  I am genuinely delighted and do it over and over.  I kind of forget about the other kids.  After a moment, his face softens and he speaks for the first time:  “you weddy?” he asks, giving me a solid half second before hurling leaves at my face.  I nod.  I am weddy.

Nana shows me what he’s been drawing and then explains the picture of his cousin, Tikea,  “she’s like this, all at once”  he points to his face and does a rapid fire series of lip movements.  I nod, totally not getting it.  He sees my confusion and scribbles some more.  Come to think of it, I can’t really understand any of them.  The baby seems to speak Swahili.  Finally, Nana’s done.  I am beginning to give it the same not-really-looking-but-pretending-to cursory glance I sometimes do in my life as a teacher, a survival technique in the tsunami of kid’s art I receive each day, but then I stop.

Full stop.

The welt of exquisite spring air, the laughing children, this perfect moment – I had finally just GOT IN, and I’ll be damned if I was going to duck out again by a silly habit of going on autopilot.  I wanted more invitations to go all the way in, fuck cursory glances! – I really wanted to see what he was showing me.  I wanted to see everything, and more than that.

Upon closer inspection, I saw that he’d drawn three simultaneously occurring mouths: a smiley, a frown, and a straight line. He explains, “all at once, she’s happy…and sad…and sometimes” then he struggles for the word for the word for the straight line, “She don’t feel nothing.”  He echoes those words with the matching facial gestures: happy, sad, nothing.

He leaps off the bleachers into the leaves.  “Nana”  I let myself say out loud after he’s gone.  I like the way his name feels in my mouth and ears, nurturing like a perfect warm roll.  When he returns, he points to the notebook and says,  “make me now.”

And now there is no hesitation or room for self doubt.  I want to draw him, to play with him in this way, I don’t care if I my professors in art school would approve or not: what does that have to do with anything?  I’m beyond whatever shyness is.  I tell him he has to sit still, then I begin to trace almonds onto the page, aching for my box of crayons at home to try and capture some of his gorgeous skin color, the gold in his smiling eyes.   I get a solid thirty seconds before he’s vibrating again, with the rest of the crew simultaneously trying to hurl him off the bleachers and bully him into staying quiet for this drawing.

I notice that there’s a sense of mutual willingness to be here that seems stronger than usual. I want to say that we all sense that there is a gift present, but that’s afterwards talk.  We just wanted to be there more than we wanted to be anywhere else, in the whole wide world.  As I sketch, the act of drawing falls me in love with his wild hair; I actually sigh out loud as I draw it around his cauliflower ears.  I tap him gently when he moves, an easy, forever-knowing gesture, and I say “stop or I’ll draw you like an alien”

Suddenly, the mother’s voice, strong and herself also late-prego-tired, cuts through it all and they’re off.  The kids yell to me that their mother is also having a boy in a few days, just like me.  I struggle to stand, Nana’s name on my tongue.  I want him to have the picture, he didn’t even get to see it.  I look down at the picture, then sit back down and keep looking at it.

Sometimes I pull out the picture that was always, I realize now, just for me.  And he’s still here.  His hair curing towards the sky, his ears twitching, his feet just about to leap…

My grid for the next:  

Oh, I want more willingness to let the play carry me all the way.  More softy egg willingness to be there, to Be All There.  More relaxedness.  And Thereness.

I want these things because these moments of absolute presence are my favorite on this earth.  And because there is something deeper than “favorite.”  I feel truer, and intrinsic to the beingness of the world in ways my soul craves. Lots.

We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything, than when we are at play.     Charles Schaefer

The Skill:     Knowing your decision making zone

The backstory:      It was a rainy autumn afternoon and I’d just put myself back in my PJ’s; I was in time out for the shittiness of my day. I literally had my head under the covers when my computer alarm went off and the words “Aliveness Salon in 4 hours” flashed, ominously across the screen.  

Oh. My. Buttface hell.  Soon, the community would be full of wild people playing and exploring aliveness together.  I stuck my face deeper into the comforter and kind of whimpered.  Then I started moaning and making half/gurgle half/scream sounds that all meant “NO!  I don’t want to pull it together!”  I felt so absolutely out of range of all things amazing.

At first, the noises coming out of me were unconscious.  Clearly, my my inner brat had taken over the helm and was having a proper hissy, but when I became aware of them, I realized that I actually felt a little better than I did before I started gurgle/scream/moaning, so I did it more, and as I did, I felt an inspiration to go even deeper.  I did a quick check around before I flipped myself over on my back so I could kick my feet.  Yeah, exactly like a two year in a tantrum.  Oh, that felt fantastic. I kicked harder into the mattress.  How satisfying!  Wham, bounce, wham!  Why didn’t I do this all the time?  This flailing, whamming bounce was giving shape and release to my internal frustration so beautifully.  I started pummelling the mattress with my fists like a nutter, harder and harder until I broke into a sweat, and then a little harder still.  I’d plum wore myself out when I finally opened my eyes.  

Of course there was a gaggle of children and adults in my open doorway, isn’t there always in stories such as these?  And just like in the movies, they were fake-trying not to watch, slack jawed, and failing miserably.

While my little troupe at the door continued to watch the spectacle of me,  I hopped up, suddenly crystal clear about what I needed:  more flailing, more wildness.  Part of the reason I was in such a skunk earlier is that I’d paved over my day without checking in to see what I really wanted to do, and so by the time one more commitment came due, I was in full revolt.  My soul was thirsty for the kind of play that happens when you follow a genuine yes.  Still in jammies, I stuck my feet in boots and jumped out the back door into the wild woods and into my yes.  

Hours later, I scrabbled back in, with time enough to shower and greet the guests with a genuine smile and a great readiness to play.

How we fall Out of Range of a decision:

Ever say yes to something and wonder who is booking all your appointments?  We often say yes to things, when we’re already happily playing.  Maybe you’re on your first cup of coffee, Facebookin’ and clickin’ yes to invites, or you’re in the middle of an already warmed up playspace and someone makes some suggestion and from your level of happy Playin’, all you can see or say is YES!

But most of us don’t live at that level, so when the time comes to do the Yes thing, it feels different to you then it did when you first said yes to it.  It feels like an imposition, and you wonder why you said yes to it in the first place, what were you THINKING?  Or not thinking?  All the things about the yes that you liked you can’t remember, and aren’t even trying to, because you’re just trying to think of what excuse will get you out of this.

(It’s fine to change your mind. It’s fine to say yes then no, but for those who may wish to play fully and closely with others, this tendency can slow down intimacy.  It erodes our trust in ourselves to be able to direct our lives and play in it fully.  And if we don’t trust ourselves, others can’t trust us either.)

Before your next Yes, do math:

When you’re about to say yes, scan to see how in alignment with that yes you actually are.  Listen for the “yes, buts” because these are the very things that will seem insurmountable when the time for playing comes round.  Are there parts of you that aren’t quite sure?  Usually there is lingering stuff, like, you want to go dancing, but you don’t like this particular venue and are just trying to ignore that fact.  When I give yesses, I sometimes give a percentage, like, I’m 60% yes on this, and the person I’m comrading with will know where I’m at.   

I usually don’t do things that I’m not at least 80 or 90% lined up with because a partial alignment with something brings in partially satisfying experiences.  I try to do the work to clear out whatever resistance I have about doing something so that by the time I get there, I’m fully ready to play.

The Tool:  Play ElevatorThe Backstory:   Life Rocks Conference, North Conway, NH

I shoot out back into the light like a cannonball, pummeled from behind by thousands of gallons of warm salt water, shoving me under in sworls until I emerge in the center of a circle of erratically spouting fountains.  I decide to float, letting the ebb and flow have its way with me.

It had been a day of travel, a day of challenges, some of which slid into fun opportunities and others simply remained challenging.  We arrived at the Life Rocks Conference, as I opened the I knew I wasn’t up to speed this, that i was going to feel profoundly overwhelmed, but we’d driven all this way.  I stepped into a wall of zigzagging energy blasting out of all the activated and wild playspaces at this kind of burning man for families, already in full swing.

My only response was to sulk, retreat, sulk some more.   I found myself devoting the next four hours to avoiding playing with anyone (all the invites felt out of range and “scary” the way play does when you’re in a funk) and then segwayed into feeling inadequate in various ways, body, career, not enough jelly beans, whatever.

Then the kids had the audacity to ask me if I wanted to go waterslidin’.

Did I?  Did I want to get into a bikini in front of hundreds of people?  Uh, hell no. Did I feel up to the task of remembering how to have fun at a water park?  Uh, not at all.  Not even a little bit, but the difference between this invite, and all the other ones I’d been dodging was that I was so fucking bored of feeling like a wanker.  It had lost every drop of novelty and charm.  Four hours in and I sorely missed Me.

I missed how great I feel being my playful, mischievous, funded, creative and ready to play self.  So, I said yes.  And started lining up with that yes.  As I slipped into my bikini (didn’t take long, it’s freakin’ teeny) I paused to rub coconut oil on my body and thank each part for its work in my life. I paused on my soft, warm belly and thanked it for bearing three children, and for dealing with the occasional MacDonald’s french fry with such grace. And for being so good at letting me know when I need more fuel.  My legs I kind of fell in love with in a new way, realizing how they run so beautifully, and dance so inspiredly.   After the ritual, I felt differently about my body and my readiness.

As I entered the water park, with fountains and slides and wave pools and all the watery playful splendor you can imagine, I found myself climbing the layers and layers of stairs to my first waterslide experience in years, and my first indoor one, still in that haze that accompanies a fuss.  Stair after stair, bare feet carrying me to the top where four different tubes, gushing water awaited me, there and I felt like Indiana Jones at some important crossroads.  I chose the blind one first.  It was certainly the most difficult and most scary but I was tired of being asleep.  I longed to be awake in the life I’d chosen.

As I let go into the darkness, I felt something let go in me.  I didn’t fight the speed, but relaxed deeper into each tail spin, drop and curve, as my body picked up more and more speed.  And I could see nothing.  Absolute darkness.  When I came out of the pool, the only thought in my mind was, “again.”  I felt like a child, all thrill and greed for thrill as I tried out every slide, loving the feeling of being carried and shot out into the air, loving the immersion in so much warm water and the proximity to so much thrill and speed and whush.

Later, I lay in the circle of fountains, finally relaxed, not coma-relax, but play-relaxed, ready, happy, open, and I stumbled upon a new understanding of the word balance, which has been kind of an irksome topic for me. (I get so bored by the notion of perpetual balance, with no gaps or spaces of growth-rich chaos, that I think I’d thrown out the baby with the bathtub there.)  Here, I felt in absolute balance.  I was in love with my body again, as a vessel for my full tilt playing.  I was even in love with the sadness earlier, as clarifying as it was.  I felt, in a way I never have before, conscious of how properly poised upon the fulcrum of my beingness I am.  It isn’t that play solves all my problems, but that it elevates me to where I can move with the movingness.

(Mind your own business) ‘Cause if you mind your business, then you won’t be mindin’ mine.    Hank Williams

skill: Staying in mah own damn business

The Backstory:  I’m at a Sunday morning ecstatic class, formless and inviting, and I’m remembering what love…
and what I hate, about formless dance: I can’t successfully do it unless I’m in my own damn business, fully.

Dance is so lovely an invitation to return to my business because I simply cannot dance when I’m out of my business.  The urges and impulses are only available to me when I’m feeling my feelings, tuned into the momentum, going with it.  

My body won’t fully receive the impulses, then properly translate them into graceful movement if I’m in someone else’s business, wondering what they’re thinking about what I’m doing or not doing. 

Being in someone else’s business takes bandwidth. And I need that bandwidth to discern my own intrinsic responses, to the music, to life, and then to allow a weaving of soul impuls, body movement and human delight and longing to flow out onto the floor, or in other words, I need all my bandwidth to know how to dance.

When I’ve lost a bead on my business, there always seems to be some challenge that presents itself for me to get back in.  
A recent ex is here and I am having a hard time reconnecting to that primal urge to dance because of the big emotions of guilt I feel over the break up.  

Every time I make my way back to center though, there is this tremendous catapult of exhilaration, like bungee jumping and feeling the rope catch and hold you.  I love the way my playgrounds allow me to so tangibly taste the fruits of my own expansion.

This centering doesn’t preclude noting other’s responses to me, it just doesn’t center in it. If they are having a negative experience of me, it won’t destabilize me, and if they’re enjoying their interaction with me, it will only bolster my already connectedness. 

When I’m in my business, I’m tuned into Source energy and feel full up.  Needless. Strong.  When I’m out, I need almost constant approval from external sources.  In American culture there’s lots of emphasis placed on physical appearance as a standard for worthiness.  It’s tied up with lots of confused ideas of love and pleasure.  People are offered so many opinions about their own beauty that after a while, many of us start to listen more to the outside ones than the inside ones.

Celebration:  I found a new steadiness and deepening in my dance playground that I literally never knew existed during Dancing in the Light